Annual Report of The Elders


Excerpts from the section for a “Stronger UN” in the Annual Report of the The Elders and excerpts from their proposal “Four Ideas to Save the Peace.” The Elders are a small, dedicated group of individuals including former Heads of State and former Heads of International Organizations convened by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today.

In 2015, The Elders launched a major new initiative aimed at strengthening the United Nations in its core responsibility for the preservation of peace and security worldwide. . . The Elders’ proposals were publicly launched at the Munich Security Conference in early February before a large audience of top government officials and parliamentarians from around the world. After the presentation, the Elders – Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and Graça Machel – held a series of private bilateral meetings with other delegations. An Op-Ed signed by Kofi Annan and Gro Brundtland which outlined “Four Ideas to Save the Peace” was published simultaneously in nine countries, in different languages. The Elders participated in five meetings on different aspects of the subject in New York alone (three of them well-attended events at UN Headquarters). . .

The Elders grouped around Nelson Mandela. Left to right: Graca Machel, Fernando Cardoso, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Gro Harlem Brundlandt, Martti Ahtisaari, Eli Bhatt and Lakhdar Brahimi.

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Together with Liechtenstein, a close ally for this initiative, in early September, The Elders convened a private meeting in Vaduz of active and retired senior officials with first-hand knowledge of the Security Council. The subsequent report was disseminated in New York to all UN delegations in September and was later the subject of a meeting at the UN Headquarters at which Lakhdar Brahimi spoke. . . .

It is clear that The Elders have acted as a catalyst for intergovernmental action at the UN with respect to the Secretary-General selection process. Their leadership has been frequently cited by civil society activists in this and other areas of proposed reform such as restraint by the five permanent members of the Security Council in the use of their veto powers in cases of mass atrocities and expansion of the Council to bring in new semi-permanent members. This last proposal is aimed at breaking the deadlock of the past two decades in intergovernmental negotiations at the UN which has stymied progress towards making the Council more democratic and representative of today’s world. In the coming year, The Elders aim to build on the solid achievements of 2015 under this initiative. . . .

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Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

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1. A new category of members [of the UN Security Council] . . .

Let the states which aspire to permanent membership accept instead, at least for the time being, election to a new category of membership, which would give them a much longer term than the two years served by the non-permanent members, and to which they could be immediately re-elected when that term expires. This would enable them to become de facto permanent members, but in a more democratic way, since it would depend on them continuing to enjoy the confidence of other member states. By making the Council more democratic, this change would increase its legitimacy in the eyes of the world, thereby enhancing its authority and so also making it more effective.

2. A pledge from permanent members [of the UN Security Council] . . .

We therefore call on the five existing permanent members to pledge themselves to greater and more persistent efforts to find common ground, especially in crises where populations are being subjected to, or threatened with, genocide or other atrocity crimes. States making this pledge will undertake not to use, or threaten to use, their veto in such crises without explaining, clearly and in public, what alternative course of action they propose, as a credible and efficient way to protect the populations in question. This explanation must refer to international peace and security, and not to the national interest of the state casting the veto, since any state casting a veto simply to protect its national interests is abusing the privilege of permanent membership. And when one or more permanent members do feel obliged to cast a veto, and do provide such an explanation, the others must undertake not to abandon the search for common ground but to make even greater efforts to agree on an effective course of action.

3. A voice for civil society [in the UN Security Council] . . .

We call on all members of the Security Council to make more regular and systematic use of the “Arria formula” (under which, in the last two decades, Security Council members have had meetings with a wide variety of civil society organisations), to give groups representing people in zones of conflict the greatest possible opportunity to inform and influence Council decisions. At present, meetings under the Arria formula are too often attended only by junior officials, whose reports can easily be ignored. In future, we call on the heads of the delegations of all countries serving on the Security Council, including the permanent members, to attend all meetings held under this formula in person. Members of the Council must use such meetings to ensure that their decisions are informed by full and clear knowledge of the conditions in the country or region concerned, and of the views of those most directly affected.

4. A more independent Secretary-General

We call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin. We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns. She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.