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20 August 2018
A Tribute to Kofi Annan
Stephen Moseley, President of UNA-NCA

This weekend, the world lost a significant leader. Kofi Annan led the UN as Secretary-General for two consecutive terms from 1997 to 2006. Most recently, in 2016, he served as a special UN envoy to review and reveal the murder and genocide of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar military. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for revitalizing the UN and for giving priority to human rights during his tenure as Secretary-General. The Nobel Committee also recognized his firm commitment to containing the spread of the HIV virus in Africa and his declared opposition to international terrorism.

As Secretary-General, he addressed the struggles for peace in Kenya after a disputed election and challenged Saddam Hussein to disclose his weapons in Iraq before the American and Allied forces invasion there. Through his tireless diplomacy, he garnered support for the UN from key members who were falling behind in their financial support for the UN, compelling the US to pay its arrears of dues to the UN. His soft-spoken demeanor and elegant presentation as the world's diplomat enabled him to address the UN's interests and mission in many of the most challenging places including Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Born in Ghana in 1938, Kofi Annan was the first UN Secretary-General from Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, he was the first Secretary-General to assume office after a career in civil service at the UN. Kofi Annan held a series of significant appointments: first, at the World Health Organization (WHO); second, in Ethiopia with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); finally, as the deputy and then head of UN Peacekeeping Operations.

His leadership was not without controversy on several occasions. He faced significant challenges in trying to bring peace in the war in Kosovo and received criticism for being overly cautious in calling for armed protection and air strikes from NATO when Bosnian Serbs overran UN peacekeeping forces in safe-haven areas. Later, he failed to recognize in advance the impending genocide in Rwanda. He unsuccessfully challenged the US and Britain’s decision to attack Iraq without a UN mandate, and called the US's position illegal.

By the time he left office, however, he had considerably strengthened the UN's image and reputation, not only by bolstering the UN's financial health and stability, but also by bringing about an improved and more coordinated humanitarian assistance operation. Under his leadership, the UN established the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, which in many ways successfully transformed the focus and accomplishment of multilateral and bilateral global aid assistance to address poverty, public health, education, the environment and maternal and child health.

In a tribute to Kofi Annan, the New York Times characterized his leadership of the UN as "redefining the UN in an era of turbulence." The current Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said in a heartfelt statement, "In many ways Kofi Annan was the UN." Nikki Haley, the current U.S. Ambassador to the UN said, “Kofi Annan devoted his life to making the world a more peaceful place through his compassion and dedication to service.” Madeleine Albright, who served as Ambassador to the UN from 1993 to 1997, called him "one of the world's foremost advocates for peace, development and international understanding... our world is a better place because of Kofi Annan."

Kofi Annan will always be remembered for setting a high bar for addressing the dignity of the individual and upholding the human rights of all. As he said in 1999, "For the end of the 20th Century, one thing is clear: a United Nations that will not stand up for Human Rights is a United Nations that cannot stand up for itself.” Thus, it is most fitting that we celebrate Kofi Annan's life in this 70th Anniversary year of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

See full obituary here and video here.