“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.” — Nelson Mandela
Today over 90 world leaders and thousands of South Africans gathered to pay tribute to the life and works of Nelson Mandela at a state memorial service in Johannesburg. Today also marks International Human Rights Day, which this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action, adopted in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights.
The Vienna Declaration reaffirmed the universality and indivisibility of all human rights. It moved the discourse of human rights beyond the Cold War polarisation of civil and political rights on one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other, towards the idea that all rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
Nelson Mandela, dedicated most of his life to the causes of freedom, an end to racial discrimination, inequality, social injustice and the realisation of human rights for all. 2013 also marks 20 years since Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts in bringing the system of Apartheid to an end in South Africa. Today he has been remembered as “a symbol of the struggle for justice, equality, and dignity in South Africa and around the globe.”
The coincidence of these two events presents an opportunity to pause and reflect on pressing questions of rights, justice and equality. Twenty years after the Vienna Declaration Amnesty International has highlighted the fact that the realisation of the most basic rights to health, education, food, water and housing remain an elusive dream to millions of children, women and men across the globe. In 2013:
- 923 million people were suffering from chronic hunger. Hunger is often driven by human rights violations, as Amnesty International has documented in North Korea, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. The current world food crisis, which itself has been fuelled by human rights violations, has led to an additional 75 million people being chronically malnourished.
- Over a billion people live in ‘slums’ or informal settlements, with one in every three city residents living in inadequate housing with no or few basic services. Their situation is worsened by a global epidemic of mass forced evictions.
- Every minute, another woman dies because of problems related to pregnancy. For every woman who dies, 20 or more experience serious complications.
- Over 100 million children (more than half of whom are girls) do not have access even to primary education.
Mandela’s passing has also prompted much reflection on the deepening inequalities and growing levels of poverty in South Africa despite almost 20 years since the restoration of a genuine and inclusive democracy and a recent period of robust economic growth. The booing of Jacob Zuma by thousands of ordinary South Africans at his memorial service today is a striking indication of the growing discontent of South African citizens in the face of continuing government corruption social injustice, inequality, poverty and the denial of basic social and economic rights.
Yet there is still hope for in South Africa for positive social change in South Africa. It’s constitution remains exemplary in its protection of economic, social and cultural rights and it’s judiciary has been active in protecting the rights to health, housing and education.
Perhaps Mandela’s passing will reignite the passion for the values which he fought so hard for. Equal Education, a local NGO that advocates for the right to education in South Africa, yesterday saluted the legacy of Mandela and stated that “as young people living in democratic South Africa, still one of the most unequal societies in the world, we pledge to make every effort we can to take forward Mandela’s legacy in the struggle for equality and social justice, both at home and abroad.”
A video from Amnesty International’s campaign for access to justice for economic, social and cultural rights: