By Ann Wright
“Don’t Give Up!” in the face of injustice was the mantra of three of the world’s leaders, members of the group called “The Elders” (www.TheElders.org
). In talks in Honolulu, August 29-31, The Elders encouraged activists to never stop working on social injustices. “One must have the courage to speak out on issues,” and “If you take action, you can be a greater peace with yourself and your own conscience,” were some of the many other positive comments given by anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Norwegian Prime Minister and environmentalist Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland and international human rights lawyer Hina Jilani.
The Elders are a group of leaders who were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela to use their “independent, collective experience and influence to work for peace, poverty eradication, a sustainable planet, justice and human rights, working both publicly and through private diplomacy to 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.”
The Elders include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, grassroots organizer and head of the Self-Employed Women’s Association from India Ela Bhatt, former Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan and Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and Grace Machel, former Mozambique Minister of Education, United Nations investigation of children in war and co-founder of The Elders with her husband Nelson Mandela.
sponsored The Elders’ visit to Hawai’i. The following comments were gathered from the four public events in which The Elders spoke.
Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Anglican Church Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a leader in the movement against apartheid in South Africa, advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against the South African government. He was awarded the Nobel Peach Prize in 1984 for his service in the struggle against apartheid. In 1994 he was appointed Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate apartheid–era crimes. He has been a vocal critic of Israeli apartheid actions in the West Bank and Gaza.
Archbishop Tutu said he did not aspire for a position of leadership in the movement against apartheid, but after many of the original leaders were in jail or exiled, the leadership role was thrust upon him.
Tutu said, that despite all the international recognition, that he is naturally a shy person and not an abrasive one, not a “confrontationist.” He said while he did not wake up each morning wondering what he could do to annoy the apartheid government of South Africa, it turned out that almost everything he did ended up that way as he was speaking of the rights of every human being. One day he went to the white Prime Minister of South Africa about 6 blacks who were about to be hanged. The Prime Minister was initially polite but then turned angry and then Tutu speaking for the rights of the 6 returned the anger—Tutu said, “I don’t think Jesus would have handled it quite the way I did, but I was glad I confronted the Prime Minister of South Africa because they were treating us like dirt and rubbish.”
Tutu revealed that he grew up in South Africa as a “township urchin,” and spent two years in a hospital due to tuberculosis. He wanted to be a doctor but was unable to pay for medical school. He became a high school teacher, but left teaching when the apartheid government refused to teach blacks science and ordered English to be taught only so blacks “would be able to understand and obey their white masters.” Tutu then became a member of the Anglican clergy and rose to the position of Dean of Johannesburg, the first black to hold that position. In that position, the media gave publicity to everything he said and his voice became one of the prominent black voices, along with others like Winnie Mandela. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Tutu said he still can’t believe the life he has led including heading the group of The Elders, composed of Presidents of countries and the former Secretary General of the United Nations.
During the apartheid struggle in South Africa, Tutu said that “knowing we had such support around the world made a huge difference to us and helped us keep going. When we stood up against apartheid, representatives from religions came together to support us. When the government of South Africa took my passport away from me, a Sunday School class in New York, made “Passports of Love” and sent them to me. Even small acts have a big impact for people in the struggle.”
Archbishop Tutu said, “Youth want to make a difference in the world and they can make that difference. Students were key elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the apartheid South African government. When President Reagan vetoed the anti-apartheid legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, students organized to force Congress to override the Presidential veto, which Congress did.”
On the Israel-Palestine conflict Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “When I go to Israel and through the checkpoints to get into the West Bank, my heart aches at the parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa.” He noted, “Have I been caught in a time warp? This is what we experienced in South Africa.” With emotion he said, “My anguish is what the Israelis are doing to themselves. Through the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa, we found that when you carry out unjust laws, dehumanizing laws, the perpetrator or the enforcer of those laws is dehumanized. I weep for the Israelis as they have ended up not seeing the victims of their actions as human as they are.”
