Photo: The Elders / Tlhabi Monnakgotla
First woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Chair of The Elders considers the importance of long-view leadership, rooted in truth, justice, and human rights. s a new year begins.
As new year offers the promise of a new start. Our world sorely needs a change of direction after the death, destruction and failures of leadership seen in the closing months of 2023.
As I write, the war in Gaza continues, with Palestinian civilians paying an unconscionable price, and Israeli citizens feeling no safer than they did before 7 October. Israel’s military assault has not defeated Hamas.
President Biden’s continued support for the indiscriminate Israeli bombing of Gaza is losing him respect all over the world, with potentially damaging consequences for multilateral cooperation on other conflicts and existential threats facing humanity.
The United States of America, as Israel’s chief political and military ally, has a critical responsibility to insist on restraint, diplomacy and the need for a two-state solution. But President Biden’s continuing support for Israel’s actions is also making the world less safe, the UN Security Council less effective, and US leadership less respected. In 2024, it is high time to stop the killing and negotiate a peaceful end to this conflict.
The brutality in Israel and Palestine unleashed by the Hamas terrorist attacks of 7 October has at times seemed to overshadow the ongoing war in Ukraine. But we need global leaders and an international system robust enough to deal with multiple threats at once. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine constitutes a deepening attack on the concepts of international law, self-determination and a rules-based international order. The world must not let US double standards in the Middle East excuse that.
2024 marks the 10th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its support of armed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions. To waver in support of Ukraine’s struggle for a just peace now would be a terrible betrayal, not just of the brave Ukrainian people but of the values of the UN Charter itself.
As Elders, we remain convinced that the values and institutions of multilateralism, however imperfect, are the best means the world has of collectively tackling the existential threats facing humanity, including climate change, nuclear weapons, pandemics and the misuse of Artificial Intelligence.
Last month’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai was a case in point. At its heart, the COP process requires all nations to collaborate, and leaders to take a long view and act on what matters most. For all its flaws, and legitimate concerns about how the UAE Presidency handled proceedings, COP28 did finally acknowledge that the fossil fuel era must come to an end.
Looking ahead, we now urge all leaders in politics, business and civil society to accelerate the inevitable and show the necessary ambition to deliver climate justice for current and future generations.
Long-view leadership, rooted in the values of truth, justice and human rights, is essential if we are to bequeath a better world to our children and grandchildren. To those who dismiss such concepts as idealistic or naïve rhetoric, I offer the abiding example of perhaps the greatest leader of my lifetime: Nelson Mandela.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first free elections in South Africa, which swept away the apartheid regime and afforded every South African their democratic rights.
I had the honour to attend Mandela’s inauguration as President in May 1994. The words he spoke that day have a renewed resonance this year, when 40% of the world’s population will have the chance to vote in hugely consequential elections, including in South Africa, the USA, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Ukraine and across Europe.
“We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all… will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity.”
Mandela’s national vision of justice and dignity then must be our global vision of justice and dignity today, from the rubble of Gaza to the orphanages of Kyiv, and from the Pacific islands facing rising sea levels to the jails of Myanmar.
As the Elders continue our work for a fairer, safer future for all, we remain deeply grateful for your support of our mission.
With many thanks and deep appreciation,