Press Releases

                                                                                        AFR/911
                                                                            28 April 2004

    United Nations Marks 10 Years of Post-Apartheid Freedom in South Africa

    Commemorative Meeting, Hosted by General Assembly President, Hears Statements by South African President, Presidents of UN Bodies, Secretary-General

    NEW YORK, 28 April (UN Headquarters) -- As the United Nations recalled its role in advancing the end of apartheid in South Africa, the President of the General Assembly hosted a meeting this morning to commemorate 10 years of freedom and democracy in that country.

    On a day when South Africans witnessed the swearing in of the country’s third democratic government, the meeting heard a commemorative message from President Thabo Mbeki, as well as statements by the Presidents of the Assembly, Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as the Secretary-General, among others.

    Assembly President Julian Hunte (Saint Lucia) recalled that, from the moment that the United Nations had received the danger signal that a founding Member had taken a retrograde step to institutionalize racism and racial discrimination, ending the abhorrent system of apartheid had become a priority.  For more than four decades, the Organization had given international leadership and direction to the struggle against apartheid, sharing the vision of the majority of South Africans for a country free from racism, racial discrimination, violence, despair and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Organization had, therefore, given moral standing to voices around the world demanding racial equality, economic progress and social justice for all South Africans.

    The United Nations had recognized the legitimacy of a struggle by the majority of South Africans for their individual and political freedom, while consistently urging the South African Government to adhere to its obligations under the Charter and international law, he said.  Other international and non-governmental organizations had joined in the anti-apartheid efforts.  Notwithstanding South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth, that organization had stayed the course and, acting in concert with the United Nations, had brought pressure to bear on the Government of South Africa to end apartheid and played its part in supporting the dismantling of the system. 

    However, the tribute for shaking off apartheid belonged to the people of South Africa, he said.  Notwithstanding decades of racism, racial discrimination and oppression, they had been uniquely successful in their national reconciliation and nation-building efforts and could be justifiably proud of their accomplishments.  The Government and people of South Africa also had a proven track record in keeping their diverse country on the democratic path. On 14 April, South Africans had gone to the polls for the third time, exercising their right to choose those who would govern them, without disruption, in free and fair elections.

    Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that a decade after South Africa’s transformation into a non-racial, multi-party democracy, people around the world would remember the transition from apartheid as little short of a miracle.  The struggle against apartheid had galvanized the entire world, rallying people and governments behind a common objective of reaffirming the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all peoples. Today, the international community rejoiced to see South Africans of all colours, ethnic groups and creeds, working together to forge a common future.  It was heartening that civil society organizations were working hand in hand with the Government and the private sector to address such challenges as the harsh legacies of the apartheid regime, crime, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

    Young South Africans today were growing up in a country where political freedom and economic well-being were accepted as inextricably linked, he said.  They had a chance to contribute to building a stronger, more prosperous South Africa, which could not only help its own citizens, but also lead progress throughout the wider region.  Today, South Africa occupied a key position and played a strategic role in national and international affairs.  South Africans had played an indispensable part in efforts to bring peace to several countries of the continent, including Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  They were working in the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other organizations, to advance the cause of development, justice and African unity.  And in 2001, South Africa had become one of the five countries that had launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

    South African President Thabo Mbeki, in a message read by his country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, recalled that a few years after South Africa’s participation in the Organization’s founding, the General Assembly had begun debating racial discrimination practised in South Africa at that time.  Delegations led by India had questioned what to do with a Member State whose policies clearly contradicted the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  Although the United Nations had not reached agreement on what to do with the South African regime, it had nevertheless remained seized of that matter. 

    The significant difference had come in 1962 with the establishment of the Special Committee against Apartheid, he said. Another milestone had come when the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid had declared apartheid a crime against humanity.  In 1974, South Africa had been barred from participating in the General Assembly, and an invitation had been extended to the liberation movements, including the African National Congress, to participate at the United Nations as observers.  When South Africa had been welcomed back to participate in the work of the United Nations, it had immediately begun to work with other delegations on ways to strengthen the multilateral system so that it might effectively deal with similar challenges in the future.

