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The Story of The Elders

On his 89th birthday, 18 July 2007, Nelson Mandela brought together the Elders to be independent moral voices for peace and ethical leadership. This is our story so far.

Use the buttons below to navigate through the years.

2007

Nelson Mandela founds The Elders

“The Elders will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.”
Nelson Mandela

Together with Mandela, co-founding members of The Elders include Graça Machel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former US President Jimmy Carter, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson.


Read Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech

A visit to war-torn Darfur; a call for peace

“The situation in Darfur and Sudan is one that cries out for help from the international community… We felt a moral imperative to join and contribute to the efforts of so many people, and make our contributions to the promotion of peace.” 
– Desmond Tutu

The Elders' delegation to Sudan  the first of three – highlighted the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict in Darfur. They called for an end to violence; forced displacement of millions of people; and greater protection for victims.


Read the press release

The Elders proclaim: Every Human Has Rights

60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Elders support the Every Human Has Rights initiative to promote the universal rights and values in the Declaration. The campaign called on citizens to uphold the goals of the Universal Declaration in their daily lives and to hold governments accountable to it.


Watch the campaign film
2008

Cyprus: visiting a divided community

Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Lakhdar Brahimi visited Cyprus  an island that has been divided between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities for more than four decades. During periods of violence in the 1960s and 1970s around 500 Turkish Cypriots and 1,500 Greek Cypriots were reported missing. While they were assumed to have been killed, their bodies were never found.

The Elders met with Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders, civil society and youth to support leaders and groups in both Turkish and Greek communities who wished to end the conflict on the island.


Find out more about The Elders' work in Cyprus

The Elders speak out on the situation in Zimbabwe

In the shadow of an escalating humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and refusal from the Zimbabwean Government to cooperate on The Elders' planned humanitarian visit  Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Graça Machel held a press conference in Johannesburg about the situation:

“We want to talk to the people and hear their stories directly. We want people to know that we care, and that we will do all we can to help them. People are dying from hunger every day in Zimbabwe and hospitals are unable to treat the sick.”
 Graça Machel

The Elders also held meetings with political leaders, civil society, business representatives, donors, aid agencies and UN agency heads over three days in Johannesburg.


Learn about The Elders' work on Zimbabwe
2009

The Elders' first visit to the Middle East

Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Ela Bhatt and Fernando Henrique Cardoso travelled to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to learn about the people’s perceptions – their hopes for the future, their fears and concerns in the region.

They assessed the situation on the ground and especially the humanitarian situation in Gaza and listened to a wide variety of views including support groups on both sides who work for peace.

“It is easy to talk to people you agree with, and everyone feels good afterwards. But it doesn’t reflect the reality and complexity, the real pain and emotion of this region. We can all gain by listening to those who are different from us.”
 Fernando Henrique Cardoso


Read the trip report

Climate Change: “We are all in this together”

“No one is immune – rich, poor, developed or developing countries. We are all in this together. I will probably be spared the worst effects of climate change but I worry for our children’s future and for the millions of people who are already being impoverished and displaced.”
 Desmond Tutu

At their annual board meeting, The Elders launched a new initiative on Climate Change.


Find out more about our Climate Change initiative
2010

The Elders reunite with their founder Nelson Mandela

The Elders gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, to meet with Nelson Mandela, discuss our shared challenges, and talk to representatives from civil society and South African youth.

“It gives us such a strong sense of purpose and determination to sit with dear Madiba who brought us all together. We take his moral courage and his vision as our guide, to do what we can to address major causes of human suffering around the world.”
 Desmond Tutu


Nelson Mandela's mandate for The Elders

Listening to divided voices in the Middle East

The Elders visited the Middle East at a crucial juncture in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Led by Mary Robinson, Ela Bhatt, Jimmy Carter and Lakhdar Brahimi visited Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank to talk to a wide range of government officials, civil society representatives, opinion leaders and young people about their concerns and aspirations for peace, including those currently at the margins of the process.


