After leaving office, the Carters conceived of the Carter Center as a nonpartisan organization to advance human rights and democracy, resolve conflicts, and relieve suffering from disease and hunger around the world.
In 1982, Jimmy Carter became University Distinguished Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, and founded The Carter Center. With a permanent staff of approximately 160, The Carter Center works to resolve conflict, advance democracy and human rights, and prevent disease and hunger. Since its founding, the Center has achieved many milestones: leading a coalition to eradicate Guinea worm disease, making it likely to be the first disease since smallpox to be wiped from the face of the earth, and the first disease eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medicine; observing more than 70 elections in 28 countries; furthering avenues to peace in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda, the Korean Peninsula, Haiti, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; advancing efforts to diminish stigma against people with mental illness; and strengthening international standards for human rights.
The Carter Center’s headquarters are located at the Carter Presidential Center complex in Atlanta, which was dedicated in October 1986 and also includes the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, administered by the National Archives. President Carter celebrated his 85th birthday on Oct. 1, 2009, with the re-opening of a totally re-designed Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum. It is the first presidential museum to highlight a president's post-presidential career, a period that for President Carter has been substantially longer than his political career. About a third of the new facility is dedicated to the post-White House humanitarian work of President and Mrs. Carter, concentrating on the achievements of The Carter Center in advancing peace and health worldwide. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, which includes President Carter’s boyhood home, is administered by the National Park Service.
Disease Prevention: Through the Center’s health programs, the Center advances disease prevention and agriculture in the developing world. Among the Center’s greatest achievements is its work to wipe Guinea worm disease from the face of the earth. In 1986 the painful and debilitating Guinea worm disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people. By 2009, the Center and its partners had reduced cases to fewer than 3,200. The Center also works on regional control and elimination of diseases such as river blindness (onchocerciasis), which affects nearly 18 million people in the Americas and Africa. River blindness is preventable through annual treatment with the medicine Mectizan®, donated by Merck & Co., Inc. The Center has distributed more than 100 million treatments of Mectizan worldwide since the River Blindness Program began in 1996. In the Americas, the Center is working with ministries of health in endemic countries to end transmission of the disease.
The Carter Center also targets four other preventable neglected diseases: trachoma, malaria, lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis. In the United States, as well as abroad, the Center strives to reduce the stigma of mental illness and improve access to and quality of mental health care.
Conflict Resolution: Activities of the Center have found the former president in unofficial diplomatic missions and conflict mediations that pursued new avenues to peace in such countries as Ethiopia and Eritrea (1989), Somalia (1993), North Korea (1994), Liberia (1991), Haiti and Bosnia (1994), Sudan (1995), the Great Lakes region of Africa (1995-96), Sudan and Uganda (1999), Cuba (2002), Venezuela (2002-2004), and the Middle East (2008).
North Korea: In 1994, President and Mrs. Carter received permission from President Bill Clinton to travel to North Korea to try to dissuade the North from pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The day before the Carters arrived in Pyongyang, the North Korean government withdrew its membership from the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and threatened to expel IAEA inspectors. The United States began pushing for U.N. sanctions against the North. With no means of direct communication, some began to fear the two countries were heading toward war.
After two days of talks, President Carter broke the nuclear impasse when President Kim agreed to freeze his country's nuclear program in exchange for the resumption of his dialogue with the United States. As a gesture of good will, he also promised to allow joint U.S.-North Korean teams to search for and recover the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War.
The talks between the U.S. government and Pyongyang continued after President Carter’s visit and culminated in the signing of a U.S.-North Korean agreement. International inspectors again began monitoring the North's nuclear program.
Haiti: In September 1994, President Carter was asked by Haiti military junta leader General Raoul Cédras to help avoid a U.S. military invasion of Haiti. The U.S. was calling for Cédras to reinstate the deposed leader, President Jean-Bertrande Aristede, who had been democratically elected three years earlier. President Carter relayed this information to President Clinton, who asked him to undertake a mission to Haiti with Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell.
During the negotiation, a U.S. invasion was imminent, and Powell later said he was struck by President Carter’s firmness and decisiveness, that the president’s actions showed a toughness and a determination that impressed him. The U.S. invasion was averted, and the military junta signed an agreement to step down and restore Mr. Aristide to power.
