The Carter Center is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization established in Atlanta in 1982 by Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States, and his wife, Rosalynn, to advance peace and health worldwide. The center has helped to improve life for people in more than sixty-five countries. In partnership with Emory University, the center applies academic research to action-oriented projects aimed at advancing a broad-based concept of human rights and alleviating human suffering.
President Carter said, “When I was in the White House, I thought of human rights primarily in terms of political rights, such as rights to free speech and freedom from torture or unjust imprisonment. As I traveled around the world since I was president, I learned there was no way to separate the crucial rights to live in peace, to have adequate food and health care, and to have a voice in choosing one’s political leaders. These human needs and rights are inextricably linked.”
In its first two decades of operation, the center gradually expanded its programming from an initial focus on conflict resolution and the promotion of peace to an array of activities defined by the center’s motto: “Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.” Focusing on two main action areas—peace and health—the center’s programs aim to give the world’s poorest people access to skills and knowledge that can improve their own lives and to help countries permanently sustain these solutions. Although the center has hosted many high-level conferences on important global issues, a requirement is that all such meetings result in action plans leading to results.
In this way the center attained a track record of achievement during its first twenty-five years, citing among its milestones: the observation of sixty-seven elections in twenty-six countries; helping farmers double or triple grain production in fifteen African countries; creating avenues to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, and Uganda; preventing unnecessary diseases in Latin America and Africa, including reducing cases of Guinea worm disease worldwide from 3.5 million in 1986 to fewer than 50,000 in 2007; and making significant headway in the effort to diminish the stigma against people with mental illness by raising public awareness.
Citing the center’s achievements in conflict resolution, human rights, election observation, and disease control, as well as President Carter’s negotiation of the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel during his presidency, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee named him the 2002 Nobel Peace Laureate. In 1999 The Carter Center, along with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, received the inaugural Delta Prize for Global Understanding, an award administered by the University of Georgia.
The center’s peace programs work to advance human rights, strengthen democracy, promote economic development, and prevent and resolve conflict. The center is known as a pioneer in international election observation, having sent monitors since 1989 to report on election processes in emerging democracies throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Also addressed are “second-generation democracy issues,” such as efforts to establish institutions to safeguard citizens’ rights, increasing the role of citizens in public policy formation, and discouraging corruption through government transparency and accountability. Focusing on conflicts within nations, staff use their expertise in mediation, negotiation, and peace building to help warring parties resolve their differences when other efforts fail.
Realizing that people’s faith in democracy and a country’s chances for peace are bolstered by adequate economic opportunity, the peace programs expanded in the mid-1990s to help countries craft comprehensive strategies for economic and social development, focusing on the need to include people from all sectors of society in strategy formation.
The center’s unique programmatic focus on both peace and health is founded not only on Carter’s broad vision of human rights but also on the knowledge that poor and oppressed people may resort to violence to secure the basic health care and food they need to survive. Thus, along with its peace work, the center has become a leader in Africa and Latin America in teaching people how to prevent unnecessary diseases and increase crop production. Most notably, it heads a worldwide coalition, funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to eradicate Guinea worm disease, a water-borne parasitic disease endemic to remote rural communities of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.
The center also teaches interventions to control river blindness, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis (commonly called elephantiasis), and schistosomiasis. Other health programs train teaching staff for public health schools in Ethiopia, work to diminish the stigma against mental illness and improve mental health services, and teach farmers in Africa better crop-production techniques.
Leadership and Staffing
Under the Carters’ guidance the center’s programs are led by international experts in the fields of peace and health, including those with experience in foreign service, academe, and public health policy. The staff of 160 is based primarily in Atlanta, on a thirty-five-acre park between downtown Atlanta and Emory University. Augmenting the staff expertise are several high-level councils of persons with expertise in specific action areas of the center, including many former heads of state from Latin America and Africa. These include the Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas, the International Council for Conflict Resolution, the International Task Force for Disease Eradication, and the Mental Health Task Force.
The center is governed by an independent board of trustees, which oversees the center’s assets and property and promotes its objectives and goals. The center also works closely in partnership with Emory University, and each year more than 100 students from universities worldwide are granted internships to work with center staff on current global issues.
Situatedon the same grounds as the center is the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, a separate organization run by the National Archives Administration of the U.S. government. Here researchers can find documents and audiovisual materials from the Carter presidency (1977-81), and museum visitors can learn about the Georgia roots and political career of our nation’s thirty-ninth president.