The Elders


Working for a stronger UN. Still much to do.

One year on from the launch of our ‘UN Fit for Purpose’ initiative at the Munich Security Conference, The Elders and our partners continue to press for change. This photo-story highlights progress to date and looks ahead to the work remaining in this crucial year.

At the 2015 Munich Security Conference, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari and Graça Machel announced a number of proposals to make the UN fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Among them: a transparent and merit-based selection process for the next Secretary-General; significant amendments to the use of the veto and a recommendation for a new category of non-permanent members of the Security Council.

From Ukraine to Syria, the need for greater Security Council cooperation is clear.

Far too many people are beginning another year in grief and suffering, caused by conflict and deliberate violence. The misuse of the veto by some P5 members has allowed both states and militant groups such as Da’esh (Islamic State) to break international law with impunity. In September 2015, The Elders joined a high-level panel at the UN in New York to debate the Security Council veto and the responsibility of states to protect their citizens from mass atrocities.

Hina Jilani reminded governments that the veto power “should be seen as a privilege, which has to be used responsibly.”  

We also reminded governments: “The UNSC can only remain influential to promote peace and security if most influential countries are working together.”

The next United Nations Secretary-General will be chosen in 2016.

Over the past year we have helped generate public and private debates on the process in an effort to ensure she or he is selected in a more transparent and merit-based process and is empowered by a single seven-year term.

Following their discussions at the UN, Gro Brundtland and Hina Jilani visited London in October to mark the UN’s actual 70th Anniversary with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein - the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

At this event, attended by over 700 distinguished guests, Gro Brundtland made the case for a transparent selection process: “The Secretary-General is seen as a representative of all the world’s people and this must be reflected in the way the selection is made.”

During a lively Q&A, Gro Brundtland explained another of our proposals – an expanded Security Council. She said: “if people feel it [the UN] is not representing the world, they will not listen to the conclusions it reaches.”

Engagement with the P5 members of the Security Council is essential to ensuring greater multilateral cooperation.

Following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Munich Security Conference, we travelled to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin in April. The Elders hope to visit China later in the year as part of our ongoing discussions with P5 members on strengthening peace and security worldwide.

To increase awareness and understanding about the Secretary-General selection process, Kofi Annan and fellow Elders also spoke in this video which was released to mark UN Day in October 2015.

Watch the video

In an increasingly uncertain world, the United Nations represents our most enduring guarantor of peace and security.

In September 2015, together with the Government of Liechtenstein, we convened a group of distinguished experts including current and former UN ambassadors in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, to discuss strengthening the organisation.

We will continue to push our goals forward in private and in public. Governments, civil society and individual activists, working together, are key to making these proposals a reality.

Photos: 1-Widmann | MSC; 2-The Elders | Neville Elder; 3 & 4-Ed Thompson | UNA-UK; 5-Grigory Sysoev | The Elders

Our Work | A UN 'fit for purpose'

Strengthening the UN

The UN has served the peoples for almost 70 years, but in the 21st century it needs fundamental changes.


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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.

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