    Security Council President Gunter Pleuger (Germany), noting the Council’s contribution to a peaceful change in South Africa, said that in 1963 it had called for an arms embargo against that country, following up in 1977 with resolution 418 by which it had imposed a comprehensive arms embargo, with additional restrictions in subsequent years.  At the beginning of the 1990s, a crucial moment had come when internal and external pressure had finally instigated change.  Nelson Mandela and his fellow combatants had been released from prison, and the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA) had accompanied the difficult and painful negotiations towards the new, democratic, non-racial and united South Africa, as called for by the Security Council.

    Initially, there had been concern about possible acts of revenge or even a reversal of the political circumstances with the majority henceforward oppressing the minority, he said.  Instead, the world had witnessed an unprecedented democratic process that had led to the creation of a South Africa whose people lived together in mutual respect, regardless of colour or origin.  The South African Government was committed to righting the wrongs of the past through lawful means and in the spirit of reconciliation, a difficult task in view of the magnitude of the injustices suffered.  The consistency and commitment of the South African Government, and most importantly the South African people in that regard, was admirable.

    Assistant Secretary-General Angela King, Adviser on Gender Issues and former Chief of UNOMSA, recalled that the Mission had arrived in the country following massacres and a deadlock in the negotiations.  The Mission had been dismissed by many as a small and insignificant presence, but its ranks had grown over time.  It had monitored demonstrations and other public protests, and helped to establish channels of communications across the political spectrum.  With time, the people of South Africa had become used to seeing “the face of the United Nations” all across the country.  The 10 years following the 1994 elections could be called a miracle.  The country had built democratic institutions and a vibrant civil society.  South Africa’s success story was indelibly linked to the United Nations just as the United Nations was indelibly linked to the country.

    The meeting also heard statements by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Marjatta Rasi (Finland), and the representatives of Malaysia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement); Mozambique (on behalf of the African Union); Italy (on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States); Grenada (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States); Serbia and Montenegro (on behalf of the Eastern European States); Viet Nam (on behalf of the Group of Asian States) and Uganda (on behalf of the Group of African States).

    Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser on Africa and former Chair of the Special Committee against Apartheid, also made a statement.

    Statement by General Assembly President

    Welcoming participants at the commemorative meeting who joined the Government and people of South Africa and well-wishers the world over in celebrating 10 years of democracy and freedom in that country, the President of the General Assembly, JULIAN HUNTE (Saint Lucia), said he recalled, as vividly as if it were today, that momentous occasion on 27 April 1994, when a new South Africa had emerged triumphantly from the dark past of apartheid.

    South Africa’s significant accomplishment was also an accomplishment for the United Nations, he said.  From the moment the Organization had received the danger signal that a founding Member had taken a retrograde step to institutionalize racism and racial discrimination, ending the abhorrent system of apartheid had become a priority for the Organization.  For over four decades, the United Nations had given international leadership and direction to the struggle against apartheid.  Notwithstanding the different perspectives some took on this issue, the Organization had shared the vision of the majority of South Africans for a country free from racism, racial discrimination, violence, despair and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It, therefore, gave moral standing to voices worldwide that demanded racial equality, economic progress and social justice for all South Africans.

    Acting in accordance with the Charter and international law, the United Nations had used every means available to bring about peaceful change in South Africa, he continued.  Apartheid was declared to be a crime, and declarations and treaties were adopted by the Assembly to eliminate it.  Specific mechanisms were created, including the Special Committee against Apartheid, to monitor developments in South Africa.  Other measures included economic, oil, and arms embargoes; appointment of Special Representatives to monitor the situation; and the establishment of international days and years to raise public awareness of the terrible price apartheid was extracting.

    He said the United Nations had recognized the legitimacy of a struggle by the majority of South Africans for their individual and political freedom, while consistently urging the South African Government to adhere to its obligations under the Charter and international law.  Other international and non-governmental organizations had joined in the anti-apartheid efforts.  Notwithstanding South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth, that organization had stayed the course.  Acting in concert with the United Nations, it had brought pressure to bear on the Government of South Africa to end apartheid and had played its part in supporting the dismantling of the system.

