The Elders

Fernando Henrique Cardoso

"The very nature of peace-making demands dealing with those you are fundamentally opposed to. We make peace with our enemies, not our friends."

Former President of Brazil

“Citizens have in themselves the inherent right to participate in civic life. It is this right which the government should enshrine, by providing both the structure (rule of law, elections, rights) and the democratic space for people to participate.”

Acclaimed sociologist and political scientist

“You cannot say ‘women have to struggle for their rights’. No, it is a common struggle. Men have to understand that if you want democracy, the starting point is equality.”

Ending the war on drugs

“Prohibition is not the solution to the drug question. We are proposing a kind of paradigm change: instead of war, health.”

Fernando H Cardoso biography

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.
  • President of Brazil 1995-2002
  • Inaugural winner of the Mahbub ul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development, 2002
  • Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Political Science at the University of São Paulo
  • President of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
"The Elders believe that what is important is not to continue to do something for himself, but to serve others."
  • Work with The Elders

    Fernando Henrique Cardoso has been a member of The Elders since the group was founded in 2007. He joined the first Elders’ delegation to the Middle East in August 2009 to support efforts to advance an Arab-Israeli peace – paying particular attention to the concerns of ordinary people in the region.

    A strong advocate for engaging youth in social and political change, in June 2012 he welcomed Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland as well as a group of young activists to Brazil for the Rio+20 summit as part of the Elders+Youngers initiative, a project promoting intergenerational dialogue on sustainable development issues.

    In June 2016, Fernando Henrique Cardoso stepped down from his front-line role as a member of The Elders. Praised by Chair Kofi Annan for "commitment to dialogue, democracy and development”, he remains an Elder Emeritus.

  • Progressive president

    Fernando Henrique Cardoso served two terms as President of Brazil from 1995 to 2002, having previously served as a senator, Minister of Foreign Relations and Minister of Finance. Under his leadership, Brazil recorded a decline in infant mortality rates, a fall in the number of child labourers, the attainment of nearly universal primary education, a reduction in poverty levels, a drop in the number of people dying from AIDS and the resettlement of over 500,000 landless families.

    In October 2002, the United Nations Development Program named Fernando H Cardoso the inaugural winner of the Mahbub ul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development. Then UN Secretary-General and now fellow Elder, Kofi Annan, welcomed the decision, declaring: "President Cardoso’s longstanding dedication to human progress and his democratic leadership of Brazil have raised the standard by which governance can be judged throughout Latin America."

    In May 2004 he founded the Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso in São Paolo. Bringing together politicians, intellectuals, civil society and young people, the Institute aims to produce and disseminate knowledge about the challenges of development and democracy in Brazil and the wider world.

  • Sociologist and political scientist

    Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s political activity is informed by his academic work. He has a PhD in Sociology and was a long time professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of São Paulo, where he is now Professor Emeritus.

    He was president of the International Sociological Association from 1982 to 1986 and continues to lecture at universities around the world. He has been visiting professor at the universities of California, Berkeley, Collège de France, Paris, Stanford, Cambridge, Paris-Nanterre, FLACSO, ILPES and CEPAL at Santiago, Chile.

    In July 2012 he was awarded the John W Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.

  • Ending the war on drugs

    Fernando H Cardoso is President of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The group released a groundbreaking report in June 2011 calling for the current ‘war on drugs’ to be replaced by a public health approach to drugs policy.

    At the report’s launch, President Cardoso said: “Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives and legally regulating rather than criminalising.”

View all articles by Fernando H Cardoso

Nelson Mandela

(1918-2013) Founder

Former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Laureate; a leader who dedicated his life to the anti-apartheid struggle, democracy and equality; founder of The Elders.

Martti Ahtisaari

Former President of Finland; Nobel Peace Laureate and expert in international peace mediation, diplomacy and post-conflict state building.

Kofi Annan


Former UN Secretary-General, Nobel Peace Laureate and Chair of The Elders (2013-2018); put development, human rights, the rule of law, good governance and peace at the top of the United Nations agenda.

Ban Ki-moon

Deputy Chair of The Elders

Former UN Secretary-General, former South-Korean Foreign Minister and diplomat; he sought to give voice to the world’s poorest and vulnerable people by putting Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and gender equality at the top of the UN agenda.

Ela Bhatt

Elder Emeritus

The ‘gentle revolutionary’; a pioneer in women’s empowerment and grassroots development, founder of the more than 1 million-strong Self-Employed Women’s Association in India.

Lakhdar Brahimi

Former Algerian freedom fighter, Foreign Minister, conflict mediator and UN diplomat; an expert in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

Gro Harlem Brundtland

First woman Prime Minister of Norway; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right; put sustainable development on the international agenda.

Fernando H Cardoso

Elder Emeritus

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.

Jimmy Carter

Elder Emeritus

Former President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate and veteran peace negotiator; dedicated to advancing peace, democracy and health worldwide.

Hina Jilani

Pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner; a leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights.

Ricardo Lagos

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.

Graça Machel

Deputy Chair of The Elders

International advocate for women’s and children's rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.

Mary Robinson

Chair of The Elders

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.

Desmond Tutu

Elder Emeritus

Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Laureate and Honorary Elder; a veteran anti-apartheid activist and peace campaigner widely regarded as ‘South Africa’s moral conscience’.

Ernesto Zedillo

Former President of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms; economist and advocate of multilateralism, inclusive globalisation, nuclear non-proliferation and drug policy reform.

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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