A secure and just peace between Israel and Palestine has been a priority for The Elders since the group was formed in 2007. The Elders have visited the region three times as a group, in 2009, 2010 and 2012. In 2013, The Elders continue speak out strongly about policies and actions that undermine the two-state solution and the prospect for peace in the region, particularly the construction and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In 2014, former US President Jimmy Carter and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson wrote an important article concerning Israeli and Gaza in Foreign Policy magazine titled “ Gaza: A Cycle of Violence That Can Be Broken” (http://www.theelders.org/article/gaza-cycle-violence-can-be-broken
On the issue of war, Archbishop Tutu said, “In many countries, citizens accept that its ok to spend money on weapons to kill people rather than on helping with clean water. We have the ability to feed everyone on earth, but instead our governments buy weapons. We must tell our governments and weapons manufacturers that we don’t want these weapons. Companies who make things that kill, rather than save lives, bully civil society in Western countries. Why continue this when we have the ability to save people with the money spent on weapons? Youth should say “No, Not in My Name.” It is disgraceful that kids die of bad water and of lack of inoculations when industrialized countries spend billions on weapons.”
Other Comments from Archbishop Tutu:
One must stand up for the truth, whatever the consequences.
Be idealistic as a young person; Believe you can change the world, because you can!
We “oldies” sometimes cause the youth to lose their idealism and enthusiasm.
To the Youth: go on dreaming—Dream that war is no more, that poverty is history, that we can solve people dying from lack of water. God depends on you for a world with no war, a world with equality. God’s World is in Your Hands.
Knowing that people are praying for me helps me. I know there is an old lady in a township church that everyday prays for me and upholds me. With the help of all those people, I am surprised at how “smart” I turn out to be. It isn’t my achievement; I must remember that I am what I am because of their help.
One must have moments of quiet so there can be inspiration.
We are going to swim together or drown together-we must wake up others!
God said this is your home-remember we are all part of the same family.
Work on issues that will “try to wipe a tear from God’s eye. You want God to smile about your stewardship of the earth and the people on it. God is looking at Gaza and the Ukraine and God says, “When are they going to get it?”
Each person is of infinite worth and to mistreat people is blasphemous against God.
There is tremendous difference between the haves and have not’s in our world—and now we have the same disparity in the black community in South Africa.
Practice peace in everyday life. When we do good it spreads out like waves, it is not an individual wave, but good creates waves that affect many people.
Slavery was abolished, women’s rights and equality are moving up and Nelson Mandela was let out of prison—Utopia? Why Not?
Be at peace with yourself.
Start each day with a moment of reflection, breathe in goodness and breathe out the wrongs.
Be at peace with yourself.
I am a prisoner of hope.
As a human rights lawyer in Pakistan, Hina Jilani created the first all woman law firm and established the first Human Rights commission in her country. She was the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008 and appointed to United Nations committees to investigate violations of international law in conflicts in Darfur and Gaza. She was awarded the Millennium Peace Prize for Women in 2001.
Ms. Jilani said that as a human rights defender in Pakistan in working for the rights of a minority group, “I was not popular with the majority—or the government.” She said her life had been threatened, her family had been attacked and had to leave the country and she had been jailed for her efforts in social justice issues that we not popular. Jilani noted that its hard for her to believe that others would follow her leadership as she is such a controversial figure in Pakistan, but they do because they believe in the causes she works on.
She said she came from an activist family. Her father was imprisoned for opposing the military government in Pakistan and she was thrown out of college for challenging the same government. She said as a “conscious” student, she could not avoid politics and as a law student she spent a lot of time around prisons helping political prisoners and their families. Jilani said, “Don’t forget the families of those who go to prison in their attempts to challenge injustices. Those who make sacrifices and go to prison need to know that their families will be helped while they are in prison.”
On women’s rights, Jilani said, “Wherever women are in trouble around the world, where they have no rights, or their rights are in trouble, we must help each other and bring pressure to end the injustice.” She added, “Public opinion has saved my life. My imprisonment ended due to pressure from women’s organizations as well as from governments.”
In observing rich cultural and ethnic diversity of Hawai’i, Ms. Jilani said that one must be careful to not let some people use this diversity to divide the society. She spoke of the ethic conflicts that have flared up in the past decades that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people-in the former Yugoslavia; in Iraq and Syria between Sunni and Shi’a and between various sects of Sunnis; and in Rwanda between Hutus and Tutus. Jilani said that we must not just tolerate diversity, but work hard to accommodate diversity.
Jilani said that when she was on the Commissions of Inquiries in Gaza and Darfur, opponents to human rights issues in both areas attempted to discredit her and others on the commissions, but she did allow not their opposition to make her stop her work for justice.
