New York City, USA : The United Nations in New York paid tribute to late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away on Saturday as he world mourns the Ghanaian diplomat often described as the heart and soul of the organization.
A solemn wreath-laying ceremony kicked off the day at UN headquarters, where current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remembered the late statesman, diplomat, and gentleman as both a friend and mentor and a guiding force for good.
“His most defining features were his humanity and solidarity with those in need,” said Guterres to the diplomats and UN staff members who attended the event. He put people at the center of the work of the United Nations, and was able to turn compassion into action across the UN system.”
Annan began his career with the United Nations in 1962, when he was just 24 years old. Over 35 years, he rose through its ranks to the highest position, serving as secretary-general between 1997 and 2006.
Guterres was picked by Annan as UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2005 before he himself became UN secretary-general in 2017.
“I remember the first time I met him,” said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, who joined Annan’s team in 2005.
“My boss at the time Fred Eckhard introduced me to him quickly as he was coming into the building, and then I remember feeling overwhelmed by the fact that this man — a very powerful man — just took a few minutes to meet his junior staff member, and from that moment on I felt very much at home and at ease with him.”
It was that humility and approachability that endeared him within the walls of the UN, and his gentle diplomacy that inspired the world.
“I think people will remember him for the enormous amount of reform that we saw during his tenure as secretary-general,” said Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association in the United Kingdom.
“The creation of the Human Rights Council, of the Peacebuilding Commission, the adoption of what we now consider flagship initiatives of the UN — the Millennium Development Goals, most prominently.“
But Annan’s tenure also saw some of the darkest moments in UN history. The failure of the UN to prevent genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s had permanently scarred the organization.
“Kofi Annan was not perfect,” according to Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch in New York, and previously the UN bureau chief for Reuters. “And in his period before he became secretary-general in 1997 — before that he was the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping — and during that time, the Rwanda situation happened.”
“They had information the genocide was unfolding. They had information from the field and they did not right the alarm bells and run to the Security Council,” said Charbonneau.
Those who knew Annan say he had taken these failures very personally, and tried to atone for them, especially for Rwanda.
After leaving the post of secretary-general, Annan continued his humanitarian and peacemaking work, brokering a peace deal in Kenya, serving as the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, and leading an advisory commission to investigate Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis.
Described as a true voice for the voiceless, current UN chief Guterres said Annan did not shy away from the most challenging issues but worked creatively to bridge differences and protect the most vulnerable.
“In these times of growing political divides and intractable conflicts, we need the peacemaking spirit of Kofi Annan more than ever.”
Ghana also opened a book of condolence in Accra in honor of Kofi Annan. People from all walks of life have been trooping to the Accra International Conference Center (AICC) to sign the book of condolence opened here on Wednesday in honor of Kofi Annan.
Among the dignitaries who paid tribute to the late international statesman was Anne-Claire Dufay, Country Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“We are all saddened by the departing of Hon. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General. We have been truly inspired by Kofi Annan. I personally met him in East Timor in the year 2000 after the conflict,” the UNICEF official stated.
She recalled the visit by the late former Secretary General where he really inspired the UN staff with his words related to peace and human rights.
“So we would like to extend our deepest condolences to his wife and his family and friends. He will continue to inspire all of us at the United Nations and the UNICEF,” she added.
The Memory Table created for the condolence book is decorated in flowers with the flag of Ghana set at half mast behind it and photos of the late octogenarian.
Also paying tribute to Kofi Annan was Ghana’s Minister for Development Planning George Gyan-Barfuor and clergyman Lawrence Tetteh.
“Saturday we heard about the demise of Kofi Annan. It’s a big blow not only to Ghana but also to the international community because someone who has ascended to the throne of Secretary-General of the UN is not a small achievement,” Ghanaian journalist, Henry Martinson told Xinhua.
“What we should be doing is to remember some of his legacies,” Martinson urged.
The book of condolence will remain open till next Wednesday to allow the general public to pay tributes to Kofi Annan.
President Nana Akufo-Addo signed the book of condolence opened in Kofi Annan’s family house on Sunday.
EARLIER : Kofi Annan, Nobel Laureate, Former UN Secretary-General Dies At 80
Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general, and Nobel Peace Prize winner has died in Switzerland, his aides say. He was 80.
He “passed away peacefully on Saturday after a short illness”, the foundation named after him said on Saturday.
Mr Annan served two terms as UN chief from 1997 to 2006, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for humanitarian work for his efforts.
He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
In a statement announcing his death, the Kofi Annan Foundation described him as a “global statesman and deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world”.
“Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy. He selflessly placed others first, radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did.”
The diplomat, who was originally from Ghana, had been living in Geneva for several years before his death.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 2001 for helping to revitalise the international body, during a period that coincided with the Iraq War and the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Kofi Annan described his greatest achievement as the Millennium Development Goals which – for the first time – set global targets on issues such as poverty and child mortality.
However, Mr Annan was not immune to criticism. His critics blamed him for the UN’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when he was head of the organisation’s peacekeeping operations.
Later, after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he and his son were accused of being involved in the “oil for food scandal” that led some to call for his resignation, though he was later exonerated.
In an interview to mark his 80th birthday in April, Mr Annan acknowledged the UN’s shortcomings, saying it “can be improved, it is not perfect but if it didn’t exist you would have to create it”.
“I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist,” he added.
Current UN chief Antonio Guterres has been leading the tributes to his predecessor, describing Mr Annan as “a guiding force for good”.
“In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination,” he said in a statement.
Ghana declared a week of mourning after the death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and declared he was “one of our greatest compatriots”
Below is the statement announcing Kofi Annan death :
“It is with immense sadness that the Annan family and the Kofi Annan Foundation announce that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away peacefully on Saturday 18th August after a short illness. His wife Nane and their children Ama, Kojo and Nina were by his side during his last days.
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.
After stepping down from the United Nations, he continued to work tirelessly in the cause of peace through his chairmanship of the Kofi Annan Foundation and as chair of The Elders, the group founded by Nelson Mandela. He was an inspiration to young and old alike.
Kofi Annan was a son of Ghana and felt a special responsibility towards Africa. He was particularly committed to African development and deeply engaged in many initiatives, including his chairmanship of the Africa Progress Panel and his early leadership of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy. He selflessly placed others first, radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did. He will be greatly missed by so many around the world, as well as his staff at the Foundation and his many former colleagues in the United Nations system. He will remain in our hearts forever.
The family kindly requests privacy at this time of mourning. Arrangements to celebrate his remarkable life will be announced later.”