Paying homage to the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away on 18 August, Member States, colleagues and family convened in the General Assembly today to remember him as a child of Africa, the first and only United Nations chief to rise through the ranks of the Secretariat, and a leader who steered the Organization during some of its most troubling times.
The Assembly began by observing a minute of silence in honour of Mr. Annan. Speakers then shared memories and stories of having known and worked with him, recalling a Secretary-General who led the Organization into a new millennium and steered it through difficult times as its relevance was being challenged, all the while trusting that the United Nations remained the “last best hope of humanity”.
“He was family”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, recalling Mr. Annan’s individual brilliance and knack for multilateralism.
The late Secretary-General was a man with a moral voice fighting against brutality and bloodshed who “burned with the flame of human rights, dignity and justice”. Mr. Annan mobilized a global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, saving millions of lives and articulating the Millennium Development Goals. He was well-known for his warmth, accessibility and principled approach to battling for United Nations values. “He would be the first to describe any achievements as the product of teamwork”, Mr. Guterres added.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said Mr. Annan will be remembered as a great leader of the Organization, who worked for peace, security and human rights. Through the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Annan pushed for boys and girls to have equal access to education and fought against the scourges of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Citing his talent for quiet diplomacy, she recalled his skill at motivating private corporations such as pharmaceutical companies to join the fight to advance global health.
Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he believes Mr. Annan will be proven by history to have been a monumental leader, a humble man with an illuminating vision for humanity’s collective future. His remarkable legacy will endure forever.
Several Member States representing groups of countries also paid respect to the late Secretary-General, with Madagascar’s delegate, on behalf of the African States, underscoring Mr. Annan’s pursuit of equity, justice and peace. Since the beginning of his “exceptional life”, Mr. Annan demonstrated the desire to contribute to breaking the world from poverty. “He worked tirelessly, particularly by beginning the process to transform our Organization”, she said.
Sri Lanka’s delegate, on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said Mr. Annan’s work led to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals — which served as a foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals.
The delegate from the Bahamas, on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said Mr. Annan used his vast experience to reform the culture of the United Nations to make it beneficial for its staff, its Member States and the people of the world.
The representative of the United States said Mr. Annan inspired a whole generation, adding: “It’s no exaggeration to say Kofi Annan embodied the United Nations”.
Annan Cato (Ghana), speaking on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo, said Mr. Annan was committed to the dignity and solidarity of humanity and devoted his life to making peace and defending human rights. He also expressed hope that Mr. Annan’s footprints will serve as a guiding light for generations.
Mary Robinson was among several former colleagues who shared stories of what it was like to work with Mr. Annan, as she recalled that he believed passionately in the United Nations and “stood up for it as a proud father”.
Tasa Delenda, former member of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, recalled that Mr. Annan believed in hard work, made staff comfortable and treated all as equals.
Iqbal Riza, Mr. Annan’s former Under-Secretary-General and Chef de Cabinet, recalled how Mr. Annan moved swiftly and surely to bring far-reaching changes. Under Mr. Annan’s leadership, the Organization opened its doors to new constituencies, such as academia and the private sector. The late Secretary-General’s first term was crowned by the Nobel Peace Prize, and his second was marked by “a sea of troubles”, including the September 11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, Mr. Annan prevailed, he said.
Members of Secretary Annan’s direct family also took to the podium, with Nane Annan recalling the radiant warmth and joy of a man — a husband — who wanted a peaceful world for all. He was known for his persuasive powers, talent for thinking outside the box and his special connection to young people.
Kojo Annan described his father’s humble roots in Kumasi, Ghana, and his rise to become Secretary-General. His father’s code was the Edmund Burke quotation that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Mr. Annan said his father would urge all to fight the good fight.
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said the organ’s seventy-third session opened with “a great loss”, paying tribute to the late Kofi Annan, seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, who passed away on 18 August. Calling him a man who will be remembered as a great leader of the Organization, she praised his tireless efforts in the cause of peace. He worked for peace, security and human rights, the three pillars of the Organization, guiding it into the twenty-first century.
She said Mr. Annan felt the Millennium Development Goals were his greatest achievement, aiming for boys and girls to have equal access to education by 2015 and fighting against the scourges of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Mr. Annan believed there is “no tool more effective than women’s advancement”, she said, which is the responsibility of all. Citing his talent for quiet diplomacy, she mentioned his skill at motivating private corporations such as pharmaceutical companies to join in the fight against global disease. He was a man with principles who disliked confrontation, but believed a lesser evil remains an evil. She expressed special sympathy for Mr. Annan’s wife Nane, “a tower of strength”, and his children, as well as the people of Ghana and their pride in a native son.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that Kofi Annan and the United Nations were inseparable, calling him “more than just a dear friend. He was family.” Addressing the sorrow of Mr. Annan’s passing, he cited his warmth, accessibility and principled approach to battling for United Nations values, while also crediting his way with a barb or admonishment. “He would be the first to describe any achievements as the product of teamwork”, the Secretary-General said, while mentioning Mr. Annan’s “individual brilliance” in mobilizing a global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, saving millions of lives and articulating the Millennium Development Goals paving the way for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Quoting Mr. Annan’s statement that the United Nations is the “last best hope of humanity”, he praised the late Secretary-General as a man with a moral voice fighting against brutality and bloodshed who “burned with the flame of human rights, dignity and justice.” The General Assembly then observed one minute of silence in honour of Mr. Annan.
