"I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist"

Mr Annan, one of the world's most celebrated diplomats and a charismatic symbol of the UN passed away peacefully on Saturday in Bern, Switzerland. He was 80 years old. Annan passed away after a short illness. The Ghanaian top diplomat was the seventh Secretary-General and served for two terms between 1997 and 2006. He was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his humanitarian work jointly with the UN as an organisation in 2001. "Kofi Annan was a global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world. During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law," the Kofi Annan Foundation and Annan family said in a statement.

Annan's career with the United Nations began in 1962, when he started as a budget officer for the World Health Organization. Annan has been an international civil servant ever since, with the exception of a short break from 1974 to 1976, when he worked as the director of tourism in Ghana. He also served with the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, the UN Emergency Force (UNEF II) in Ismailia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. For a nine-year period from 1987 to 1996, Annan was appointed to serve as an assistant Secretary-General in three consecutive positions: Human Resources, Management and Security Coordinator, Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller, and Peacekeeping Operations. While he served in that last capacity, the Rwandan genocide took place. Annan served as under-secretary-general from March 1994 to October 1995. He resumed the position in 1996 after a five-month appointment to serve as a special representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia.
The United Nations Security Council recommended Annan to replace the previous Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, in later 1996. The General Assembly voted in his favor, and Annan began his first term as the first black African Secretary-General on January 1, 1997. Among Annan's most well-known accomplishments were his issuance of a five-point Call to Action in April 2001 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic and his proposal to create a Global AIDS and Health Fund. Annan and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2001 "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world." He has also received numerous honorary degrees and many other national and international prizes, medals and honours.

As head of UN peacekeeping operations, Mr Annan experienced several challenges. He was criticised for the failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s and the massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995. He was linked to peace efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus. He submitted a reunification blueprint for Cyprus which was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots in 2004.

Annan retired on December 31, 2006. Several months prior, he gave a farewell speech to world leaders at the UN headquarters in New York, outlining major problems with an unjust world economy and widespread contempt for human rights. "We are not only all responsible for each other's security," Annan said in his farewell speech. "We are also, in some measure, responsible for each other's welfare. Global solidarity is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because without a measure of solidarity no society can be truly stable, and no one's prosperity truly secure."

The current UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, whom Annan appointed to lead the UN refugee agency said, "In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all of us.” He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination."

Tributes to Kofi Annan
Tributes flowed in from around the world after his foundation announced his death in Bern:

  • Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-addo praised Mr Annan as "an ardent believer in the capacity of the Ghanaian to chart his or her own course onto the path of progress and prosperity".
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote to the UN chief offering his condolences, saying Mr Annan "did a great deal to realise the purposes and the goals of the organisation, strengthening its central role in world affairs. I sincerely admired his wisdom and courage, his ability to make balanced decisions even in the most difficult, critical situations."
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said "we will never forget his calm and strong-willed look, nor the passion he gave for his fights."
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Annan "made a huge contribution to making the world he has left a better place than the one he was born into."
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Annan “inspired me and many others with his ideas, his firm convictions and, not least, his charisma.”
  • Former US president George W. Bush called Mr Annan "a gentle man and a tireless leader. His voice of experience will be missed around the world."
  • Former US president Barack Obama said that Annan “embodied the mission of the United Nations like few others, breaking barriers and rising through the ranks to become the first black African secretary-general in 1997."
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: "The UN and the world have lost one of their giants."
  • Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, said the world had lost a great leader: “Kofi’s dedication and drive for a more peaceful and just world, his lifelong championing of human rights, and the dignity and grace with which he led will be sorely missed in a world which needs these characteristics more than ever.”

Kofi Annan's visits to the Peace Palace
Mr Annan has visited the Peace Palace in the Hague on several special occasions:

  • Inauguration museum at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, May 1999
    A museum of the history and work of the institutions housed in the Peace Palace was inaugurated  by Mr. Annan and Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, President of the Court at that time.
  • Cyprus Peace Process, March 2003
    Kofi Annan asked Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to meet him in The Hague in a last effort to discuss the Annan peace plan and get an agreement on the plan to reunite the island. The Annan Plan was a United Nations proposal to resolve the Cyprus dispute, also known as the Cyprus reunification plan. The different parts of the proposal were based on the argumentation brought forth by each party (Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots) in meetings held under the auspices of the UN. The proposal suggested to restructure the Republic of Cyprus as a "United Republic of Cyprus", which would be a federation of two states. Mr Annan held marathon talks with the two leaders but unfortunately these talks ended in failure.
  • Peace Palace, August 2016
    Kofi Annan visited the Peace Palace and talked about the challenges of the refugee crisis in Europe and the United States Presidential Elections. Mr. Annan also had a meeting with Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders and trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen. Their talk focused on the international challenges, Dutch foreign policies and the work of the Kofi Annan Foundation.

Kofi Annan's works and contributions
Kofi Annan has written and contributed to several publications. The Peace Palace Library has created a bibliographic overview on his works.

Kofi Annan will be remembered as the man who pushed for reform to rebuild the United Nations and make it more effective. He brought the United Nations to the 21st century, leading concerted efforts against poverty, diseases, as well as peacekeeping efforts. Annan embodied the ideals of global development community and was constantly seeking greater stability and prosperity for the world and the best of humanity. The world has lost a charismatic man, dedicated to making the world a better place for all. Mr Annan, rest in peace!

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