Desmond Tutu was the first black general secretary of the South African Council of Churches and, as Archbishop of Cape Town, the first black leader of South Africa's Anglican Church. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, in recognition of his efforts in the fight against apartheid. In 1995 he was appointed chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
's unwavering stand against apartheid led him to a life sentence in prison in 1964. Thirty years later—27 of them spent behind bars—it led him to the presidency of South Africa. Mandela now concentrates on fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Graça Machel is an international advocate for women's and children's rights, a former minister of education and culture in Mozambique, and a former First Lady of both Mozambique and South Africa. In 1994 she was appointed by the UN secretary-general to assess the effects of war on children; her groundbreaking report led to the appointment of a special representative on the impact of armed conflict on children. She is married to Nelson Mandela.
Kofi Annan was secretary-general of the UN from 1997 to 2006. In that post, he led reforms to make the UN more effective and pursued a human rights agenda. He advocated the UN's Millennium Development Goals, helped create the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, certified Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, and contributed to a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. In 2001 he and the UN were jointly awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ela Bhatt is a champion of women workers in India. A former member of India's Parliament, she helped establish Women's World Banking, an organization that provides financial services to women, and is the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association, a union with roughly a million members.
Lakhdar Brahimi, a former ambassador for his native Algeria, was instrumental in ending conflicts in Lebanon and Yemen, as well as apartheid in South Africa. He presided over the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in 2001 and facilitated the establishment of an interim government in Iraq in 2004.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, MD
Gro Harlem Brundtland, MD, was the youngest person and first woman to hold the office of prime minister of Norway. She has served as director-general of the World Health Organization and chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development, and is currently a special envoy of the United Nations secretary-general for climate change.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected to two terms as president of Brazil (from 1995 to 2003), having been deeply involved in his country's struggle for democracy. A sociologist by training, he is an influential expert on international development, dependency, democratization, and state reform.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, mediated the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel, completed negotiation of the SALT II treaty with the former Soviet Union, and established full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts in the advancement of democracy and human rights.
Li Zhaoxing has served as Chinese foreign minister, ambassador to the United States, and, from 1992 to 1995, ambassador to the United Nations. As a member of the UN Security Council, he was involved in the redemocratization of Haiti.
Mary Robinson became Ireland's first female president in 1990. A longtime human rights advocate, she was the first head of state to visit Rwanda following the genocide there. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, she strengthened UN monitoring in conflict zones such as Kosovo. She is the founder and president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.
Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, is the most prominent champion of "microcredit"—loans for the poor, granted without collateral. This revolutionary concept, which won Yunus the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, has helped millions of impoverished people in his native Bangladesh.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her fight to bring democracy to her native Burma; the ruling military party has kept her under house arrest for most of her political career. She is an honorary member of the Elders; a chair—vacant until her release—is reserved for her at their meetings.
Peter Gabriel, though best known for his music career, has worked extensively with Amnesty International. He is a cofounder of Witness, a group that provides video cameras and editing equipment to human rights groups, and of the Elders.