Tutu remembered as 'true humanitarian' dedicated to human rights

Tributes poured in from all over the globe.

December 26, 2021, 2:03 PM

Desmond Tutu, who died on Sunday, was remembered as a "true humanitarian" committed to racial equality in his home country of South Africa and abroad.

Tributes from around the world flooded in as news spread that Tutu, once a leader of the anti-apartheid movement and "chief pastor" to a nation in transition, had died in Cape Town. He was 90.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden said in a statement that Desmond Tutu’s “legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.”

They spoke of the “several occasions” that they spent time with him, saying that “his courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa.”

"We felt his warmth and joy when we visited him during the 2010 World Cup that celebrated the diversity and beauty of his beloved nation. And, just a few months ago, we joined the world in celebrating his 90th birthday and reflecting on the power of his message of justice, equality, truth, and reconciliation as we confront racism and extremism in our time today," the Bidens said in a statement.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa shared two photos of Tutu and himself on Twitter and said Tutu's passing was "another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa."

"Tutu was a living embodiment of faith in action, speaking boldly against racism, injustice, corruption, and oppression, not just in apartheid South Africa but wherever in the world he saw wrongdoing, especially when it impacted the most vulnerable and voiceless in society," the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said in a statement.

Former President Barack Obama

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others," former President Barack Obama wrote. "A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere."

The Dalai Lama

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good," the Dalai Lama, with whom Tutu co-authored "The Book of Joy," wrote in an open letter published on Sunday. "He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights."

PHOTO: FILE - US President Barack Obama presents a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Desmond Tutu, widely regarded as "South Africa's moral conscience," who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.
FILE - US President Barack Obama presents a 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Desmond Tutu, widely regarded as "South Africa's moral conscience," who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist for racial justice and LGBT rights and the retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, has died at the age of 90, it was announced on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Former President Bill Clinton

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s life was a gift. Blessed with brilliance and eloquence, steady determination and good humor, and an unshakeable faith in the inherent decency of all people, Archbishop Tutu fully embodied the spirit of Ubuntu: 'I am because you are.' That spirit drove him to fight first for freedom and then for reconciliation.

President Bill Clinton meets with South African African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the Oval Office, May 19, 1993.
Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images

"As Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he helped bring healing to his country and reminded us all that the search for justice begins in the heart. His own heart was good enough to seek reconciliation not revenge, to reject demonization and embrace his uncanny ability to bring out the best in others. Those of us touched by the gift of his life owe it to him to pass it on.

"Hillary and I send our prayers to Leah, his family, and all those who stood with him."

Queen Elizabeth

The Queen said she and the royal family are “deeply saddened” by the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She said Tutu “tirelessly championed human rights in South Africa and across the world,” the British Press Association reported.

Queen Elizabeth with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African President Nelson Mandela, March 21, 1995, in South Africa.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex

“Archbishop Tutu will be remembered for his optimism, his moral clarity, and his joyful spirit. He was an icon for racial justice and beloved across the world. It was only two years ago that he held our son, Archie, while we were in South Africa – “Arch and The Arch” he had joked, his infectious laughter ringing through the room, relaxing anyone in his presence. He remained a friend and will be sorely missed by all.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Tutu for his "spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humour."

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said, "his was a life that made the world a better place."

The US Mission to South Africa

The U.S. Mission to South Africa released a statement, saying, "We join South Africa and the global community in honoring a man who spent his life fearlessly speaking truth to power. From his work against apartheid in South Africa, to his championing of democracy, freedom and human rights, and advocacy for those still living under the scourge of homophobia, racism or xenophobia, Archbishop Tutu was the conscience of his generation. He will be greatly missed."

African Union President Moussa Faki Mahamat

Faki tweeted his condolences for Tutu, calling him "an Anti-Apartheid icon." "A man of faith convinced in the power of reconciliation through restorative justice, the Arch was a true shepherd of peace. May he rest in peace."

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

ABC News' Zoe Magee and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.