Elders Present Four Proposals for UN Reform

  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, 2014 Tang Prize Laureate in Sustainable Development
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7 February 2015: The Elders, an independent group of world leaders who play an advisory role to the UN, has called for a series of UN reforms, including regarding the membership of the UN Security Council and selection of the UN Secretary-General, on the occasion of the UN's 70th year.

In a joint statement to the Munich Security Conference, where they were represented by the Chair, Kofi Annan, Deputy Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland, Martti Ahtisaari and Graça Machel, The Elders note the UN has not succeeded in fulfilling the aims set out at its foundation 70 years ago “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” and they present four proposals for UN reform.

First, they propose that, in addition to the current five permanent members of the Security Council, there could be a new category of members who would serve a much longer term, and who would be eligible for immediate re-election – in effect, introducing new permanent members who will continue to serve, as long as they retain the confidence of other Member States.

Second, they call on the five current permanent members to pledge that they will use their veto power only where they genuinely fear that the proposed action “will do more harm than good to world peace and to the people concerned.” Under such a pledge, the permanent members would never use their veto power solely to defend their national interests, and all permanent members would continue to search for common ground, in cases where the veto is invoked.

Third, The Elders call on the Security Council to allow civil society, including people's representatives from conflict zones, to inform the Council's decisions.

Fourth, on the selection of the next UN Secretary-General, The Elders call for the Security Council to conduct “a thorough and open search,” regardless of gender or region, and to provide a short list of potential candidates to the UN General Assembly, for a single, non-renewable term of seven years.

The group of Elders was formed in 1997, with the support of former Education Minister of Mozambique and child rights campaigner Graça Machel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, based on a suggestion by entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel.

The group was initially chaired by Tutu and is currently chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Other members include Ahtisaari, former President of Finland; founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in India, Ela Bhatt; UN Special Representative and former Foreign Affairs Minister of Algeria Lakhdar Brahimi; Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway; former President of Brazil Fernando Cardoso; former US President Jimmy Carter; UN Special Representative and Pakistan human rights campaigner Hina Jilani; former President of Ireland Mary Robinson; and former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo.