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Global unity, justice and peace: The Elders’ priorities at the Munich Security Conference

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The Elders attend a meeting with Mauro Vieira, Foreign Minister of Brazil, at the Munich Security Conference, February 2023.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, Juan Manuel Santos and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein attended the Munich Security Conference from 17-19 February for a series of discussions with Foreign Ministers, senior officials and civil society on the need for global unity in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine and greater recognition of the impact and challenges this conflict poses for countries in the Global South.

The Elders reiterated their condemnation of Russia’s aggression and highlighted the importance of upholding the UN Charter, both in bilateral meetings and media interviews with outlets including the New York Times, Deutsche Welle and G-ZERO Media.

The delegation held meetings with a wide range of Foreign Ministers from both the Global North and South, including Brazil, Estonia, Ireland, Jordan and Finland. They also met the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Andriy Kostin, to discuss the international support needed to achieve accountability for those who commit war crimes.

In addition, the Elders held discussions with Ukrainian civil society activist and human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk, who heads the Center for Civil Liberties, the organisation that was jointly awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. She shared powerful reflections on the struggles of the past twelve months and the need to uphold the values of solidarity, independence and justice to rebuild Ukraine’s future as a sovereign state.

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Juan Manuel Santos, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Elbegdorj Tsakhia with Oleksandra Matviichuk, February 2023.

The consistent message was the need to uphold and strengthen unity against Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine as a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, but also that Western powers need to address the perception of “double standards” vis-à-vis other conflicts, including Israel/Palestine.

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Juan Manuel Santos, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein with Micheál Martin, Foreign Minister of Ireland, February 2023.

How to help address the escalating situation on the ground in that region was a key focus of the meetings with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and the Leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Merav Michaeli.

Civil society’s role in conflict situations, and the importance of protecting space for critical and independent voices in times of turmoil, was another area of emphasis during the Elders’ Munich programme. Juan Manuel Santos spoke alongside 2011 Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee at a side-event called “The Price of Peace”, offering his personal perspectives on the peace process in Colombia and the importance of including victims of conflict in peace and reconciliation processes.

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Juan Manuel Santos speaking at the 'Price of Peace' event at the Munich Security Conference, February 2023.

Elders also had the opportunity to discuss other critical areas of their new strategy for 2023-27 and its focus on existential threats with key interlocutors, including a bilateral meeting between Gro Harlem Brundtland and the current Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and a discussion between Elders and Jennifer Morgan, the German Government’s Secretary of State for climate.

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The Elders with Munich Security Conference Junior Ambassadors, February 2023.

The delegation’s activities concluded with a meeting with the Munich Security Conference’s Junior Ambassadors – five young professionals invited to the conference after winning an annual essay-writing competition – to hear their perspectives on current and future challenges. This intergenerational dialogue touched on the risks of increasing global polarisation, how to reconcile dealing with immediate threats and longer-term challenges such as the climate crisis, and the importance of creating space for open discussions between different generations.

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