19 December 2006 In his farewell news conference as the world’s top diplomat, United Secretary-General Kofi Annan today cited the failure to stop the Iraq war as the worst moment of his 10 years in office and made a fervent appeal that the Organization not be judged by the Oil-for-Food scandal but by its myriad humanitarian and development actions.
“I think the worst moment was the Iraq war which as an Organization we couldn’t stop and I really did everything I can to try to see if we could stop it,” he replied when asked what he considered the top achievements and three worst moments of his tenure.
Among the achievements, he cited the UN’s human rights efforts, the war against inequality both between and within States and the battle for development as epitomized by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that seek to slash a host of social ills, such as extreme hunger and poverty, infant and maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.
But he devoted his most fervent appeal to a plea that the UN not be judged by the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal after which an Independent Inquiry Committee found mismanagement on the part of Mr. Annan’s administration and corruption largely on the part of private companies in connection with the scheme to allow the sanctions-bound regime of Saddam Hussein to sell oil and use a portion of the revenues to purchase food and humanitarian supplies.
“I think that when historians look at the records they will draw the conclusion that, yes, there was mismanagement and there may have been several UN staff members engaged but the scandal, if any, was in the capitals and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs and of course I hope the historians will realize that the UN is more than oil-for-food,” he said.
“The UN is a UN that coordinates tsunami [relief for the Indian Ocean disaster of 2004], a UN that deals with the Kashmir earthquake [of 2005], a UN that is pushing for equality and fighting to implement the Millennium Development Goals, a UN that is fighting for human dignity and the rights of others and all the other aspects,” he added.
“That was a very special programme, the oil-for-food we were asked to implement. So please don’t generalize from the particular.”
Beyond the Iraq War and oil-for-food, Mr. Annan mentioned the bombing of the UN’s Baghdad headquarters in 2003 that killed 22 people, including the top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. “They were not just colleagues, they were true friends and I think nothing had hit me as much as almost the loss of my twin sister,” he said.
Among the achievements he cited first the adoption by the UN World Summit last year of the principal that Members States have the responsibility to protect their citizens. Secondly he mentioned the determination to cut inequality among and within States.
“A world where you have extreme poverty and immense wealth side by side is not sustainable,” he said, also noting the UN’s work on diseases from HIV/AIDS to bird flu. Thirdly, he said he had made the UN “a truly partnership organization… realizing from the beginning that we couldn’t do everything and we had to know what we can do, what others do better, what we have to do with others.”