Nelson Mandela Peace Summit 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Conflict Prevention
Peace Processes
United Nation Theme: 

Epsy Campbell Barr, First Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Costa Rica, makes remarks during the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit (Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak)


On 24 September 2018 nearly 100 representatives of Member States, intergovernmental organisations and civil society gathered in the United Nations Headquarters for the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit. The Peace Summit offered world leaders the opportunity to renew their commitment to global peace, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, promotion and protection of human rights and long-term development initiatives. Indeed, the outcome document of the Summit, a political declaration, reaffirmed the values of Nelson Mandela as well as Member States’ commitments to ensuring the full protection and participation of women.

In accordance with, UN General Assembly Resolution 72/243, the event consisted of an opening plenary meeting with statements delivered by Secretary-General António Guterres, President of the 73rd session of UN General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Chairperson of the African Union Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, civil society representative Mr. Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, and an eminent person, H.E. Ms. Graça Machel. This was then followed by a high-level plenary session where the rest of the attending world leaders could deliver statements on the state of global peace and Nelson Mandela’s legacy.


At the opening plenary meeting, briefers spoke on the legacy of Nelson Mandela and discussed how the UN can keep his legacy alive by adopting the political declaration and reaffirming their commitments to peace and security for all.

H.E Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces spoke on the impact that militarisation has had on global peace. “The world is still at the mercy of the threat posed by the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. The tensions between nations with nuclear weapons… still persist,” she said. She also reaffirmed her commitment to multilateralism and encouraged all attending world leaders to do the same.

H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa, also spoke on disarmament, recalling Nelson Mandela’s own concern over the threat posed by nuclear weapons as expressed in his 1998 speech at the UN. Mr. Ramaphosa then spoke on the importance of women’s role in peace, saying, “we are called upon to ensure that women are afforded a special role in peace negotiations, political transition and ensuring durable security for all.” He stressed the importance of supporting UN action that “[ensures] that women take a center stage on issues of peace and security and provide leadership in peace operations. We welcome efforts towards achieving equal representation of women in leadership positions in UN peace missions.” The need for global gender equality and multilateralism was echoed by Leo Eric Varadkar, Minister of Defense for Ireland shortly after.

H.E. Ms. Graça Machel, Mozambican politician and humanitarian and widow of Nelson Mandela spoke extensively of the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the future of global peace. She argued that global security has deteriorated with the increase of armed conflicts and affirmed that “peacemaking…equally requires the muscle of the private sector, civil society organisations and citizens at the grassroots as well.”

Mr. Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, concluded the opening remarks, urging leaders not to normalise and adjust to shrinking civil society space, a culture of conflict and inhumane actions that largely target women.

The statements delivered in the opening plenary meeting consisted greatly of each speaker’s introspections on Nelson Mandela’s life and impact on the world that is still pervasive today. The opening remarks echoed many of Nelson Mandela’s own values of social equality, human dignity, justice, multilateralism and reconciliation. Each speaker discussed the need to address the many present threats to global peace and security as well as how today’s world leaders can learn from Mandela in addressing them.  


Nearly 100 world leader spoke of the pervasive legacy left by Nelson Mandela and even recounted their own memories of him, both personally and as a public figure. Many reminisced on their own feelings of hope upon learning of his release from prison in 1990 as well as their feelings of despondency and loss upon learning of his death in 2013. Many leaders of member states meditated on the values, qualities and legacy of Nelson Mandela’s bravery as well as his role in their own countries’ peace processes. However, far too many world leaders chose to circumscribe their statements to simply remembering Nelson Mandela, refusing to discuss the current and future state of peace and security in-depth or plans for advancing old commitments.

Some speakers echoed Nelson Mandela’s values of multilateralism, including President of the 73rd Session of the UNGA Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Minister of Defense for Ireland Leo Eric Varadkar, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium Didier Reynders, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago Dennis Moses, and others. This seemed to continuously reappear as a key theme throughout the summit.

Conflict prevention, reconciliation and peacebuilding were also mentioned frequently by over 50% of leaders. A few member states such as Malaysia, China, and Bermuda and Antigua stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of violence and conflict in order to properly prevent conflict and create sustaining peace.The President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, identified inequality as the root cause of conflict. However, only 11 leaders mentioned disarmament and none of these member states identified violent masculinities and a militarised vision of security as among those roots.


Throughout June and July 2018, negotiations with Member States took place to develop an initial draft of the political declaration for adoption at the Summit.These discussions were co-facilitated by Jerry Matthews Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa, and Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland.The second draft was considered on 16 July and the final draft was presented on 12 September.

While the political declaration adopted at the Summit failed to recognise the effect that the proliferation of arms and conflict has on women, the declaration demonstrates the commitment of Member States to redouble their efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world through policy coherence (para. 6), bottom-up approaches (para. 15), addressing root causes of violence (para. 18) and gender equality (para. 1, 10 and 18). While advancing peace is a complicated task, by adopting this declaration, Member States reaffirmed that development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked, mutually reinforcing and should be addressed through an integrated approach for lasting peace.


Many speakers alike recalled Nelson Mandela’s wise words on peace, justice, equality and human dignity. One of the most common of Nelson Mandela’s quotes cited at the Summit was, “To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” This stood in stark contrast to the lack of representation and recognition of the rights and role of women displayed in the statements delivered at the Summit.

Something that was pointed out frequently throughout the Summit was the fact that it coincided with the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many speakers mentioned the importance of adhering to UN treaties, resolutions and policy relating to peacekeeping and human rights. However, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia Khemaies Jhinaoui was the only leader who mentioned UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR1325), a landmark peace resolution that coincides with Mandela’s passion for peace, civil society engagement and gender equality. To this end, only 6 speakers mentioned civil society, which serves only to further illustrate the shrinking space for civil society participation that Mr. Kumi Naidoo referred to in his opening statement.

Additionally, the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda has called for women’s participation and representation at all levels of decision-making in peace processes. However, the Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg and the Prime Minister of Samoa Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi were among only 9 leaders whose statements mentioned women’s participation in peace work.

Finally, only 12 of the speakers at the Summit were women, and women peace and security were only discussed by 18% of speakers. Issues that frequently stem from violence and conflict and mainly affect women such as sexual and gender-based violence were only mentioned by 8 leaders. Women’s participation in UN events like the Nelson Mandela Summit is essential as women provide a critical perspective on issues involving women.

Women’s early and full engagement in peace processes increases awareness of, and responsiveness to, women’s rights and needs. Their presence translates into the inclusion of gender-responsive provisions in peace agreements, which are crucial to facilitating gender equality in post-conflict political, economic, legal and security structures. Going forward, UN bodies should match their actions and words and ensure that women are properly represented in peace negotiations and UNGA operations. They can do this by:

  • Ensuring increased representation of women at all decision-making levels;

  • Strengthening gender analysis of peacebuilding work;

  • Including women-led civil society in formal leadership positions within working groups, consultations, and steering committees;

  • Commiting to include agenda items on women’s participation in UN meetings and discussions;

  • Ensure meaningful consultation and direct participation of women in peace processes, and ensure funding and security for their attendance at negotiations;

  • Establish systems across all financing actors to promote transparency and accountability  and track whether financial allocations further gender equality in a fully; comparable manner.

Document PDF: 

UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/72/243: Nelson Mandela Peace Summit

Political Declaration adopted at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit