The Elders

About The Elders

The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights.

The Elders was founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela to “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair”.

The Elders is chaired by Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). Ban Ki-moon (former UN Secretary-General) and Graça Machel (founder of the Graça Machel Trust) serve as Deputy Chairs.

Member of The Elders include: Gro Harlem Brundtland (former Director-General of the World Health Organization and former Prime Minister of Norway), Zeid Raad Al Hussein (former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), Hina Jilani, (co-chair of the Taskforce on Justice), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Liberia), Ricardo Lagos (former President of Chile), Juan Manuel Santos (Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (former President of Mexico).

Martti Ahtisaari (former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Laureate), Ela Bhatt (founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India), Lakhdar Brahimi (veteran UN conflict mediator), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil) and Jimmy Carter (former US President) are Elders Emeritus.

Desmond Tutu (1931-2021) and Kofi Annan (1938-2018) were founding members of The Elders and served as Chairs from 2007 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018 respectively.

About The Elders programmes

The Elders use their independence, collective experience and influence to work for peace, justice and human rights worldwide.

Working both publicly and through private diplomacy, The Elders engage with global leaders and civil society to resolve conflict and address its root causes, to challenge injustice, and to promote ethical leadership and good governance.

About Nelson Mandela

One of the world’s most revered statesmen and perhaps the world’s most famous political prisoner, Nelson Mandela was at the forefront of the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid regime.

During the Rivonia trial that sentenced Mandela and many other African National Congress (ANC) members to a lifetime in prison, he made one of his most famous statements:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison but remained an influential leader of the anti-apartheid struggle throughout his time in jail. As international pressure on the apartheid government increased during the 1980s, Mandela was able to begin a dialogue with the apartheid government in 1985, before negotiating his release in 1990.

After his release from prison, Mandela stepped up to lead his people’s liberation struggle, becoming leader of the ANC in 1991. In 1993, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, then President of South Africa, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”

In 1994 he was elected President in South Africa’s first non-racial elections – the first time that Mandela himself was able to vote in his own country. He served a five-year term.

Nelson Mandela remains an inspiration to people around the world fighting injustice and oppression, and his mandate for The Elders continues to drive our mission and vision.

At the launch of The Elders in South Africa 2007, Nelson Mandela said: “I believe that in the end it is kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change,” This spirit of hope and empathic leadership remains at the heart of our work on peace, justice and human rights across the world.


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