    As representative of a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country, Saint Lucia, he would be remiss if he did not recognize the systematic and proactive efforts of its leaders, governments and people towards ending apartheid, he said, including those by the late Michael Manley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, and the late Dame Nita Barrow, former Governor General of Barbados.  Angela King had given exemplary service to the United Nations as head of its Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA).

    The tribute for shaking off the mantle of apartheid, however, belonged to the people of South Africa, he stressed.  He had come to regard South Africa as a country in which one could expect the unexpected.  For example, after 27 years, Nelson Mandela, freed from prison, had become leader of a free and democratic South Africa.  The people of South Africa had demonstrated an exceptional ability to forgive the architects and perpetrators of the apartheid system, which had earned them respect and admiration worldwide.

    Despite decades of racism, racial discrimination and oppression, the people of South Africa had been uniquely successful in their national reconciliation and nation-building efforts, he said.  They could be justifiably proud of their accomplishments, which served as inspirations for all.  Importantly, South Africa had taken its rightful place in the community of nations, providing proven leadership in organizations, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the African Union.  In the United Nations, in particular, it was to be commended for its support and leadership in key United Nations activities, including meetings such as the World Summit for Sustainable Development.

    The Government and people of South Africa also had a proven track record in keeping their diverse country on the democratic path.  On 14 April, South Africans had gone to the polls for the third time.  For the third time, they had exercised their right to choose those who would govern them, without disruption, in free and fair elections.  He congratulated President Mbeki as he again took up the high office of President.

    Among the many lessons that could be learned from South Africa’s struggles and triumphs, he mentioned the fact that the United Nations had the capacity to deal effectively with racism and racial discrimination, if the political will existed.  The second lesson was that multilateralism worked.  “Our celebration, therefore, includes recognition of multilateral efforts that helped to bring democracy and freedom to South Africa.  But above all, it is a celebration of a democratic, free and progressive South Africa”, he said.

    Message from President Thabo Mbeki

    THABO MBEKI, President of South Africa, in a message delivered by DUMISANI S. KUMALO, that country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, recalled that South Africa had been one of the 51 countries present at the Organization’s founding in 1945.  However, a few years later, the General Assembly had begun debating racial discrimination practised in South Africa at that time.  Delegations led by India had questioned what to do with a Member State whose policies clearly contradicted the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

    Although the United Nations had not reached agreement on what to do with the regime in South Africa, he said, it had nevertheless remained seized with that matter.  The significant difference had come in 1962 with the establishment of the Special Committee against Apartheid.  Another milestone had come when the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid had declared apartheid a crime against humanity.  In 1974, South Africa had been barred from participating in the General Assembly, and an invitation had been extended to the liberation movements, including the African National Congress, to participate in the United Nations as observers.

    The Security Council had begun seriously considering the situation in South Africa following the massacre by police of scores of African people at Sharpeville on 21 March 1960, he said.  When the liberation struggle had forced the apartheid regime to the negotiating table, the United Nations had responded by providing international political support.  In August 1992, the Organization had deployed observers to South Africa as a sign of support for the negotiations and to monitor political violence in the country.

    He said that when South Africa had been welcomed back to participate in the work of the United Nations, it had immediately begun to work with other delegations to seek ways to strengthen the multilateral system so that it might effectively deal with similar challenges in the future.  As an African country, South Africa had always believed that its destiny was linked to a peaceful and prosperous continent.  Together with its African neighbours, South Africa had joined to transform continental institutions to make them ready to deliver a better life for all Africans.  The African Union had assigned itself the critical task of maintaining peace and security on the continent, while, at the same time, creating conditions under which development could become sustainable.

    Statement by Secretary-General

    Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said today’s commemoration gave concrete meaning to abstract concepts of humanity and hope.  A decade after South Africa’s transformation into a non-racial, multi-party democracy, people around the world would remember the transition from apartheid as little short of a miracle.  What had made it possible was the determination of the people of South Africa to work together to heal the deep scars caused by racial discrimination, oppression, humiliation, denial and exploitation, and to transform their bitter experiences into the binding glue of a rainbow nation.

