Mrs Machel takes on Hall of Fame, speaks out on human rights

Mrs Graca Machel has no doubt in her mind that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is as necessary today as it was seventy years ago.

“I believe the Declaration is a living text, informed by its history and adaptable to the present and future”. She said this after accepting to be inducted into the Ambassador David M Walters International Paediatric Hall of Fame, for her commitment to improve the lives of children in Africa by ensuring that they are happy and healthy.

Mrs Machel is the Founder of the Graca Machel Trust, which uses creative ways to address critical issues to mobilise and establish networks that can unleash economic and social transformation for Africa’s women and children so that they can live dignified, productive and fulfilled lives. She believes in tackling the root of challenges which women and children face.

Having shown that the first 1000 days in a child’s life are critical for optimal brain development, the Trust has been focusing on the importance of nutrition as a strategic imperative, to tackle the unacceptably high levels of stunting in Africa. The Trust is aware that beyond good nutrition, the environment in which a child is born, nurtured and develops has a direct bearing on a child’s education, health and ability to fully pursue fulfilling professional opportunities.

Hall of Fame

Ms Graca Machel gives a speech after receiving her award. Photo Courtesy.

She becomes one of the several inductees of the Hall of Fame which pays homage to individuals from all walks of life who are strong advocates for children’s causes. Induction into the Hall of Fame is the highest honour bestowed by Miami Children's Health Foundation and each inductee has demonstrated a passionate commitment to ensure the health and happiness of children everywhere. For their unwavering commitment to improving the lives of children.

The Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation (now, Nicklaus Children's Hospital Foundation was started when Ambassador David M. Walters lost his 6-year-old granddaughter Shannon Joy to leukaemia in 1970 due to lack of medical resources. The Ambassador vowed no child would ever have to leave South Florida to receive world-class healthcare.

Mrs Machel believes there could be no true independence and freedom for children if the Human Rights Declaration is not taken seriously. Giving the historical context behind the Declaration’s genesis, Mrs Machel remind us that “It was born out of the devastation of the Second World War, the atrocity of the Holocaust and the determination – as seen in the contemporaneous Nuremburg Trials – to create new instruments to deliver justice and protect rights and freedoms.”

To her the declaration is a global text, informed by the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man as well as the African notion of “Ubuntu” which in Archbishop Desmond Tutu words means“my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.”

Mrs Machel is concerned that the Declaration’s power has always depended on the political will of leaders to uphold, and most just pay hypocritical lip-service to its noble aspirations, noting that the past seven decades offer countless depressing examples.

“In the same year the Declaration was signed, South Africa started the process of codifying its brutal apartheid regime; Palestinians were dispossessed en masse in the “nakba” linked to the founding of the State of Israel; and Britain and France were engaged in military conflicts around the globe to try to preserve their colonial empires.

To paraphrase George Orwell, many of the leaders who signed the Declaration in 1948 clearly felt that “all humans’ rights are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

Ms Machel receives her award. Photo Courtesy.

Mrs Machel noted that today, from Palestine to the Central African Republic, Eritrea to Myanmar, and Venezuela to the Syria, countless women, men and children have their human rights denied and are subject to arbitrary detention, torture, sexual assault and even assassination.

” Tyrants and dictators are further emboldened when democratic leaders abjure their responsibilities to uphold human rights and international law, in favour of either cynical isolationism or cowardly short-termism.

Human rights for the victims of colonialism, racism and other forms of discrimination, from sexism and homophobia to structural impoverishment and class prejudice, have only ever been won by the struggle of brave activists at the grassroots,” she notes.

Nelson Mandela

Mrs Machel says this was the path taken by Nelson Mandela, who fought all his life to secure freedom and justice in South Africa. Twenty years ago, he addressed the UN General Assembly to mark the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Whilst hailing the power of its words, he challenged his fellow world leaders that the “failure to achieve this vision… results from the acts of commission and omission, particularly by those who occupy positions of leadership in politics and the economy.”

Mandela’s words still ring true down the years, and Mrs Machel says they should inspire “all of us to hold our leaders to account, and take responsibility for our own actions as global citizens.”

In accepting the Hall of Fame induction, Mrs Machel also quoted her late international icon and apartheid activist husband, Nelson Mandela who said: “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” She said establishing a hospital for children was Nelson Mandela’s last wish which saw the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital opening its doors in Johannesburg in 2017.