Read the trip report
2011

The Elders in North Korea: dialogue, security and humanitarian conditions

“On relations between North and South Korea, there are no quick fixes to security and nuclear issues, and progress will require greater flexibility, sincerity and commitment from all parties.”
– Jimmy Carter

As part of The Elders' work on the Korean Peninsula, Martti Ahtisaari, Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter travelled to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) to explore how to help ease tensions with the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and discuss how to address the reported food crisis. During their visit, the Elders held meetings with a wide range of high-level officials from respective countries.
 


Read more about the trip

The Elders visit Côte d’Ivoire

Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson visited Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, in May 2011 to encourage healing and national reconciliation. Whilst in Cote d’Ivoire they met with President Alassane Ouattara, representatives of the new government, leaders of political parties and members of civil society organisations, as well as UN representatives.

“Although a political handover has finally taken place and the election results implemented, the situation is still fragile. Ivorians have suffered terribly as a result of the conflict. Many are still afraid to return to their homes. There is only one Côte d’Ivoire and the leaders and the people must understand that. The cloak of government must cover all. Ivorians have no option but to reconcile, heal and live together.”
- Kofi Annan


Read the press release

Girls Not Brides: Ending Child Marriage

In September 2011, The Elders initiated “Girls Not Brides” -  a global network to bring attention to the harmful practices that hold girls and women back, and to encourage and empower others to build a world free from child marriage.

The same year, Desmond Tutu, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Mary Robinson and Graça Machel travelled to Addis Ababa to visit communities affected by high rates of child marriages to speak with experts and activists working to end it.


Learn about The Elders' work on child marriage

Rio+20 and the 'Elders+Youngers' initiative

The Elders travelled to Rio for the Rio+20 conference where they launched the Elders+Youngers initiative to share experiences across generations.

The Elders recognised that there is much to learn from youth, and we must create the space for them to share their aspirations and ideas with older generations.


Find out more about The Elders' intergenerational work
2012

Supporting peace talks between Sudan and South Sudan

The Elders travelled to Sudan and South Sudan in the wake of increased tensions between the two countries. 

The focus of the trip was to support peace efforts between Sudan and South Sudan, and Lakhdar Brahimi and Jimmy Carter met with senior leaders including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Vice-President Ali-Osman Taha, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Karti and Minister of Welfare and Social Security Mohamed Al-Fadil.

The Elders encouraged the leaders of the two countries to meet directly and emphasised the importance of dialogue to resolve the crisis. 


Read the press release

Visiting the Middle East and supporting a two-state solution

Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson travelled to Israel and the West Bank where they met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Elders voiced their continued support of a two-state solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

Following the visit to the West Bank, they travelled to Egypt and met with President Morsi, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil El Araby, as well as civil society representatives before holding a televised discussion at the Cairo Opera House.


Learn about The Elders' work in Israel and Palestine
2013

Kofi Annan succeeds Desmond Tutu as Chair of The Elders

Desmond Tutu stepped down after five years as Chair of The Elders. He is succeeded by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, and Dr Gro Brundtland assumed the position of his Deputy Chair.

Desmond Tutu served as Chair of The Elders since the group was convened by Nelson Mandela in 2007, and he remains an Elder Emeritus.


Read the press release

Hina Jilani and Ernesto Zedillo join The Elders

Pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner Hina Jilani and former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo joined the Elders in 2013.

Hina Jilani created Pakistan’s first all-women law firm, co-founded Pakistan’s first legal aid centre, and founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She also served as the first Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders 2000-2008.

Ernesto Zedillo is a renowned economist and former President of Mexico, currently serving as Director of the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University. He is a globally recognised voice on drug policy, nuclear non-proliferation and economic development.


