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Martti Ahtisaari, Oslo, 2012
Isobel
Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

Martti Ahtisaari reflects on his time working with The Elders and stresses the importance of international cooperation and shared values.

 

As we approach the end of the year, many of us will be looking forward to spending time with family and friends, sharing memories and reflecting on our achievements, as well as setting goals for the future. It is also traditionally a time for serving others and sharing what we have with those in need.

When I was invited to join The Elders in September 2009, I knew it would be impossible to refuse this offer to serve people in different parts of the world and share my own experiences of peacemaking and diplomacy to help those affected by conflict together with my fellow Elders.

I am immensely grateful for the time we’ve spent working together since then to “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair”, to make the goals Nelson Mandela set for us a reality. 

Now the time has come for me to take the difficult decision to step down as an active member of The Elders. As an “Emeritus Elder”, I will continue to support the group’s work in every way I can, and I know that with our new Chair Mary Robinson at the helm, The Elders will continue to work with renewed vigour towards our common goals.

Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Mary Robinson and Jimmy Carter meet with local dignitaries during their visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, April 2011.

 

During my time with The Elders I have travelled to states that are central to stability in their respective regions and globally, from South Sudan and North Korea to Myanmar, Russia and most recently Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. 

I have dedicated my life to conflict mediation and have always held a firm belief in talking to all sides, in order to reach solutions that ultimately will halt the suffering of thousands, if not millions of people.

But these solutions require the powerful nations of the world, particularly those with the privilege of serving as Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, to act with courage and responsibility in conflicts where they can wield influence.

It should be a cause of great shame to the world’s current leaders, and in particular the so-called “P5” powers, that the tragedy in Syria continues to devastate so many lives. This is the direct result of inaction from members of the P5, who have consistently failed to come up with and commit to joint solutions. 

More broadly, all member states of the United Nations have to commit to the global values of the UN. These values have been fundamental to sustaining peace following the devastation of the Second World War. Their significance has not changed since. Yet many of today’s leaders have turned their backs on these commitments. 

Martti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson during a press conference on North Korea in 2011.

 

These founding ideals – to develop friendly relations among nations; to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems; and to encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – previously seemed indisputable but are now all too often superseded by perceived national self-interest. What is ignored by those claiming that the global values are distinctly Western or against their national interests, is that shared commitment to these values is the best guarantee for peace we have. And peace and stability are in the national interest of all states and their citizens. That is why the global values should guide all UN member states’ actions, both domestically and internationally. 

As Elders, we have made these points directly to the Security Council when we have met them in New York, and I know the message will continue to ring out under Mary’s leadership.

I am deeply grateful for the journey I have shared with my fellow Elders. It has been a privilege and an honour to be part of such a wonderful group. Each time we gather together, I am reminded that although we bring incredibly valuable individual experiences and perspectives to the table, our strength lies in the knowledge that our collective voice and action can make a greater difference. 

The world needs wisdom and value-based leadership, and the Elders have a significant role to play in demonstrating these and strengthening them in others. I will continue to support the Elders’ work as an Elder Emeritus and look forward to witnessing their continued achievements. 

Martti Ahtisaari, Mary Robinson, Graça Machel and Gro Harlem Brundtland at the UN General Assembly in 2014.

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