A New York Times editorial on Sept. 18, 1994, said: “In undertaking a special mission to Haiti for President Clinton, Jimmy Carter is showing once again that a former president can be a unique diplomatic resource. ...Mr. Carter has not flinched from risk-taking and has played a crucial role as an honest broker, most notably in spurring nuclear talks with North Korea but also in civil conflicts in Ethiopia, the Sudan and Liberia.”
Sudan: In the Sudan, President Carter and the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program worked for more than a decade to find a peaceful resolution to the country’s civil war. Among the program's achievements was the negotiation of the 1995 “Guinea worm cease-fire,” which gave international health workers — including the Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program — an unprecedented period of almost six months of relative peace, allowing health workers to enter areas of Sudan previously inaccessible due to fighting. This was the longest humanitarian cease-fire ever achieved in Sudan’s long civil war.
In 1999, an important breakthrough for peace occurred when President Carter brokered the Nairobi Agreement between the governments of Sudan and Uganda, in which the governments pledged to stop supporting rebels acting against each other's governments and agreed to eventually re-establish diplomatic relations.
Cuba: In May 2002, President Carter was the first former or sitting U.S. president to travel to Cuba since 1928. In an unprecedented live speech broadcast on Cuban radio and television, President Carter, speaking in Spanish, called on the United States to end an “ineffective 43-year-old economic embargo” and on President Castro to hold free elections, improve human rights, and allow greater civil liberties.
“Analysts said it was the first time in 43 years that citizens had heard any public criticism of the Cuban government, much less direct condemnation of human rights violations,” President Carter wrote in his report from the trip. “I anticipated President Castro would be upset, but he greeted me after the session.”
Middle East: As part of a decades-long commitment to peace in the Middle East that began during his presidency, President Carter led a landmark and somewhat controversial study mission to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan in the spring of 2008. The goal of the visit was to explore what conditions would be necessary from all actors — including those previously excluded from discussions by the United States and Israel — to facilitate peace with security for Israel and peace with justice for the Palestinians.
As part of this visit, President Carter met with leaders from Hamas, a political party the U.S. administration had labeled a terrorist organization, and Syria, a nation whose relationship with the United States was severely strained at the time. Although President Carter realized his visit would engender mixed reactions from Americans, he also noted that the majority of Israelis (64 percent at the time of his visit) supported direct peace talks between Israel and Hamas.
Election Observation: Under President Carter’s leadership, The Carter Center has become a pioneer in the field of election observation, helping to strengthen democracy by serving as an independent, neutral monitor in more than 70 elections throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia. President Carter has led dozens of these election missions.
“When it comes to elections,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, “Carter is the most listened-to voice in the world.”
After elections, The Carter Center guides the growth of democratic institutions to ensure that there is respect for rule of law and human rights, that government decisions are open and transparent, and that everyone can have adequate resources to compete fairly for public office.
Panama: The Carter Center’s first election observation was in Panama in 1989. The mission was co-led by President Carter, President Gerald Ford, and former Belize Prime Minister George Price. General Manuel Noriega was confident of victory, but when it became clear that his candidates had lost badly, he falsified the results. President Carter denounced the fraudulent election to the world media, saying in Spanish, “Estan ustedes honestos o ladrones?” (“Are you honest or are you thieves?”) General Noriega’s candidates never took office, and eventually he was ousted by U.S. troops.
Nicaragua: In 1990, President Carter again was a voice for democracy in the Americas when he convinced leftist Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega to concede the election he had lost.
“I went to see him,” said President Carter. “There were nine Sandinista comandantes (cabinet members) in the room. I met with them and told them in no uncertain terms that they had lost. They were in a quandary about how to accept it. I told them that I also had lost when I ran for re-election. I never wanted to go back into politics; but I told them that if they accepted the defeat graciously, they had a chance to run again in the future.” Indeed, after several unsuccessful runs for re-election, Ortega was elected Nicaragua’s president again in November 2006, during the fourth Nicaraguan election observed by The Carter Center.
Human Rights: Human rights has been a constant theme throughout both the Carter presidency and post-presidency and has become emblematic of Jimmy Carter. His constant advancement of human rights throughout the world and his campaigns for the release of political prisoners in virtually every country he visited have been credited with the release of tens of thousands of such prisoners in the decades that followed his time in elective office.