Find out more

Myanmar: supporting democratisation and conflict resolution

The Elders travelled to Myanmar for the first time, as part of their commitment to supporting democratisation and helping resolve the conflicts between the military and ethnic armed groups.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari took part in this visit and met with Myanmar's President Thein Sein, as well as religious leaders and civil society groups.


Discover more about The Elders visit to Myanmar

Nelson Mandela dies, 1918 - 2013

“Nelson Mandela stands as an inspiration to us all.”
Kofi Annan

Nelson Mandela – or Madiba as he is known in South Africa – called the Elders together in 2007, urging them to be bold, independent and to speak the truth. He told them to be a robust force for good, and to work in the interests of peace for all humanity.

The Elders have taken Madiba’s words as their mission and endeavour to honour his memory in their work.


Read The Elders' tribute to Nelson Mandela
2014

The Elders visit Iran for high-level discussions

Led by Kofi Annan, Elders Desmond Tutu, Ernesto Zedillo and Martti Ahtisaari took part in a three-day visit to Tehran, to encourage dialogue between Iran and the international community and promote peaceful solutions to conflict and sectarian divisions in the region.

The Elders met with senior Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and grandson of the late Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini Seyyed Ali Khomeini.

The Elders welcomed the successful conclusion of the Iranian nuclear deal and voiced their support to the people of Iran during this period of renewed openness and dialogue.


Learn more about The Elders' visit to Iran

The Elders call for urgent action on climate change

Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Graça Machel, and Mary Robinson stood in solidarity with demonstrators in the largest demonstration on climate change to date.

Ahead of participating in the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit, The Elders urged everyone to take personal responsibility to ensure ambitious action on climate change.


Find out more
2015

Meeting with President Putin and Mikhail Gorbachev

“We are pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss Russia’s role in international affairs with the President. To be successful in defusing conflicts and building trust, high-level dialogue and effective action are essential.”
- Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Ernesto Zedillo travelled to Moscow and met with senior political leaders, including President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to listen to the Russian perspective of current geopolitical crises, particularly the situation in Ukraine.


Read the press release

The Elders in New York: Building a stronger UN

The Elders travelled to New York for the UN General Assembly. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani, Ernesto Zedillo and Graça Machel attended several high-level events and called on members of the UN Security Council to work collaboratively to enforce international law. 

Gro Harlem Brundtland and Graça Machel also participated in the 2015 Social Good Summit in New York where they spoke about The Elders' mandate to lead by example, and create positive social change.


View the photos from the UN General Assembly
2016

The Elders launch initiative on Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Graça Machel launched a new Elders initiative on Universal Health Coverage, at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen.  

The Elders believe that Universal Health Coverage is built on foundations of equity and rights, and that countries should plan and implement strategies to reach Universal Health Coverage in an equitable way, as the best way to achieve the overall Sustainable Development Goal on health.  


Read the Elders' position paper on UHC

Jimmy Carter steps down to become an Elder Emeritus

Jimmy Carter stepped down from his role on the front line with The Elders, becoming an Elders Emeritus.

President Carter has been a member of The Elders since it was founded by Mandela in 2007, and has taken part in many Elders trips to promote peace and good governance, especially in the Middle East.


Find out more about Jimmy Carter

Ricardo Lagos joins The Elders

Former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos joined The Elders in 2016. 

Ricardo Lagos was elected President of Chile in 2000, 12 years after tenaciously leading efforts to restore democracy to the country, which ultimately led to the resignation of General Pinochet and the restoration of civilian rule. 

He finished his Presidential term with historically-high approval ratings above 70% and has since served as UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, Commissioner for the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and Professor-at-large on International Relations at Brown University.

 


Discover more about Ricardo Lagos

Launch of The Refugee and Migration report

The Elders launched a new initiative on Refugees and Migration, recognising the mass movement of people as one of the most significant challenges the world faces today, but also a great opportunity.  

During a trip to Berlin, where the Elders met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President Joachim Gauck, they launched the report: In Challenge Lies Opportunity: How the World Must Respond to Refugees and Mass Migration, setting out four key principles that must be at the heart of an international response to refugees and mass migration.


