You are here: Kofi Annan remembered

19 August 2018

UNA-UK joins people the world over in paying tribute to Kofi Annan, who served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006.

We have compiled a number of personal reflections and articles to mark his passing:

Hailing from Ghana, Annan was the first UN chief to emerge from the ranks of the organisation's staff, having joined the UN system in 1962, as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization. He then served with the Economic Commission for Africa; the Second UN Emergency Force, set up to supervise the ceasefire between Egyptian and Israeli forces in 1973; and the UN Refugee Agency; before taking up various senior posts in New York dealing with human resources, finance and security.

He was appointed Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping in 1993, and also served as Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia from 1995 to 1996. The tragedies of Rwanda and Srebrenica, which unfolded during this period, would later lead him to commission reports that were highly critical of the UN and its member states.

In 1997, he took up his post as UN Secretary-General. His tenure saw the adoption of flagship UN initiatives, such as the Millennium Development Goals and the creation of the Global Compact - the world's largest corporate social responsibility network. It also saw wide-ranging reforms to the organisation, including the creation of the Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission at the 2005 World Summit, at which UN member states also endorsed the "responsibility to protect" people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

HIV/AIDS was a priority for Annan. He played a key role in setting up the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and persuaded major pharmaceutical companies to make anti-retroviral drugs available at more affordable prices in developing countries. While speaking out strongly against the erosion of human rights in the fight against terrorism, he also steered through the UN's first-ever counter-terrorism strategy.

Annan used his good offices on multiple occasions. In 1998, he supported the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. In 1999, he was involved in the process that led to Timor-Leste's independence. In 2000, he was responsible for certifying Israel 's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and in 2006, his efforts contributed to a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah. In 2001, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with the UN.

He continued to support UN mediation efforts after his departure from the organisation, assisting with the 2007-08 crisis in Kenya, and also serving as UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy to Syria in 2012 and as Chair of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State in 2016. Through the Kofi Annan Foundation and The Elders, he continued to pursue peace, development and human rights initiatives until his death aged 80.

As UNA-UK's former director, Sam Daws, writes, he was a good friend to UNA-UK. The Association had the pleasure of hosting him at a major event to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN, as well as a number of smaller events, including the launch of his book "We the Peoples" in 2014. He wrote for our publications, sent warm messages to support our initiatives and took the time to meet with UNA-UK staff and volunteers when in the UK.

In the coming days, we will post links here to videos of Kofi Annan at UNA-UK events, articles he contributed to our publications and reflections from those within the Association who worked with him. All of us, whether we knew him well or were inspired by his achievements, feel his loss keenly at a time when principled global leadership is in short supply.

“Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy”

Kofi Annan Foundation statement

“A great leader and reformer of the UN, he made a huge contribution to making the world he has left a better place than the one he was born into”

Theresa May, UK Prime Minister

“In many ways, he was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination"

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

"Kofi was humanity's best example, the epitome, of human decency and grace. In a world now filled with leaders who are anything but that, our loss, the world's loss becomes even more painful … He was a friend to thousands and a leader of millions"

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

"For me, Kofi Annan was the defining Secretary-General. Like the music absorbed on the cusp of adulthood, he was the SG of my generation, the one who shaped our political consciousness. Through the turmoil of 9/11 and the wars that followed, he was the voice of reason ... whether brandishing a soda bottle to make a point about drug availability, appearing on Sesame Street to promote global cooperation or quietly admonishing world leaders, he used the 'bully pulpit' without being a bully, and helped us believe that it really is "our" United Nations"

Natalie Samarasinghe, UNA-UK Executive Director