In 2009, Hina Jilani was a member of the United Nations team that investigated the 22-day Israeli attack on Gaza that was documented in the Goldstone Report. Jilani, who had also investigated military actions on civilians in the Darfur, said, “The real problem is the occupation of Gaza. There have been three offensive actions by Israel against Gaza in the past five years, each bloody and destroying the civil infrastructure need for the survival of the people of Gaza. No one party can use the right of self-defense to avoid international laws. There can be no peace without justice for the Palestinians. Justice is the goal to achieve peace.”
Jilani said the international community must keep the Israelis and Palestinians engaged in talks to prevent more conflict and deaths. She added that the international community must make strong statements that violations of international law with impunity will not be allowed — international accountability is demanded. Jilani said there are three parts to ending the conflict between Israel and Palestine. First, the occupation of Gaza must end. She noted that occupation could be from the outside as in Gaza as well as from the inside as in the West Bank. Second, there must be an Israeli commitment to have a viable Palestinian state. Third, both sides must be made to feel that their security is protected. Jilani added that, “Both sides must comport to the norms of international conduct.”
Jilani added, “I feel very sorry for the people caught in the conflict—all have suffered. But, the capacity to harm is much greater on one side. The Israeli occupation must end. The occupation it brings harm to Israel too… For global peace, there must be a viable Palestinian state with contiguous territories. The illegal settlements must end.”
Jilani said, “The international community must help both sides to formulate a form of co-existence, and that co-existence may be that, even though they are next to each other, they may not have anything to do with each other. I know this is a possibility as that is what India and Pakistan did for 60 years.”
Jilani noted, “We need standards for justice and mechanisms to gauge how to handle injustice and we should not be shy about using these mechanisms.”
Other comments from Hina Jilani:
One must have the courage to speak out on issues.
One must have some sense of patience while undergoing adversity as one cannot expect to get results in a moment.
Some issues take decades to change—standing on the street corner for 25 years with a placard reminding society of a particular issue is not uncommon. And then, a change finally arrives.
One cannot give up the struggle, no matter how long it may take to finally get the changes one is working for. In going against the tide, you may rest too soon and be swept back by the current.
I try to control my outrage and anger in order to get my work done, but I am outraged at trends that make it impossible to get peace. We must have an aversion to injustice. The degree that you dislike an issue, will force you to take action.
I do not care to be popular, but I want the causes/issues to be popular so we can change behavior. If you are working for the rights of minorities, the majorities don’t like what you do. You must have courage to continue.
In social justice work, you need a support system of friends and family. My family was taken hostage one time and then I had to move them out of the country for their safety, but they encouraged me to stay and go on with the fight.
If you take action, you can be a greater peace with yourself and your own conscience.
Be with people you like and you agree with for support.
Jilani noted that despite gains made in gender equality, women are still more vulnerable to marginalization. In most societies it is still hard to be a woman and be heard. Wherever women are in trouble around the world, where they have no rights, or their rights are in trouble, we must help each other and bring pressure to end the injustice.
Bad treatment of indigenous peoples is outrageous; indigenous people have the right to self-determination. I pay tribute to the leaders of indigenous peoples as they have a very difficult task in keeping the issues visible.
In the human rights field, there are some non-negotiable issues, ones that cannot be compromised
Public opinion has saved my life. My imprisonment ended due to pressure from women’s organizations as well as from governments.
In response to a question of how do you keep going, Jilani said the injustices don’t stop, so we cannot stop. Seldom is there a complete win-win situation. Small successes are very important and pave the way for further work. There is no utopia. We work for a better world, not the best world.
We are working for the acceptance of common values across cultures.
As a leader, you don’t isolate yourself. You need to stay with others of like mind for support in order to work for the collective good to and to help and convince others. You end up sacrificing much of your personal life for the social justice movement.
Sovereignty of nations is the biggest impediment to peace. People are sovereign, not nations. Governments cannot violate the rights of people in the name of sovereignty of the government
Former Prime Minister Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland,
Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland was served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway in 1981, 1986-89 and 1990-96. She was Norway’s first woman youngest Prime Minister and at age 41, the youngest. She served as the Director General of the United Nations World Health Organization, 1998-2003, the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change, 2007-2010 and a member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability. Prime Minister Brundtland directed her government to conduct secret talks with the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership, which led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
With her experience as United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change 2007-2010 and a member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability, Brundtland said, “We should have solved climate change in our lifetimes, not leaving it to the youth of the world.” She added, “Those who refuse to believe the science of climate change, the climate deniers, are having a dangerous effect in the United States. We must make changes in our lifestyles before it is too late.”
