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Courage and determination for peace must guide our response to global suffering

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Photo: Luiz Rampelotto/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf welcomes Denis Mukwege to the group and calls on leaders to live up to their global responsibilities to deliver peace and justice.

Adapted from The Elders' monthly newsletter. Sign up for regular email updates from The Elders.


Dear friends,

The great suffering we see all around us in the world today, from the devastating conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan to the ongoing epidemic of violence against women and girls in all countries, is a sad reminder of how far we are as a human family from realising the vision of a world “free from the scourge of war” as set out in the Charter of the United Nations.

But it is our responsibility as global citizens to respond to suffering not with fatalism or despair, but with a clear commitment to work for peace and justice, and to hold our leaders to account.

This is what Nelson Mandela had in mind when he founded The Elders in 2007. The mandate he gave the founding members then is just as relevant to our work today: “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and build hope where there is despair”. 

I am delighted that we have just welcomed a new member to the group, Denis Mukwege, who encapsulates all the values Mandela articulated, and who will make a valuable contribution to our work across all programmes and priorities.

As a fellow African and Nobel Peace Laureate, I am looking forward to working with Denis Mukwege to protect the rights of the most vulnerable people in our world, particularly women and girls at risk of conflict-related sexual violence. 

This terrible crime remains far too prevalent, not least in the conflict in Sudan which has been raging now for over a year. Last month, the Elders issued a statement calling for greater pressure to be placed on the warring parties to agree to a ceasefire, and for an end to impunity for those using rape and other forms of sexual abuse as a weapon of war.

As Elders we also remain appalled by the death and destruction caused by Israel’s indiscriminate assault on Gaza and its refusal to allow sufficient amounts of humanitarian aid to meet the needs of a traumatised and displaced population.

Political leaders who have influence must use their leverage to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza and secure the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas, they must compel the parties to commit to a permanent ceasefire and the two-state solution. 
International law is the bedrock on which the hopes of a fair and equitable global order rest. We cannot allow or tolerate any double standards in this regard. Violations must be condemned wherever they occur and whomever is responsible, and the institutions charged with upholding the law – including the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice – must be supported and resourced to be able to carry out their work effectively.

Above all, leaders must rise above the parochial and day-to-day concerns of office and live up to their global responsibilities. Humanity faces severe existential threats including the climate and nature crisis, pandemics, nuclear weapons and unregulated AI. These can only be tackled if leaders work together and place the common good above narrow self-interest.

Throughout this year, the Elders will be promoting the need for “long-view leadership” to tackle these threats – a concept our Chair, Mary Robinson, outlined last month in an op-ed with Professor Max Tegmark, the head of the Future of Life Institute, one of our key partners in this initiative. 

You can endorse this vision by signing our open letter to world leaders. It is only through collective endeavours that we will achieve Mandela’s vision.

With thanks for your ongoing support,

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

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