    He said the struggle against apartheid had galvanized the entire world –- it had rallied people and governments behind a common objective of reaffirming the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all peoples.  Today, the international community rejoiced to see South Africans of all colours, ethnic groups and creeds, working together to forge a common future.  It was heartening that civil society organizations were working hand in hand with the Government and the private sector to address such challenges as the harsh legacies of the apartheid regime, crime, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

    Young people in South Africa today were growing up in a new environment where the right to a quality education was not determined by the colour of their skin, he continued.  They now lived in a country where political freedom and economic well-being were accepted as inextricably linked.  They had a chance to contribute to building a stronger, more prosperous South Africa, which could not only help its own citizens, but also lead progress throughout the wider region. 

    Today, South Africa occupied a key position and played a strategic role in national and international affairs, he said.  South Africans had played an indispensable part in the efforts to bring peace to several countries of the continent, including Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  They were working with their brothers and sisters in the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other organizations, to advance the cause of development, justice and African unity.  And in 2001, South Africa had become one of the five countries that had launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

    Today, the entire United Nations family joined with the heroic people of South Africa as they dedicated themselves to working even harder for a brighter future, he said.  “We pledge our support to the struggle to further consolidate democratic institutions, to promote human rights, and to build an ever more successful South Africa.”

    Statement by Security Council President

    GUNTER PLEUGER (Germany), President of the Security Council, said the election date 10 years ago had marked the end of a period in South African history characterized by inhuman oppression of, and blatant discrimination against, the majority by a small minority.  The everyday practice of apartheid had been a systematic racial oppression of the majority of South Africans, whose suffering had not been forgotten.  Nelson Mandela stood for many people of all races who had unflinchingly stood up for freedom, democracy, human rights and reconciliation.  Often, they had paid for their commitment with a loss of freedom, with lasting physical and psychological wounds, or even with their lives.

    He said the United Nations and the Security Council had also sought to contribute to a peaceful change in South Africa.  In 1963, the Council had called for an arms embargo against South Africa and, in 1977, with resolution 418, it had imposed a comprehensive arms embargo, with additional restrictions over the years.  At the beginning of the 1990s, a crucial moment had come when internal and external pressure had finally instigated change.  Nelson Mandela and his fellow combatants had been released from prison, and UNOMSA had accompanied the difficult and painful negotiations towards the new, democratic, non-racial and united South Africa, as called for by the Security Council.

    Initially, there had been concern about possible acts of revenge or even a reversal of the political circumstances with the majority henceforward oppressing the minority, he said.  Instead, the world had witnessed an unprecedented democratic process that had led to the creation of a South Africa whose people lived together equal in rights and with mutual respect, regardless of the colour of their skins or origin.  The South African Government was committed to righting the wrongs of the past through lawful means and in the spirit of reconciliation.  In view of the magnitude of the injustices suffered, that was a difficult task.  The consistency and commitment of the South African Government, and most importantly the South African people in that regard, was admirable.

    Likewise, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must be commended for its successful work, he cautioned, noting that South Africa’s reconciliation process was far from complete.  In addition to the emotional baggage that many people would continue to carry for a long time to come, the legacy of apartheid was tangible in economic, political and social areas.  Millions of people still needed access to clean drinking water, electricity, suitable living space and comprehensive health care.  Equal opportunities for education must be realized; equal participation in economic life must be facilitated for all; and administrative structures must be reformed.

    Statement by Economic and Social Council President

    MARJATTA RASI (Finland), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the challenge facing South Africa with the achievement of democracy in 1994 had been one of a kind.  Today, the country remained a tremendous sign of hope for Africa and the world as a whole.  The country where the majority of the population had been denied its basic rights had turned into a multi-racial democracy.  A key role had been played by President Nelson Mandela.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa could work as a model for other countries on the way to national reconciliation.

    At the international level, transition processes required adequate support and mentoring from the international system, she continued.  The United Nations could play a unique role in that respect.

