Wishing Nelson Mandela on his 91st birthday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called the founding president of post-apartheid South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize laureate an "exemplary global citizen".
"He inspired people across the world, and across the generations," Ban said at an event to commemorate Mandela Day in New York, paying tribute to his contributions to a "democratic, multi-racial South Africa" and his continued tireless efforts to promote peace and human dignity worldwide.
"Indeed, Nelson Mandela is a living embodiment of the highest values of the United Nations," Ban said.
The secretary-general spoke highly of Mandela's ability to inspire, saying that "many people, facing tribulations of their own, have found both solace and fortitude in his example. Above all, he has shown the difference one person can make in the face of injustice, conflict, poverty and disease".
At Saturday's celebration, also attended by schoolchildren from South Africa and New York, Ban recalled a meeting with Mandela earlier this year.
"I took the opportunity to thank him for everything he has done for his fellow South Africans and for all of us," Ban said. "But he didn't want to hear my praise. He insisted that everything he had accomplished had been done not by him, but by countless others, many of whom he had never met."
Mandela's humility is a reflection of "leadership of the highest order", Ban said.
"May we all continue to benefit from his wisdom, his good works and good humor for many years to come," he added.