December 10, 2013

International Human Rights Day

Mr. CARDIN.  Mr. President, I rise today in recognition of International Human Rights Day. Sixty-five  years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which serves as a foundation for human rights initiatives internationally, and is an enduring guide for human rights advocates around the globe.

     On this annual celebration of International Human Rights Day we all mourn with heavy hearts the loss of Nelson Mandela, a man who devoted his life to promoting human rights, freedom, and harmony.   

     Humanity has lost one of its greatest leaders with the passing of Madiba, or ‘father’, as he was lovingly called.  My prayers go out to his family and all the people of South Africa.  He was a personal hero of mine, and of those who work to uphold human rights around the world.   He led his nation not only in overcoming the divisions of racism, but in reconciling and healing.  Throughout his life Nelson Mandela never stopped fighting for the oppressed, speaking out for the voiceless, and given hope to the hopeless.   One of the greatest leaders may have left this world but the lessons he taught us about human dignity, sacrifice, perseverance, and perhaps the most powerful lesson of all—forgiveness—  will live on forever.

     In 1964, Nelson Mandela was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison for his part in the fight for racial equality in apartheid South Africa.  At his trial Mandela said, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  Thankfully Mandela did not die during his 30 year imprisonment, and instead after enduring the unthinkable with grace and dignity, he emerged to lead a country to self determination, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

     In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was finally released after ten thousand days of imprisonment, his spirit was stronger than ever.  Ten thousand days in prison were not enough to break his spirit and his devotion to the freedom of all people. In his autobiography, Mandela wrote “…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.” 

     And that he did.   His democratic ideals were unwavering. He led by example, living a relatively modest life, refusing to reside in the presidential mansion,  and serving only one term as South Africa’s first black president.

     Mandela’s influence on the continent, and indeed around the world, does not end with his passing.  His story and moral courage has changed countless lives forever. As he once said, ‘the true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.’  State and federal lawmakers across the U.S. looked to Mandela as an inspiration when crafting laws that mandated divestment from South Africa’s cruel Apartheid regime.  I had the privilege of serving as Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates when we passed such legislation.  Years later, our Nation is still striving to follow in Mandela’s footsteps and fully realize his dream of peace and equality for all of mankind.

     As President Obama said, Mandela “took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.” And so on this International Human Rights Day, we pay tribute to the great Madiba, the father of a free and peaceful South Africa, a legendary African, and a shining example for future generations of change-makers who have inherited a better world because of his great deeds. 

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