    As many were aware, South Africa had played a leading role in the work of the Council, she said, welcoming the extensive work by Ambassador Kumalo in that respect.  The role of South Africa in promoting peace and development on the continent and elsewhere was of great value for the international community.  Within the intergovernmental machinery, the efforts must go on to join together to prevent the fragility of the transition process from turning into violence.  Inspiration in that respect could come from South Africa’s experience.

    Other Statements

    IBRAHIM GAMBARI, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, and former Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid, said that today’s South Africa, much different from the one of yesteryear, was a progressive, vibrant, virile, multi-party and non-racial democratic country that had taken its rightful place in the pecking order of nations in good standing.  It was also a testimony that there was still a modicum of hope left for humanity and was an affirmation of what could be achieved where there was political will.

    A non-racial, democratic South Africa was one of the true successes of the United Nations and the international community, he said.  In that regard, the proactive anti-apartheid role of Nigeria, Ghana, India, the Nordic and East European States, as well as the frontline States of southern Africa, must be commended for advancing the case of freedom for South Africans.  Tribute must also be paid to the many South Africans who had lost their lives, land and property while standing tall against apartheid.  Their struggles had borne fruit when Nelson Mandela had been sworn into office as President on 10 May 1994.

    The South Africa being celebrated today was a full partner and strong voice at the international community’s table, he said.  The country had played and continued to play a critically important role in peace and security matters.  More importantly, it had assumed a leadership role in Africa -– one by which it carried with dignity the aspirations of he peoples and nations of the African continent.  In the political, social, economic, humanitarian and development sphere, South Africa had taken a leading role in giving a new voice to one of the architects and initiators of NEPAD.  In celebrating the present, the international community also celebrated the hopes, bright future and aspirations of all South Africans to remain an exemplar in the practice of good governance, the rule of law and other democratic ideals.

    ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Adviser on Gender Issues and former Chief of Mission of the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA), said that 10 years was a short time in a country’s history, but monumental changes had taken place in South Africa, which now played an important role on the international scene.  The history of a democratic South Africa in the past 40 years had been linked with the United Nations, which had waged a fight against apartheid.  In particular, the Organization’s involvement in the country had been manifested through the establishment of a mission there.

    “We arrived on a cold day in September 1992”, she said.  “There were 13 of us.”  The mission arrived after recent massacres and a deadlock in the negotiations, “in the midst of predictions of yet another Armageddon”.  It was dismissed by many as a small and insignificant presence.  The Mission’s ranks had grown over time, however.  The presence of international observers had not ended violence, but had created favourable conditions for creation of the democracy.  It had become a model rich in lessons how to develop national involvement and ownership of a peace process.

    Building trust and confidence had taken a lot of nudging and sometimes shaming South Africans, she continued.  The Mission had engaged in monitoring demonstrations and other types of public protests, and in the establishment of channels of communications across the political spectrum, including heads of local police and religious groups.  Non-governmental organizations, religious and tribal leaders had played a critical role in the political process.  With time, the people of South Africa got used to seeing “the face of the United Nations” all across the country.

    She recalled that UNOMSA’s main ally had been the framework of the peace accord signed by all parties.  It had been drawn by the South Africans before the arrival of the United Nations, but its implementation had been carried out with the Mission’s participation.  One of the lessons learned from the Mission was that from the beginning an effort had been made to select personnel on the basis of gender and relevant experiences.  South African women had played an important role in the process, and many women had been in important government positions during the period covered by the last three elections.

    The 10 years that followed the 1994 elections could be called a miracle, she said.  The country had built democratic institutions and a vibrant civil society.  The success story of the country was indelibly linked to the United Nations just as the United Nations was indelibly linked to the country. South Africa’s success, in partnership with the United Nations, would continue “to influence us all”.

    RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia), Chairman of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Movement had been engaged in the struggle against apartheid since its inception.  At its first summit, held in Belgrade in September 1961, the Movement had resolutely condemned the policy of apartheid practised by the Union of South Africa and had demanded its immediate abandonment.  The Movement had also championed that fight at the United Nations.  The Non-Aligned Movement took great satisfaction in its consistent, continuous and constructive efforts at all levels to bring about a just and lasting end to such policies as apartheid.

