Irwin Cotler spoke in the House of Commons on December 5th to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, on whose international legal team he served. Below are excerpts of his remarks:
We are all, wherever we are, deeply saddened and profoundly pained at the passing of a great world historical figure, Nelson Mandela – a person who endured 27 years in a South African prison and emerged to not only preside over the dismantling of apartheid, but, in fact, to make possible, as president, the establishment of a democratic, multiracial, free South Africa.
Mandela was the embodiment of the three great struggles of the 20th century: the long march toward freedom, as he put it, the march for democracy, and the march for equality. In a word, he was the metaphor and message for the struggle for human rights and human dignity in our time.
If apartheid was the ultimate racist assault on human rights and human dignity, if South Africa was the first post-World War II country to have institutionalized racism as a matter of law – we should not forget that apartheid was not just a racist philosophy. It was a racist legal regime – and it was Mandela who fought and gave full expression to that struggle for human rights and human dignity against this racist legal regime.
Mandela was a role model for nation building wherever we are. He was the one who inspired the notion of establishing a rainbow coalition, of taking diverse peoples, even antagonistic peoples, and welding them into a united rainbow coalition for nation building.
Mandela – as I learned as a member of his international legal team, was a person without rancour, without revenge, without anger, without malice – a person, of resilience, of determination, of commitment – and most of all, an inspirational person – a metaphor for hope, particularly for the young.
May his memory serve always as an inspiration for us all, wherever we are – and may that memory serve always as a blessing.