While poverty persists, there is no freedom
Millions remain enslaved and in chains at a time of breathtaking
advances in technology and wealth
By Nelson Mandela
Guardian" -- -- In Johannesburg, this week, in the
warm company of friends, like Nadine Gordimer, I became an
Amnesty International ambassador of conscience. It was a joy for
me to receive this honour from the members of the world's
largest human rights movement. It was heartening too that the
award was inspired by the great Irish writer Seamus Heaney's
poem From the Republic of Conscience, which reminds us all of
Their embassies, he said, were everywhere but operated
independently and no ambassador would ever be relieved.
Like Amnesty International, I have been struggling for justice
and human rights for long years. I have retired from public life
now. But as long as injustice and inequality persist in our
world, none of us can truly rest. We must become stronger still.
Through the work of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson
Mandela Children's Fund, and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, I am
continuing my struggle for human rights. These three charitable
institutions operating in my name are tasked with continuing my
work in important areas I have been concerned with throughout my
life: children and youth, memory and dialogue, and building new
generations of ethical leaders.
It is my wish that this award should help all activists around
the world to shine their candles of hope for the forgotten
prisoners of poverty. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not
natural. It is people who have made poverty and tolerated
poverty, and it is people who will overcome it.
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of
justice. It is the protection of fundamental human rights.
Everyone everywhere has the right to live with dignity, free
from fear and oppression, free from hunger and thirst, and free
to express themselves and associate at will.
Yet in this new century millions of people remain imprisoned,
enslaved and in chains. Massive poverty and inequality are
terrible scourges of our times - times in which the world also
boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry
and wealth accumulation.
While poverty persists, there is no true freedom. Amnesty
International is right to stand up against the rights violations
that drive and deepen poverty.
People living in poverty have the least access to power to shape
policies - to shape their future. But they have the right to a
voice. They must not be made to sit in silence as"development"
happens around them, at their expense. True development is
impossible without the participation of those concerned.
Take the right to housing. Three million people in Africa have
been evicted from informal settlements since the turn of the
We have also seen in Africa the scourge of HIV-Aids, decimating
the lives of our people, especially those living in poverty. All
of us - rich and poor, governments, companies and individuals -
share the responsibility of ensuring that everyone has access to
information, means of prevention and treatment. And our starting
point must be respect for individuals' rights.
We know that it is the already marginalised who are most
affected by HIV-Aids. And we know that, within this group, women
are marginalised yet more and bear the most significant burden.
As daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers, every day they
experience and live out the reality of this pandemic.
Women are also being killed by other preventable causes. One
woman dies every minute from conditions relating to pregnancy.
And where do almost all these women live? In the developing
world - in poverty. Amnesty International is working to make
rights real for women, through its work on poverty, and through
its campaigning against the violence they face.
Women and girls need safe environments to learn and to work. At
the moment, discrimination and violence exacerbate their lack of
access to the very tools they need to make their own rights a
reality. If girls do not have a safe and non-discriminatory
environment to pursue education or gain employment, the
consequences reverberate throughout their lives, denying them
the choice and freedom we take for granted.
Women and girls living in abusive relationships, for example,
are unable to flee the violence because they are financially
dependent on their abusers. This balance of power, and the
broader one it represents, must be shifted.
I have spoken before about the need for a turning point. I see
this ambassador of conscience award as one more step towards
that turning point. Nadine Gordimer has recalled a conversation
she and I had in 1998, when I said: "What I want to see is an
environment where the young people of our country have a real
chance to develop the inherent possibilities they have to create
a better life for themselves... That is what development is
If all human rights activists around the world believe this, and
act on this, and get others to believe, we will have our turning
· This is an edited version of a speech given by Nelson Mandela
in Johannesburg on Wednesday when he became an Amnesty
International ambassador of conscience.