    He said that the day of freedom and democracy that had finally come to South Africa on 27 April 1994 marked the day when South Africans from all walks of life and across the colour spectrum had stood in line to exercise their precious and long-desired right to vote, the vast majority of them for the first time.  But they had exercised that right with determination, voting for a non-racial and democratic government.  The Non-Aligned Movement had shared their joy then just as it had shared their pain and suffering during apartheid.  With its new-found freedom and democracy, South Africa had played a tremendously active and proactive role in international relations, including at the United Nations, and had certainly made its mark as a leader in the family of nations.

    South Africa had made very important contributions towards peace and security, as well as development, not only in Africa, but throughout the world, he said.  South Africa had unequivocally renounced weapons of mass destruction and had played a constructive role in advancing the aspirations of the Non-Aligned Movement in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  In its 10 years of freedom, it had hosted international meetings such as the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government in 1999, the World Conference against Racism in 2001, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, and the inaugural Summit of the African Union, also in 2002.  The struggle epitomized by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress was one of the greatest epics of all time and, today, the world still had a lot to learn from that remarkable experience.

    Speaking in his capacity as the Chair of the African Union, FILIPE CHIDUMO (Mozambique) said that apartheid had been correctly characterized as a crime against the conscience of humankind.  With its eradication, South Africa had turned into a free and democratic country, where national reconciliation had been successful.  The end of that shameful practice had opened a new era not only for South Africa, but also for the region, the continent and the world at large.

    He recalled the landmark declaration, by which the Assembly had addressed apartheid and which had played an important role in achieving freedom and democracy in South Africa.  He wanted to pay a special tribute to President Nelson Mandela, who had set the foundation for a peaceful, democratic and non-racial South Africa, and to all the freedom fighters who had made today’s celebration possible.  He also appreciated the role of the United Nations and the international community for their continued support to the people South Africa throughout the years of their fight.

    Recent free, fair and democratic elections had culminated in a re-election of President Mbeke, he said.  That was a demonstration of the high regard the people of the country held in him.  He looked forward to the country’s continued participation in the efforts to achieve democracy, conflict-prevention and democracy in Africa.

    South Africa was an unparalleled source of inspiration to others, he said.  He hoped that its success would be replicated on the entire continent giving a true meaning to African renaissance.  The end of apartheid constituted a vivid example that when there was a will, there was a way.  The implementation of the Millennium Development Goals within the framework of NEPAD would mean further consolidation of democracy and improvement of the living conditions of its citizens.  However, it could only be achieved in real partnership under the leadership of the United Nations.

    MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy), speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States, said it had been thanks to the strong commitment of the United Nations that much that could have gone wrong in South Africa had not.  Much that might have gone badly had actually gone well.

    He said the United Nations had made a vital contribution to South Africa’s quest for freedom in many ways:  the embargo imposed by the Security Council on the racist regime; the many firm condemnations of apartheid adopted by the General Assembly; the constant political pressure of the Special Committee against Apartheid to persuade the old regime to embark on the path of change; and the key role played by UNOMSA in the final stage of the peace process.

    Ten years of South African democracy and progress were a shining source of hope for Africa and for opening new roads to freedom, peace and stability, he said.  The example it had set helped to lift the fog of pessimism that for far too long had shaped the international approach to Africa.  It was gratifying to see South Africa today as a driving force of the new pan-African institutions along policy lines that blended principles with pragmatism; a strong supporter of multilateralism; and an active supporter of the United Nations in all areas.

    Speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), LAMUEL A. STANISLAUS (Grenada) said the name of Nelson Mandela, Nobel Prize winner and the first President of a free South Africa, would forever be lovingly and reverently remembered.  He had the vision to see, the faith to believe and the courage to act and suffer, so that the country would one day be free.  He remembered also the many other freedom fighters who had participated in the struggle.

