– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

21 September 2018

Tribute to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan


Distinguished Delegates,

Mr. Secretary-General,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is with great sadness that we begin this 73rd session of our Assembly by acknowledging a great loss – that of Kofi Annan, who will surely be remembered as one of the outstanding leaders of this Organization.


But it is also eminently fitting that we remember him on this day – a day fixed by this Assembly 17 years ago, on his watch and with his strong support, as International Peace Day. For no one laboured more tirelessly or consistently in the cause of peace than did Kofi Annan.

Kofi Annan was a great Secretary-General because he understood that peace cannot be achieved in isolation.

He subscribed fully to the principles set out in the Preamble to our Charter and knew that they are mutually interdependent. Succeeding generations would not be saved from the scourge of war…unless and until human beings can have faith, faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small; unless and until conditions are established under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained; unless and until we succeed in promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

“In Larger Freedom” was, indeed, the title of Kofi Annan’s report to this Assembly in 2005, in which he asserted that peace and security, development and human rights are the three indispensable and mutually reinforcing pillars of the Organization.

And five years earlier he had submitted his Millennium Report, using as its title the very first words of the Charter, “We The Peoples”. It fell to him to guide us from the 20th century into the 21st, and he knew well that in the 21st century the United Nations would have to convince the peoples of the world – not just the governments – that it was doing something useful to them, something that offered them hope of a better and more rewarding life.

His genius lay in his ability to enlist the member states in a common effort to achieve that end. Perhaps no other Secretary-General could have persuaded this Assembly, not only to mark the year 2000 by convening at summit level but also to commission a report from him which articulated the aspirations of humanity as it embarked on the new millennium, and which formed the basis for the Millennium Declaration, including the Millennium Development Goals. Rightly, he cited this as his greatest achievement.

It was thanks in large part to his influence that those goals included the pledges to ensure that by 2015 “girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education”, and by the same date to have “halted, and begun to reverse, the spread of HIV/AIDS, the scourge of malaria and other major diseases”. These were causes very dear to his heart, and to which he continued to devote himself after leaving office – notably through the work of his Foundation, which I hope will continue.

He reminded Member States regularly that empowering women meant empowering whole nations. That there is no tool for development more effective than women’s advancement; that no other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, promote health or increase the chances of education for the next generation. And he often urged the entire international community to remember that promoting gender equality is not only women’s responsibility — it is the responsibility of all of us.

He retained throughout his life a strong concern, not only for the welfare of refugees and migrants but also for greater recognition of the important contribution they could make. He showed great foresight in persuading the late Peter Sutherland to become the first Special Representative for Migration. We owe it to him and to his legacy to do everything we can to finalize and implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and the Global Compact on Refugees.

Kofi Annan could be heard around the world without raising his voice; but he could also achieve results in private, through quiet diplomacy. Probably few of us here today, except the delegates of Nigeria and Cameroon, have ever heard of the Bokassi Peninsula. But we might have learnt all too much about it had not Kofi Annan devoted years of discreet diplomacy to working with the presidents of those two countries, to prevent it becoming a cause of war.

And we would search the Charter in vain for any article mandating the Secretary-General to bring together private corporations to discuss ways of improving global public health. Yet there must be many thousands of people alive today who would not be, if Kofi Annan had not brought together the heads of the world’s major pharmaceutical companies and persuaded them to make antiretroviral drugs available in poor countries at affordable prices.

That was his style.

It is true that he disliked confrontation. But this was a deliberately and a carefully considered choice.

Kofi Annan could be heard around the world without raising his voice; but he could also achieve results in private, through quiet diplomacy. 

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

He was very clear in speaking up for the principles and purposes of this Organization, but he knew that shouting at people, or denouncing individual states or leaders by name, would achieve little, very little, except to diminish his ability to influence them.

But he never forgot that a lesser evil is still an evil, or that the use of force without right authority is a danger to us all.

In this moment when we all feel his loss, let me express my special sympathy to his wife, Nane, who was a tower of strength for him throughout his time in office, and since; to their children, Kojo, Ama and Nina, who are also with us today; to the UN staff who worked with him, here and around the world, all of whom must feel a little orphaned today; and finally to the people of Ghana, who were so proud of him, and laid him to rest so magnificently last week.

The late Kofi Annan loved the Akan proverbs of Ghana. One such proverb goes, “We go to a funeral to mourn the living”.  As we mourn the loss of Mr. Annan, we are reminded of how much work is left to be done to build the legacy of the former Secretary-General.

To live up to his example is a formidable challenge to us all, but most of all, perhaps, to the current holder of his office. It is therefore with great sympathy, as well as respect, that I now give the floor to the current Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres.

I thank you.