Get more information about The Elders' work on Refugees and Migration
2017

Meeting UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The Elders travelled to New York to meet with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the UN Security Council.  

Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Lakhdar Brahimi and Gro Harlem Brundtland discussed multilateralism and the role of the United Nations with UNSG Guterres. Other topics included conflict resolution, the environment and the Paris Agreement, the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court, and refugees and migration.


Discover more about The Elders' UN work

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joins The Elders

Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, joined The Elders in 2017.

“It is an honour and a privilege to join this august group, whose work I have admired for many years. The Elders and the United Nations share the same values of justice, solidarity and a determination to fight for peace and human rights. I eagerly await the task ahead in this new chapter of my career.”
- Ban Ki-moon


Find out more about Ban Ki-moon

Walk Together: The Elders celebrate 10 years

On 18 July 2017, The Elders celebrated ten years since the founding by Nelson Mandela with a year-long campaign, standing in solidarity with people around the world who are fighting for the freedoms Madiba championed throughout his life.
 
Find out more about the Walk Together campaign.


Watch “Mandela's vision for a better world”: a documentary on The Elders' first 10 years
2018

The Elders hold talks with Saudi Arabia on regional security

On their first official visit to Saudi Arabia as Elders, Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi and Ernesto Zedillo held talks in Riyadh with HRH King Salman bin Abdulaziz that focused on the broad geopolitical and security environment in the Middle East and the “Vision 2030” domestic reform agenda.

The Elders welcomed domestic reforms and urged meaningful dialogue with their neighbours to resolve regional security crises.

 


Further information on The Elders' talks with Saudi Arabia

Kofi Annan's last trip

Kofi Annan, Chair of The Elders, died shortly after completing an Elders trip to Zimbabwe, meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and encouraging free, fair and transparent electoral processes.

The Elders paid tribute to their dear friend and colleague Kofi Annan.

“Kofi was a strong and inspiring presence to us all, and The Elders would not be where it is today without his leadership. Throughout his life, Kofi worked unceasingly to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland


Read the tribute

Graça Machel speaks truth to power at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit

Addressing the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit at the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York, Graça Machel reflected on the purpose and relevance of an empowered United Nations dedicated to achieving a better world for all. 

“For me, the meaning of celebrating Madiba is to work to end this senseless violence as a matter of priority and urgency.”
- Graça Machel


Read Graça Machel's speech

Mary Robinson becomes Chair of The Elders

Mary Robinson was appointed The Elders’ third Chair since the group was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, succeeding Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan. Ban Ki-moon and Graça Machel became joint Deputy Chairs.

“It is a huge honour to take up the role as Chair of The Elders at such a critical moment for peace, justice and human rights worldwide.”
Mary Robinson


Learn about Mary Robinson’s priorities for The Elders

Martti Ahtisaari becomes an Elder Emeritus

Martti Ahtisaari stepped down from his role on the front line with The Elders, becoming an Elder Emeritus.

Martti Ahtisaari joined The Elders in 2009 and has played a leading role in the organisation’s work on peacebuilding, human rights, sustainable development and strengthening multilateral institutions.


Discover more about Martti Ahtisaari
2019

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Juan Manuel Santos and Zeid Raad Al Hussein join The Elders

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Laureate, Juan Manuel Santos, former President of Colombia and Nobel Laureate, and Zeid Raad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, joined The Elders in 2019.

“I am delighted to welcome three such esteemed new members to our group. Ellen, Juan Manuel and Zeid each bring valuable and distinctive perspectives on issues that are central to our work, from human rights and peacebuilding to gender equality and justice for all.”
Mary Robinson


Read more

The Elders launch Access to Justice initiative

Access to justice for all is an important human right, yet, more than five billion people worldwide do not have meaningful access to justice.