    The United Nations had played a catalytic role in the eradication of apartheid in all its forms and manifestations, he continued.  From the vantage point of Latin America and the Caribbean, South Africa’s transition held many lessons, especially for countries that in the 1980s had also experienced a transition from authoritarian to democratic regimes.  Some of the members of the Group were also multi-racial and multi-ethnic countries.  It should be no surprise, therefore, that they were often on the same side of many issues debated in the United Nations forums.  GRULAC members appreciated the truly significant role that South Africa had played in the United Nations over the past 10 years.  Just as the United Nations had played a key role in the emergence of a viable and democratic South Africa, South Africa had played a key role in making the United Nations a more relevant organization.  Today, GRULAC applauded both sides.

    Notwithstanding the bitter and painful experiences of the past, he said South Africa had taught the international community that there could be no “future without forgiveness”, articulated so beautifully by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who would accompany the indomitable Nelson Mandela to his country on 1 May.  They would attend the XXIV Congress of the Confederation of North American, Central American and Caribbean Football Associations to promote South Africa as the site for the 2010 World Cup.

    ROKSANDA NINCIC (Serbia and Montenegro), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, recalled the role of the United Nations in assisting those suffering under apartheid and in putting pressure in the regime to embark upon the path of a democratic and united South Africa.  Those actions, expressing both solidarity with the majority of South Africans and outrage at the regime, had contributed to a large extent to the eradication of apartheid and the ultimate victory of freedom, equality and human rights.  The lessons from that experience were clear:  the international community must stand united and determined to prevent and confront human rights violations against all people without discrimination.

    The Eastern European States were confident that the people of South Africa would continue to be committed to a democratic and economically prosperous society, she said.  However, the victory over apartheid in South Africa must not be seen as an excuse for complacency, but as a new call for action.  Regrettably, the world was still seeing massive violations of human rights, where individuals were targeted just because they were of a different race, nationality, religion, sex or on other grounds.  There was a need to demonstrate resolve to translate into practice the principles reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that all human beings were born equal in dignity and rights, and step up efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination.

    Speaking on behalf of the Group of Asian States, LE LUONG MINH (Viet Nam) congratulated the people of South Africa on their achievements over the past decade in rebuilding their country and society.  In that connection, one could not fail to mention the contributions of Mr. Mandela and the wholehearted support from peoples around the world, including the peoples of Asia, with India the first country to bring up the question before the world community in 1948.  The Group believed that under the leadership of President Mbeki and the African National Congress, the people of South Africa would record even greater successes in their journey forward.

    Apartheid was not only a moral question, he continued.  It was also a question of maintaining international peace and security, which required united and effective world action.  The contribution of the Special Committee against Apartheid and the United Nations, in general, must be fully recognized.  The lesson of South Africa taught the world how much destruction a racist regime like the one in South Africa could cause to its own country and how the peoples of the world, once united, could help.

    Decades of apartheid had left South Africa “in social and economic tatters”, he continued.  Ten years of freedom had brought about great changes to that land.  However, the legacy of hundreds of years of colonialism and decades of apartheid had not all gone.  The Asian governments and peoples understood the hardships and challenges that still lay ahead.  In reaffirming their sympathy and solidarity with the Government and people of South Africa, they wished them every success in their new endeavours.

    FRANCIS BUTAGIRA (Uganda), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States and associating himself with the African Union, said that the struggle against apartheid had succeeded because the cause had been just.  Contrary to God’s purpose, a group of racialists had ordained that they were superior and they had relegated another racial group to hewers of wood and worse in their own country.  Since the doctrine of apartheid had been against God’s purpose, it was bound to fail.

    Commending the leadership of those who had spearheaded the struggle, especially Nelson Mandela, he said many would have given up the struggle after having been incarcerated for 27 years.  Mr. Mandela had seized a moment when there had been a need for leadership to engage in constructive dialogue with his bitter opponents, and by extending a hand of friendship, had helped to create a new racially harmonious and progressive country that accommodated all South Africans.  Today, there were other forms of oppression all over the world in different hues and guises. The same determination that had characterized the struggle against apartheid should be extended to those forms of oppression.  Africa must regain its economic independence and play a role as an equal partner in the globalization process.

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