"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
." 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
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
Pillars of Peace Hawaii and the Hawaii Community Foundation sponsored The Elders' visit to Hawaii. 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 Peace 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, 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 six blacks who
were about to be hanged. The Prime Minister was initially polite but then
turned angry. Tutu, speaking for the rights of the six 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
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
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
continued to 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
Policy magazine titled "Gaza: A Cycle of Violence That 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
Be idealistic as a young person; Believe you can change the world, because
We "oldies" sometimes cause the youth to lose their idealism and
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
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
One must have moments of quiet so there can be
We are going to swim together or drown together-we must wake up
God said this is your home-remember we are all part of the same
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
Each person is of infinite worth and to mistreat people is blasphemous
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
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
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 were 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 Hawaii, 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
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
Jilani noted, "We need standards for justice and mechanisms to gauge how to
handle injustice and we should not be shy about using these
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
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
If you take action, you can be at greater peace with yourself and your own
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.
She said, "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 doesn'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
We are working for the acceptance of common values across
"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 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
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."
In an interview
prior to arriving in Hawaii, Brundtland said: "I think the biggest barriers to
global harmony are climate
and environmental degradation. The world is failing to act. All
countries, but in particular big nations like the US and China, must lead by
and tackle these issues head on. Current political leaders
must bury their differences and find a way forward...There are strong links
between poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. What is needed now is
a new era of economic growth
-- growth that is socially and environmentally
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
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
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
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
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 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 benefited from my work 30 years
Brundtland said, "Norway spends seven 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
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
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
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 play a major role in their government's policies. Citizens forced their nations to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. In the
1980s and 1990s, the US and USSR did draw down, 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 and 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
If you continue to fight, you will overcome. Change happens if we decide
it shall happen. We must use our voices. We all can
Many impossible things have happened in my 75 years of
Everyone needs to find their passion and inspiration. Learn all you can
about a subject.
You gain inspiration from others and convince and inspire
You are sustained by seeing that what you are doing is making a
The honesty, courage and wisdom of The Elders can be seen in recorded
live-streaming of their public events.