A Time for Renewal: Calling for a Strengthened Multilateral System
18 September 2020 The Elders
Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-moon, Hina Jilani, Ricardo Lagos, Graça Machel and Juan Manuel Santos join global leaders to call for decisive action to defend and rejuvenate multilateralism, in an open letter to Heads of Governments.
As former ministers of government and United Nations officials, we are deeply concerned that the institutional framework of global governance, with the United Nations at its core, must do more to provide the guidance, leadership and decisions required to ensure human safety, security and sustainable development in our interdependent world.
From climate change to human rights, gender and racial equality, and from sustainable development to international peace and security – the international community should honor its commitments to the UN’s founding Charter, Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement. There is a crying need for a stronger, more accountable, inclusive multilateral system that encompasses renewed intergovernmental initiatives with the full participation of civil society and key stakeholders.
COVID-19 has underscored humanity’s shared vulnerability, with disproportionate impacts on women and girls. The devastating consequences of the pandemic are felt first and foremost in the loss of human lives, but also in economic costs and deepening social inequality.
Recovery from the COVID19 pandemic and institutional retooling go hand in hand. They both call for national leadership and effective global cooperation.
Yet even before the beginning of the pandemic, multilateralism was under threat and weakened by withdrawals from important treaties and forums, budget cuts and the failure to uphold international law.
As the international community commemorates the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, this is a time not only to celebrate past achievements, but also to take stock of the need for reforms that strengthen the Organization. We therefore call on world leaders, meeting virtually this September 21, to:
 Recognize the need to support the indispensable role of the United Nations, while at the same time strengthen and reform the legal and institutional machinery of the UN system; and to
 Call for a dedicated intergovernmental process to pursue this goal in the follow-up to the UN75 Political Declaration.
There is an urgent need for an explicit recognition by global leaders that we are at a turning point and must act decisively to defend and rejuvenate multilateralism.
As we address a weakened global order, this is not a time for governments to remain idle, but rather to scale up their commitments and actions for a world that is fairer, more inclusive and sustainable. Let future generations look back on 2020 as the year when humanity, its leaders and decision makers recognized the need for a shared future of dignity, hope and prosperity for all. And let us use this 75th anniversary of the United Nations as an opportunity to inspire and speed up the actions so urgently needed to honor the principles and vision enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
Maria Elena Agüero, Secretary General of the Club de Madrid
Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and former UN Ambassador, United States of America
Celso Amorim, former Foreign Minister, Brazil
Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of The Netherlands (2002-2010)
Ban Ki-moon, Eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, Deputy Chair of The Elders and member
of WLA-Club de Madrid
Joyce Banda, President of Malawi (2012-2014)
Carol Bellamy, former Executive Director of UNICEF
Valdis Birkavs, former Prime Minister of Latvia (1993-1994)
Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO
Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, El Salvador
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2007-2010)
John Bruton, Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland (1994-1997)
Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of Switzerland (2007 and 2011)
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil (1995-2003)
Aníbal Cavaco Silva, former Prime Minister (1985-1995) and President (2006-2016) of Portugal
Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008)
Isabel de St. Malo, former Vice-President of Panama
Jan Eliasson, former Foreign Minister of Sweden, President of the UN General Assembly, and UN
Maria Fernanda Espinosa, President of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, former Minister of
Foreign Affairs and Minister of National Defence, Ecuador
Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of Lithuania (2009-2019)
Tarja Halonen, President of Finland (2000-2012)
Seung-Soo Han, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea (2008-2009)
Ameerah Haq, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support
Noeleen Heyser, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for
Asia and the Pacific
Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, former Special Representative of the UN
Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders
Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia (2010-2015)
Yoriko Kawaguchi, former Minister of the Environment, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan
Rima Khalaf, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for
Horst Köhler, President of Germany (2004-2010)
Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of Poland (1995-2005)
Ricardo Lagos, President of Chile (2000-2006)
Zlatko Lagumdzija, Prime Minister of Bosnia & Herzegovina (2001-2002)
Susana Malcorra, former Foreign Minister, Argentina
Graça Machel, former Education Minister, Mozambique
Juan E. Méndez, former Special Advisor to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide, former
Special Rapporteur on Torture
Carlos Mesa, President of Bolivia (2003-2005)
James Michel, President of Seychelles (2004-2016)
Federica Mogherini, former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy and former Vice-President of the European Commission
Roza Otunbayeva, President of Kyrgyzstan (2010-2011)
Andres Pastrana, President of Colombia (1998-2002)
Navi Pillay, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Oscar Ribas Reig, Prime Minister of Andorra (1982-1984, 1990-1994)
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Petre Roman, Prime Minister of Romania (1989-1991)
Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia (2007 – 2010)
Juan Manuel Santos, former President of Colombia, 2016 Nobel Peace Laureate
Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1997-1999)
Danilo Türk, President of Slovenia (2007-2012)
Margot Wallström, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sweden, former UN Special Representative on
Sexual Violence in Conflict
The Elders COVID-19 Multilateralism
The need for principled global leadership and cooperation has never been more important
02 Oct 2020
As COVID-19 continues to hit our societies at great cost, the need for far-sighted, innovative and principled global leadership and cooperation has never been more important.
In normal times, the annual opening of the UN General Assembly is an occasion for leaders to gather in New York for formal and informal discussions. This year, we have instead seen a “virtual UNGA”, but this has not prevented Elders’ voices from being part of the debate.
Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-moon, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Juan Manuel Santos all took part in a number of virtual discussions as part of the UN75 Global Governance Forum on critical issues including climate change, collective security and human rights.
Many members of The Elders, myself included, also joined other global leaders to use the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN to call for decisive action to defend and rejuvenate multilateralism, in an open letter to Heads of Governments.
In addition to her work as an Elder, Gro Brundtland also co-chairs the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which released its new report on pandemic preparedness in September, ‘A World in Disorder’. To this end, perhaps a new international agreement is necessary between WHO member states, and under the WHO’s umbrella, to develop a programme to deal with pandemics that would be approved by the parties every one or two years. This could be similar to the COP series of annual climate summits where signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement evaluate past and future activities.
Globalisation has changed the way infectious diseases spread throughout the world, and what once may have taken years to spread now happens in a matter of weeks.
Yet we lack an effective system of global governance that can respond to these threats at speed and at scale, particularly when the forces of populism, nationalism and isolationism still occupy influential positions of global power.
However, even before the pandemic, multilateral institutions were being weakened by narrow and self-serving leadership, states’ withdrawals from international treaties and the failure to uphold international law. And yet, threats like the climate crisis and COVID-19 know no borders and have an impact on virtually every country in the world.
Only by placing human rights, sustainability and justice at the core of the global response can we hope to effectively tackle COVID-19 and other existential threats, and this is only possible by strengthening and revitalising the multilateral system.
Former President of Chile; tenacious fighter for democracy and human rights; implemented health reform; and reduced economic inequality while diversifying Chile’s external trade in the era of globalisation.