“Women can no longer accept peace deals that reward the men who raped them with a position in the army. Impunity only leads to more sexual violence.” Gogo Kavira, eastern Congo
From community leaders and journalists to female army generals, women across Africa’s Great Lakes region are working together to build peace and hold their governments to account. Here they speak out on the struggle for equality, security and justice.
The Elders concluded their visit to Washington DC and London encouraged and impressed by US efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. During a series of high-level meetings, media interviews and public debates, they discussed the prospects for peace in Israel-Palestine and in neighbouring Syria.
In October 2012 Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson travelled to Israel and the West Bank to draw attention to the developments threatening the two-state solution. After meeting civil society, Israeli and Palestinian political leaders, and humanitarian and human rights experts, the Elders concluded their visit by warning that the situation is heading towards a one-state outcome – which would be catastrophic for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In October 2012 the Elders travelled to Cairo for the second part of their Middle East visit. They met President Morsi, religious leaders, young people and civil society representatives, expressing their support for Egypt’s democratic transition and encouraging all Egyptians to join the spirited debate about their country’s future.
The Elders and partners launched the Every Human Has Rights campaign in Cape Town on 10 December 2007 to celebrate the beginning of the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The campaign aimed to encourage and empower global citizens to protect the UDHR, the first-ever comprehensive agreement on human rights among nations.
Following the May 2012 visit to Sudan by Jimmy Carter and Lakhdar Brahimi, in July 2012 Desmond Tutu, Martti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson travelled to the region to further encourage peace efforts between Sudan and South Sudan.
Taking place on 18 July, Mandela Day is inspired by the 67 years that Nelson Mandela gave fighting for justice and human rights and encourages people around the world to give 67 minutes of their time to serve their communities.
During their visit to London earlier in July, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson celebrated Mandela Day by visiting grassroots organisations working with the city’s young people and discussing the importance of volunteering at a public event.
In July 2012, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson visited London where they took part in a public debate at the Barbican to commemorate the five years since Nelson Mandela founded The Elders. They also held meetings with the UK Foreign Secretary and parliamentarians to discuss key foreign policy issues.
“One of the most incredible sources of energy for me is when I am with young people – sorry oldies!” Desmond Tutu
In May 2012 four 'Youngers' – climate change activists from Nigeria, Brazil, Sweden and China – joined the Elders at their bi-annual meeting in Oslo to discuss the upcoming Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, the role of the UN, and how to mobilise civil society, especially young people, around urgent global issues.
In February 2012 four Elders travelled to Bihar, India, to meet a group of young people campaigning to stop child marriage. After listening to the teenage girls and boys, Desmond Tutu, Ela Bhatt, Gro Brundtland and Mary Robinson raised the issue with Bihar's Chief Minister, urging him to support the growing movement to end this harmful practice.
In June 2011 Elders Gro Brundtland, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu travelled to Ethiopia to visit communities affected by child marriage and convene a meeting of experts and activists working to end child marriage around the world.
In April 2011 Jimmy Carter, Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Brundtland and Mary Robinson travelled to North and South Korea. With tensions high between the two countries and negotiations at a standstill, they hoped to encourage all parties involved to resume dialogue.
“When Nelson Mandela brought us together as Elders, he did so in the belief that together we are stronger, that change happens when people collectively take action to make our world a better place.”
Former President of Ireland
“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”
Giving voice to human rights
“Human rights are inscribed in the hearts of people; they were there long before lawmakers drafted their first proclamation.”
Climate change: a matter of justice
“If we are to be true to our commitment to human rights, then rich nations owe a fair and honest deal to the world’s most vulnerable regions. The people on climate change’s frontline have often done the least to cause it.”
Calling for more women leaders
“If we empower women, we stand a chance of succeeding at everything else.”
Mary Robinson biography
First woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a passionate, forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace-building and human dignity.
President of Ireland 1990-1997
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 1997-2002
Institutional reformer: brought the human rights agenda into the core of United Nations activities
UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa 2013-2014
UN Envoy on Climate Change 2014-2015
Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin
2016 UN Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate
"Part of the wisdom of the Elders is to remind the world that we actually have universal values that are accepted by every government in the world and yet they are not being implemented."
Former President of Brazil; implemented major land reform programme, reduced poverty and significantly improved health and education; an acclaimed sociologist and global advocate for drug policy reform.
Former President of Chile; tenacious fighter for democracy and human rights; implemented health reform; and reduced economic inequality while diversifying Chile’s external trade in the era of globalisation.
At the start of their October 2010 visit to the Middle East, Mary Robinson, Ela Bhatt and Lakhdar Brahimi spent a day in the blockaded Gaza strip. A ban by Israel and Egypt prohibits the import of building materials and severely restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. The Elders say the blockade is illegal, unconscionable and counterproductive – and call for it to be lifted immediately.
The Elders' first day in the Middle East, proved to be moving, thought-provoking, frank and inspirational as they met a diverse group of Israeli citizens and heard a wide range of thoughts and perspectives
"Non-violence is the only way of cleansing society of the tiredness, brutalisation and despondency it has been forced into." Ela Bhatt
During their first visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in August 2009, the Elders visit peaceful protestors in the West Bank village of Bil'in, a Palestinian family living on the pavement after being evicted from their Jerusalem home, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
On the second day of their visit to the Middle East in August 2009, The Elders meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. They also cross into the West Bank, where they meet women from the Qalandia refugee camp and listen to the concerns of young Palestinians.
"When we're destroying the globe, you are the ones who will inherit it. Don't let politicians get away with it!"
On 16 October, Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson spoke on climate and ethical leadership with arctic explorer and environmental campaigner Parker Liautaud in front of a two-thousand-strong audience of young leaders at the One Young World Summit in Dublin.
“We all talk about climate change. I have a sense that people don't take it seriously.” Kofi Annan
Joined by fellow Elders Gro Harlem Brundtland, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo, Kofi Annan calls on world leaders to take action on climate change ahead of the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit 2014.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson argue that to help bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace, world leaders must recognise Hamas and pressure both sides to respect international law.
The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.