News & Updates
April 27, 2017
Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.
I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.
At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.
In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.
The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.
It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.
I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.
The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.
The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.
I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.
The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.
Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. This editorial originally appeared in The Age on April 27, 2017
July 10, 2015
Jimmy Carter & Gro Brundtland: UN Report Shows Accountability is Key to Unlocking Peace in Israel and Gaza
“Continued impunity and lack of accountability will greatly increase the likelihood of fresh conflict and further war crimes.”
The report by the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war highlights rights violations and possible war crimes committed by both sides. Its findings echo what we heard on our own visit to Israel and Palestine two months ago. We received many first-hand accounts of the effects of the war on both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
We came away from Israel and Palestine convinced that political leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas all need to be subject to greater accountability so that they uphold the rule of law.
This is why we welcome the Commission of Inquiry’s report as a potential milestone on the path to accountability. The report is as objective and even-handed as circumstances allowed, as is to be expected with the highly regarded US judge Mary McGowan Davis as Commission Chair.
It is regrettable that neither Israel nor Hamas responded to the Commission’s questions about specific incidents and legal and policy issues – unlike the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which did provide answers. Israel went further, refusing any cooperation and denying entry to Palestinian territories to members of the Commission on the grounds of “inherent bias” – a charge repeated again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the report was published.
Israel regularly complains about perceived bias by the UN and its institutions (notably the Human Rights Council), and other international actors – including, on occasion, The Elders. In such a deep-rooted, protracted and torturous conflict, objectivity becomes a precarious commodity and accusations of bias can be easily deployed by both sides to deflect criticism.
It is worth noting that Hamas has also rejected the Commission’s criticisms. When institutions, be they UN-related or respected NGOs, are loudly criticised by both parties to a dispute or conflict, the likelihood is that they have acted in a spirit of neutrality.
Ironically, Israel and Hamas both complain that they are being compared to one another in the report. Israel, as a sovereign, internationally-recognised state, objects to any comparison to what it calls a terrorist organisation; likewise, Hamas in its self-declared role as a “resistance movement” sees no comparison between its actions and those of an occupying military power.
These complaints obscure a wider point: the actions of both Israel and Hamas should be measured against international standards of behaviour. It is not a question of equivalence, but of equal and fair treatment under international law.
The Commission’s report recommends that the parties to the Gaza conflict should themselves take responsibility for prosecuting and ensuring appropriate accountability for violations of international law. However, it seems that neither Israel nor Hamas can be relied upon to do so. Consistent with past practice in previous conflicts over Gaza, Israel’s own report has exonerated its armed forces from any blame for civilian deaths in Gaza, including four children killed on a beach, attacks on UN schools where displaced inhabitants were taking shelter, and apparently deliberate destruction of civilian homes.
Hamas claims the report establishes a “false balance” between victims and killers – ignoring those killed by its own attacks. Impunity flourishes in this climate of denial and self-justification, making ordinary citizens on all sides more vulnerable to violent attacks and human rights abuses.
This is why The Elders support the Commission’s main recommendation that “the parties should cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and with any subsequent investigation by the ICC that may be opened.”
The decision by the Palestinian Authority to now submit evidence to the ICC on the Gaza war, illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners shows this issue will only gain in political salience in the weeks and months ahead.
The ICC is one of the nearest institutions to objective neutrality that the community of nations possesses. The more it is used and respected, the more effective it will become. It was set up to be one of the principal means of achieving accountability for war crimes and minimising impunity. Regrettably neither Israel nor the US are parties to the Court. In our view, they should be.
As the Commission’s report makes clear, impunity for breaches of international law, including war crimes, has prevailed “across the board” in recent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, not least in Gaza. Continued impunity and lack of accountability will greatly increase the likelihood of fresh conflict and further war crimes. Already, diplomats on the ground are grimly forecasting a new, and even bloodier, round over Gaza.
The peoples of Israel and Palestine are weary of conflict; the international community is weary of years of failed negotiations; the donors are weary of rebuilding destruction and seeing no results for their generosity. If, however, the ICC can now enforce accountability this could increase the incentive for all parties to act within the law and convince them that the only way to resolve the conflict is through peaceful diplomacy, not force of arms.
June 6, 2015
The four elders taking part were Kofi Annan, chair of The Elders and the UN Secretary-General from 1997-2006, Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the USA, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Hina Jilani, founder of Pakistan’s first all-women law firm and advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan since 1992.
The studio audience consisted of 15 students from around the world.
The debate was hosted by Matthew Amroliwala.
The Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 are a group of the world’s elder statesmen who use their experience to advise on conflict, resolution and human rights.