Wed Nov 1, 2006
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela received Amnesty International's 2006 "Ambassador of Conscience" award on Wednesday for being a moral beacon in a world plagued by human rights abuses.
The award was presented by South Africa's Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer in Johannesburg at the foundation Mandela founded to raise awareness for humanitarian causes, including HIV/AIDS programs and child rights.
"Mandela epitomises the human being of conscience, male or female," Gordimer said of the 88-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who guided South Africa from apartheid to democracy and became the country's first black president in 1994.
"We have him still, carrying the consciences of freedom … to the moral challenges of a new time in human responsibility."
Mandela said lifting people from poverty will restore human dignity and praised the work of Amnesty's 2 million members for their efforts to achieve world justice and prevent rights abuses.
"It is my fervent wish as I come together with human rights activists that we shine hope for the forgotten prisoners of poverty," he said.
Amnesty used the event to make an appeal for more attention from world leaders to protect vulnerable people who are dying every day of poverty, war and disease.
At the presentation, Amnesty drew parallels between Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for fighting white minority rule in South Africa, and Guantanamo Bay detainees imprisoned in the U.S.-led campaign against terror.
"You find the world wanting today when you look at leaders like (U.S. President George W.) Bush and (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair. They have sold out the dreams of global values with their war on terror," said Kate Gilmore, executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty International. "Nelson Mandela is the antithesis of that style of leadership."
Mandela officially stepped out of the spotlight two years ago but still frequently makes public appearances to promote AIDS awareness and other issues.
"The struggle has not ended for him," said George Bizos, the lawyer who represented Mandela in his famous 1963 Rivonia treason trial.
The award was presented a day after the death of former South African President P.W. Botha, the defiant face of minority rule during the height of apartheid who had refused to release Mandela from prison.