Jimmy Carter retires from The Elders

Former US President Jimmy Carter is stepping down from the international coalition of peace-seeking leaders The Elders.

Jeff Moore/AP/File
Former South African President Nelson Mandela (r.) shakes hands with former US President Jimmy Carter during a 2010 meeting of The Elders in Johannesburg, South Africa, three years after Mandela launched the group.

Jimmy Carter has announced his retirement from The Elders, a coalition of world leaders dedicated to human rights, with which the former president has visited numerous nations in conflict.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has held a prominent position in the group since its first humanitarian trip to Sudan in 2007, and he will become an emeritus member on June 1, the group said in a statement.

"From the Middle East to climate change, women’s rights to superpower diplomacy, Jimmy has brought the gravitas of his Presidential office but also the passion of an activist who believes the world can, and must, be changed for the better," said former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, chair of The Elders.

The late Nelson Mandela founded the group in 2007 with a mission to advocate for peace and human rights amid international conflicts. Over the years, prominent members have included Mozambiquan humanitarian Graça Machel, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Richard Branson of Virgin Group, and Peter Gabriel of the rock band Genesis.

"I am confident that The Elders can become a real role model – leading, guiding and supporting all sorts of initiatives, both their own and those of many others," former South African President Mandela said at the group's launch in 2007. "The Elders can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken."

In Carter's case, this has meant numerous visits to the Middle East, where The Elders have tried to settle some of the region's longstanding conflicts. In 2015, they visited the West Bank, where Carter laid a wreath on the grave of former leader Yasser Arafat. The Elders visited Jerusalem to draw attention to the devastating post-war situation in Gaza.

"What we have seen and heard only strengthens our determination to work for peace," Carter said, according to media reports. "The situation in Gaza is intolerable. Eight months after a devastating war, not one destroyed house has been rebuilt and people cannot live with the respect and dignity they deserve."

Carter also accompanied a delegation to Moscow in April 2015 to discuss geopolitical issues between Russia and the West. Their discussions included talks about the peace process in the Syrian civil war. 

His work with The Elders has not been without controversy. When he visited North Korea as part of an Elders delegation in 2012, he said that the international community should not withhold food aid from the Hermit Kingdom's poor, and the State Department under Hillary Clinton declined to meet with him afterward, Foreign Policy reported.

Throughout his life, Carter has worked for peace in the world's major conflicts

"I was prepared to give my life if necessary [as a Naval serviceman] – if my country went to war," he told Japanese current affairs magazine Chuo-Koron in an interview. "I think that we need to be more reluctant to go to war, and to go there only in desperate conditions when all avenues towards peace are exhausted, including good-faith discussions, either directly with our potential adversaries or through a trusted intermediary."

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