The Elders

Martti Ahtisaari

Despite our different backgrounds, The Elders share a deep commitment to a more peaceful and just world, and we hope that by speaking collectively we are stronger than when we act alone.

Former President of Finland

I come from a country where egalitarian policies are the norm: whether you are rich or poor you get a decent education, decent healthcare, and possibility in life. It’s extremely important that egalitarian policies are carried out throughout the world.

Nobel Peace Laureate

To protect women in times of war, we must first make sure women receive equal rights in times of peace.

Diplomat and peace mediator

Wars are created by people and people can choose to end them. If the political will does exist, there is no conflict that cannot be resolved

Expert in post-conflict state building

Negotiating a peace agreement is the easy part. After the agreement is signed, that is when the real work begins.

Martti Ahtisaari biography

Former President of Finland; Nobel Peace Laureate and expert in international peace mediation, diplomacy and post-conflict state building.
“All conflicts can be resolved. Wars and conflicts are not inevitable. They are caused by human beings. There are always interests that are furthered by war. Therefore those who have power and influence can also stop them. Peace is a question of will.”
  • Work with The Elders

    Martti Ahtisaari joined The Elders in September 2009, bringing three decades’ experience in international diplomacy and conflict mediation.

    President Ahtisaari visited the Korean Peninsula with his fellow Elders Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson in April 2011. In response to high levels of tension and mistrust between North and South Korea, he stressed that progress could only be achieved by the resumption of meaningful dialogue between the parties.

    At the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2011, Martti Ahtisaari together with Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Lakhdar Brahimi and Gro Harlem Brundtland launched The Elders’ initiative on child marriage and the Girls not Brides campaign.

    In July 2012, he travelled to South Sudan as part of a two-stage Elders delegation to the region to encourage dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan. As well as meeting political and religious leaders, the Elders spent time at a refugee camp near the border and called on the international community to step up humanitarian assistance to those displaced by recent fighting.

    Martti Ahtisaari’s deep engagement in conflict mediation led him to join an Elders’ delegation to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt in October 2012 during which they encouraged the implementation of the two-state solution. In July 2013 he travelled to Washington D.C with Jimmy Carter, Ernesto Zedillo, Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi to meet relevant US political leaders to further discuss the situation in the Middle East.

    Martti Ahtisaari has been continually engaged with The Elders’ initiative in Myanmar. During the September 2013 visit, the delegation met with leaders and civil society representatives involved in supporting the peace process with ethnic minority armed groups and addressing ongoing violence in Rakhine state. In March 2014, Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland visited Mae La refugee camp and Mae Tao Clinic, on the Thailand-Myanmar border where they saw the resilience of those living in exile. In December 2014, President Ahtisaari and other Elders met with representatives from the government, the military and civil society including ethnic women’s groups.

    In January 2014, he travelled to Iran with Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and Ernesto Zedillo where they met with various leaders including President Hassan Rouhani. The Elders discussed easing of regional tensions, the spread of extremist violence internationally, the issue of human rights and the Syrian crisis, as well as supporting progress being made in the international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme.

    In September 2014 he also participated in the UN General Assembly in New York with Gro Harlem Brundtland, Graca Machel and Mary Robinson as a strong advocator for climate change and sustainable development.

    Martti Ahtisaari joined The Elders’ delegation to Moscow in April 2015. Led by Kofi Annan, President Ahtisaari along with Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Ernesto Zedillo visited Russia to discuss key geopolitical issues. During the trip, The Elders met with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

    In September 2016 Martti Ahtisaari together with Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi launched a new report on refugee and migration following their visit to Berlin. They heard a range of perspectives on the country's response to the crisis: from Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal President Joachim Gauck and business leaders, to civil society groups, volunteers and refugees themselves.

    At the 2016 UN General Assembly in New York, Martti Ahtisaari along with Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson articulated The Elders’ positions on strengthening the UN, and called for greater momentum to solve the current refugee crisis.

  • Diplomat and peace-maker

    Before being elected President of the Republic of Finland in 1994, Martti Ahtisaari enjoyed a distinguished career serving his country and the United Nations.

    Between 1973 and 1976 he was Finland’s Ambassador in Tanzania. He held several UN roles in Namibia from 1975-1990, and as UN Special Representative he oversaw the country’s transition to independence in March 1989 – and was subsequently made an honorary Namibian citizen.

    From 1992-1993, while State Secretary in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari chaired the Bosnia-Herzegovina Working Group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia, and was later Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia. In 1999, as Finnish President, he negotiated with Slobodan Milošević to end the fighting in Kosovo.

  • Post-Presidency: working to resolve conflict

    Martti Ahtisaari founded and chairs Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a non-governmental organisation committed to helping the international community practice more effective preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and post-conflict state building.

    Since leaving the office of President, he has continued to focus on conflict resolution. Most notably, in 2005 he facilitated the peace process between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement that ended thirty years of conflict.

    President Ahtisaari helped to advance the Northern Ireland peace process as Inspector of the Irish Republican Army's weapons dumps, alongside fellow Inspector Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2000-2001. In 2005 he was appointed Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the future status process for Kosovo to oversee the process determining whether Kosovo would become an independent state or remain part of Serbia.

    In recognition of “his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts”, Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2008.

  • Global initiatives

    As well as heading Crisis Management Initiative, Martti Ahtisaari is active in several other non-governmental organisations. He is Co-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a pan-European think-tank that aims to research and promote debate on the development of European values-based foreign policy. He also serves as:

    • Chairman of the Independent Commission on Turkey
    • Director-at-Large of the ImagineNations Group
    • Member of the Silatech Board of Trustees
    • Member of the Prize Committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
    • Member of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security
    • Expert adviser to the 2014 OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka
View all articles by Martti Ahtisaari

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

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

Acting Chair of The Elders

First woman Prime Minister of Norway and Acting Chair of The Elders; 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

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

Mary Robinson

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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