With The Carter Center as their vehicle, President and Mrs. Carter have spent the decades after leaving the White House attacking a host of seemingly insoluble problems throughout the world: alleviating unnecessary suffering from preventable diseases, mediating political conflicts, and building stronger democracies that protect human rights.
Habitat for Humanity: Since leaving office, President and Mrs. Carter have volunteered one week a year to build homes for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that helps needy people in the United States and in other countries renovate and build homes for themselves.
Religion: Throughout his life, President Carter has been active in church work, and for decades in his post-presidency has taught Sunday school in Plains at the Maranatha Baptist Church.
In October 2000, after much soul searching, he broke with the Southern Baptist Convention over what he considered to be its “increasingly rigid” and harsh theological positions inconsistent with his own faith and to the conscience of many of his fellow Baptists.
"This has been a very difficult thing for me," Carter said in an interview at the time. "My grandfather, my father and I have always been Southern Baptists, and for 21 years, since the first political division took place in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have maintained that relationship. I feel I can no longer in good conscience do that." He said that after years of feeling "increasingly uncomfortable and somewhat excluded," he and Mrs. Carter had reached the decision to disassociate themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention. The final determination was made, he said, with the passage of a denominational statement that prohibits women from being pastors, says wives should be submissive to their husbands, and eliminates language from an earlier version that said "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ."
President Carter repeatedly sought to find common ground on which to help seek unity among Baptists and other Christian groups. In concert with former President Bill Clinton, he led an effort that convened more than 14,000 people at an early 2008 “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant,” meeting in Atlanta. The three-day gathering was the first to unite major black and white Baptist groups, and President Carter said he hoped the gathering will help convince conservative Southern Baptists and other Christians to end divisions over the Bible and politics. “We can disagree on the death penalty, we can disagree on homosexuality, we can disagree on the status of women and still bind our hearts together in a common, united, generous, friendly, loving commitment,” he told the assembly.
Author: President Carter has written 24 books, making him the most prolific of all presidential authors. Some of his books are now in revised editions, and include: Why Not the Best? 1975, 1996; A Government as Good as Its People, 1977, 1996; Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President, 1982, 1995; Negotiation: The Alternative to Hostility, 1984, 2003; The Blood of Abraham, 1985, 1993; Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life, written with Rosalynn Carter, 1987, 1995; An Outdoor Journal, 1988, 1994; Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age, 1992; Talking Peace: A Vision for the Next Generation, 1993, 1995; Always a Reckoning, 1995; The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer, illustrated by Amy Carter, 1995; Living Faith, 1996; Sources of Strength: Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith, 1997; The Virtues of Aging, 1998; An Hour before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, 2001; Christmas in Plains: Memories, 2001; The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, 2002; The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War, 2003; Sharing Good Times, 2004; Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, 2005; Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, 2006; Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope, 2007; A Remarkable Mother, 2008; and We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work, 2009. Hornet’s Nest is the first novel ever written by a president, and its cover is evidence of President Carter’s wide range of talents: dissatisfied with the artwork his publisher proposed for the book, Jimmy Carter painted his own and it adorned the book.
Presidential Medal of Freedom: In 1999, President Clinton awarded both President and Mrs. Carter the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. President Clinton said the Carters had formed an “extraordinary partnership,” and that “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have done more good for more people in more places than any other couple on the face of the earth.”
Nobel Peace Prize: A key moment in his post-presidency occurred on December 10, 2002, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee presented President Carter the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee noted President Carter’s role in negotiating the Camp David Accords during his presidency as well as his post-presidential work at The Carter Center: “Through his Carter Center, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2002, Carter has since his presidency undertaken very extensive and persevering conflict resolution on several continents. He has shown outstanding commitment to human rights, and has served as an observer at countless elections all over the world. He has worked hard on many fronts to fight tropical diseases and to bring about growth and progress in developing countries. Carter has thus been active in several of the problem areas that have figured prominently in the over one hundred years of Peace Prize history.”
In his acceptance speech in Oslo, he expressed his gratitude to his wife, Rosalynn, his colleagues at The Carter Center as well as the “many others who continue to seek an end to violence and suffering throughout the world.”
President Carter perhaps summed up the guiding principles of his post-presidency service when he said, “I am not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law.”
He concluded his remarks with this declaration: “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children. The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gave us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make changes — and we must.”
He was the third U.S. president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, joining presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1906) and Woodrow Wilson (1919). President Obama was awarded the prize in 2009.