Brundtland said, “Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Wangari Maathai of Kenya for her tree planting and public environmental education program is a recognition that saving our environment is a part of peace in the world. The traditional definition of peace was speaking out/working against war, but if are at war with our planet and can can’t live on it because of what we have done to the it, then we need to stop destroying it and make peace with it.”
Brundtland said, “While we all are individuals, we do have common responsibilities for each other. Ambition, goals for getting rich and taking care of oneself above others, sometimes blinds people to their obligations to help others. I have seen over the past 25 years that young people have become cynical.
In 1992, Dr. Brundtland as Prime Minister of Norway, instructed her government to conduct secret negotiations with Israelis and Palestinians that resulted in the Oslo Accords, which were sealed with a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO chief Arafat in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Brundtland said, “Now 22 years later, the tragedy of the Oslo Accords is what has NOT happened. The Palestinian state has not been allowed to be established, but instead Gaza has been blockaded by Israel and the West Bank occupied by Israel.” Brundtland added. “There is no solution except a two state solution in which Israelis acknowledge that Palestinians have a right to their own state.”
As a 20-year-old medical student, she began working on social-democratic issues and values. She said, “ I felt I had to take a stand on issues. During my medical career I was asked to become the Minister of the Environment for Norway. As a proponent for women’s rights, how could I turn it down?”
In 1981 Brundtland was elected Prime Minister of Norway. She said, “There were terrible, disrespectful attacks on me. I had many detractors when I took for the position and they made many negative comments. My mother asked me why I should go through with this? If I didn’t accept the opportunity, then when would another woman get the chance? I did it to pave the way for women in the future. I told her I must be able to stand this so the next women won’t have to go through what I did. And now, we have a second woman Prime Minister of Norway—a conservative, who has benefitted from my work 30 years ago.”
Brundtland said, “Norway spends 7 times per capita more than the US does on international aid. We believe we must share our resources.” (Fellow Elder Hina Jilani added that in Norway’s international relations, there is a respect for individuals and organizations in the country Norway works with. International aid from Norway comes with no strings attached making it easier for financial partnership in developing countries. In many countries, NGOs do not take US aid because of the strings attached and because of their belief that there is a lack of respect for human rights by the United States.)
Brundtland noted, “The United States can learn a lot from the Nordic Countries. We have national youth council to have dialogue between the generations, higher taxes but healthcare and education for everyone, and to get families off to a good start, we have mandatory paternity leave for fathers.”
In her role as Prime Minister and now as member of The Elders she has had to bring up topics heads of state who did not want to hear. She said, “I am polite and respectful. I begin with a discussion on common issues of concern and then I get around to the difficult issues we want to bring up. They may not like the issue, but will probably listen because you have been respectful to them. Don’t abruptly raise the difficult questions the moment you come through the door.”
It is not the religions of the world that are the problem, it’s the “faithful” and their interpretations of the religion. Its not necessarily religion against religion, we see Christians against Christians in Northern Ireland; Sunnis against Sunnis in Syria and Iraq; Sunnis against Shi’a. However, no religion says it is right to kill.
Citizens can a major role in their government’s policies. Citizens forced their nations to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. In the 1980s and 1990s, the US and USSR did drawdown, but not enough. Citizens forced the landmine treaty to abolish landmines.
The biggest advancement for peace in the past 15 years is the Millennium Development Goals to overcome the needs around the world. The MDG have helped improve the drop in child mortality and access to vaccines, education & empowerment of women.
Political activism makes social change. In Norway we have parental leave for fathers as well as mothers—and by law, the fathers have to take the leave. You can change society by changing the rules.
The greatest impediment to peace is egoism by governments and by individuals.
If you continue to fight, you will overcome. Change happens if we decide it shall happen. We must use our voices. We all can contribute.
Many impossible things have happened in my 75 years of age.
Everyone needs to find their passion and inspiration. Learn all you can about a subject.
You gain inspiration from others and convince and inspire others.
You are sustained by seeing that what you are doing is making a difference
About the Author: Ann Wright is a 29 veteran of the US Army/Army Reserves. She retired as a Colonel. She served in the US State Department as a US Diplomat for 16 years and resigned in 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.