Mary Robinson and Hina Jilani launched a new initiative to close this justice gap and The Elders will work with governments and civil society to make this right a reality, for, without justice, the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved.


Find out more about The Elders’ work on Access to Justice

The Elders launch Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament initiative

Presenting the new programme at the Munich Security Conference, Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi called on nuclear-armed states, particularly the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, to commit to a “minimisation” agenda that offers a realistic long-term path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons.


Discover more about The Elders' work on nuclear weapons

The Elders visit China to meet President Xi Jinping

Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-moon, Lakhdar Brahimi, Ricardo Lagos and Ernesto Zedillo met President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese leaders. They welcomed China’s commitment to multilateralism and dialogue on rights and development.

“China has shown a clear desire to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, and play a central role in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. At a time when international cooperation is faltering, this is welcome news.” 
- Ban Ki-moon


Find out more details about the visit

Gro Harlem Brundtland links pandemics and universal health coverage

After challenging world leaders to deliver Universal Health Coverage through publicly-financed primary healthcare-led reform, at the UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, Gro Harlem Brundtland urged leaders to ensure resilience to pandemics and epidemics by investing in health systems that are capable of meeting its challenges.


Read Dr Brundtland's speech
2020

The Doomsday Clock shows 100 seconds to midnight

Ban Ki-moon and Mary Robinson join experts from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for the unveiling of the Doomsday Clock.

Moving the clock forward to 100 seconds to midnight, they highlighted the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive new technologies.


Read the press release

Launch of the special series of the Finding Humanity podcast

The Elders launched a special series of the Finding Humanity podcast to explore world challenges and the leadership needed to tackle them.

During the series, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, Juan Manuel Santos, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and more joined Mary Robinson to discuss human rights, peace-making, gender equality and multilateralism.


Listen to The Elders' podcast series

The Elders publish report on multilateralism post-COVID-19

Marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, The Elders published a new report in defence of multilateralism, calling for determined and principled leadership that recognises that global challenges require global solutions. 

Multilateralism must reshape the world after the pandemic, and The Elders issued five concrete calls to action for global leaders.


Learn more about The Elders' multilateralism work

The Elders mark Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversary with peace crane commemoration

The Elders called on world leaders, decision-makers and the public to pause for a moment of reflection and solidarity as the world marked the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 2020.

In a gesture intended to encourage people to pause, reflect and recognise the scale of the nuclear tragedy, even as the world grappled with the challenges of COVID-19, the Elders invited people to join them in sharing a personal message of hope alongside the image of a specially crafted origami peace crane.


Learn more about The Elders' view on the nuclear threat

Building Back Better for Universal Health

The Elders published a new report calling on leaders to prioritise Universal Health Coverage in their response to COVID-19, as the best way to strengthen collective health security to protect us against future pandemics.

The Elders called for the post-pandemic recovery to focus on:

1. Prepare public health systems for future pandemics

2. Prioritise Universal Health Coverage

3. Promote healthier societies via holistic policies and social development


Read the report on Universal Health
2021

The Elders call for this generation to be the generation that brings about equality

The Elders called for leaders to prioritise access to justice and gender equality and for justice systems that are refocused on the needs of women and girls.

“We should seize this opportunity to address the injustices laid bare by the pandemic.”
- Mary Robinson


Discover more about The Elders' work on Access to Justice for women and girls

The Elders celebrate Mandela's legacy by focusing on the global State of Hope

Inspired by the vision set out by their founder, Nelson Mandela, the Elders explored obstacles to peace, justice and human rights and sparked a discussion about what hope means – and where it can be found.


Watch the State of Hope talks

The Elders at COP26 in Glasgow

The Elders called for decisive action from world leaders on the climate crisis – a crisis threatening the survival of humanity.

Led by Mary Robinson, The Elders called for bold leadership to avert catastrophe, protect the vulnerable and build climate resilience. 


Read the Elders calls for climate action

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