ARISOA LALA RAZAFITRIMO (Madagascar), speaking on behalf of the African States, said the continent’s prosperity is essential to global stability, recalling how Mr. Annan had invested all his energy to promoting development and fighting poverty. Mr. Annan worked hard to pursue equity, justice and peace around the world, particularly in Africa. Since the beginning of his “exceptional life”, Mr. Annan demonstrated the desire to contribute to breaking the world from poverty. “He worked tirelessly, particularly by beginning the process to transform our Organization”, she added. While Africa cannot take solace from this immense loss, the pain that grips it is soothed by Mr. Annan’s legacy.
AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, said that Kofi Annan embodied the values of the United Nations. The first Secretary-General elected from the ranks of United Nations staff, Mr. Annan led the charge to revitalize the Organization and rethink the way it’s perceived. His work led to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals — which served as a foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals — and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He stood fearlessly as a voice for peace, human rights and dignity in often difficult times. His commitment and contribution to the United Nations is immense, as attests the 2001 Nobel Prize for Peace that Mr. Annan received jointly with the Organization. “We will remember his towering presence, wisdom and his soft-spoken style of looking for solutions through diplomacy and dialogue”, he said.
KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European Group, paid tribute to Kofi Annan for bringing people together and believing that “there is no bridge too broken to rebuild.” Mr. Annan is a source of inspiration and creativity for exploring possibilities to pursue a better world through joint actions. Reiterating Mr. Annan’s dedication to serve the needs of people, he quoted the late Secretary-General: “Peace must be built from the bottom up and begins with every one of us.” On promoting human rights and combating life-threatening diseases, he pointed to ground-breaking initiatives pioneered by Mr. Annan, including the Millennium Development Goals. He also highlighted the late Secretary-General’s numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He said Mr. Annan’s legacy will inspire future generations for years to come.
SHEILA GWENETH CAREY (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said Mr. Annan was the first and only one to rise through the ranks of the Organization to become Secretary-General. He was a man of great integrity who strongly defended multilateralism. He used his vast experience to reform the culture of the United Nations to make it beneficial for its staff, Member States and the people of the world. He believed that security and development went hand-in-hand, a framework which now governs much of the United Nations work worldwide. Mr. Annan will always be remembered for his advocacy for peace, human rights and good governance. She conveyed to Mr. Annan’s family, his United Nations family and to the Government and people of Ghana her region’s deepest condolences.
ISABELLE F. PICCO (Monaco), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, said the entire United Nations is in mourning for a man who personified the Organization. A child of Africa and citizen of the world, he was a relentless craftsman of development and peace. Highlighting his motto “without progress there is no peace, and without peace there is no progress”, she praised his role in striving for equal rights for boys and girls, and for development and peace. He was dedicated to serving the weakest among us, radiating strength, calm and wisdom.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said as a child of Africa and the first Secretary-General to rise through the ranks of the Secretariat, Mr. Annan inspired a whole generation. “It’s no exaggeration to say Kofi Annan embodied the United Nations”, he added, recalling how the late Secretary-General led the Organization through some tough international times. Even after leaving his post as Secretary-General, Mr. Annan continued his important work. “I had the great fortune to meet Kofi Annan”, he said, recalling his warmth and quiet shining dignity. Today we join the entire United Nations in celebrating his life and recalling his inspiring legacy.
BAN KI-MOON, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, cited his respect for a man who was both a diplomat and his friend. Praising Mr. Annan’s “razor-sharp intellect”, compassion and idealism, he said he relied on his immediate predecessor’s guidance when becoming Secretary-General. He described the “brilliant life” of a man devoted to sustainable development and human rights, who inspired others to work in that vein. He believed Mr. Annan will be proven by history to have been a monumental leader, a humble man with an illuminating vision for our collective future. His remarkable legacy will endure forever. While Archbishop Desmond Tutu saw Mr. Annan as a wiser younger brother, Guterres saw him as an elder brother, quoting Mr. Annan’s line: “You are never too young to lead and never too old to learn.” He offered condolences to Mr. Annan’s wife and children and the people of Ghana for the loss of a man of universal ideals we all strive to uphold.
MARY ROBINSON, speaking on behalf of the Elders, said Kofi Annan led the United Nations through some of the most difficult times in its history as its relevance was being challenged. This was a huge professional burden; yet, he steered the Organization with calm and dignity. His determination re-established the United Nations as a body to defend the poor and the vulnerable, a custodian for human rights. Recalling her time working with Mr. Annan, she paid tribute to his courage, power of persuasion and his idea that when we work together we can achieve great things. He believed passionately in the United Nations: he referred to it as a family and “stood up for it as a proud father”. She recalled that Mr. Annan was working tirelessly as an Elder right until the end. His death was a great shock to many, she said, adding that while the international community reflects here on his legacy, it remembers his message that there is no peace without development and no development without peace, nor is there peace nor development without human rights.
TASA DELENDA, former member of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, shared memories of “the Kofi Annan I worked for” as one of two personal assistants. She said he would have been proud to see her standing out of her comfort zone in speaking to the Assembly. Remembering a man who believed in hard work but who made staff comfortable, she related personal stories of his interactions with other diplomats, his love of long, brisk walks, and thoughtfulness in recalling personal details of staff members. He treated all as equals. Mentioning a trip they took together with CBS newsman Mike Wallace on a mission to Iraq in 1998, she mourned a caring husband, father and grandfather with vision and a belief in a better future.
IQBAL RIZA, former Under-Secretary-General and Chef de Cabinet, said Kofi Annan had special qualities: exceptional intelligence, innate courteousness and natural charisma, and a deep commitment to the goals of the United Nations. In his first days as Secretary-General, Mr. Annan moved swiftly and surely to bring far-reaching changes in the United Nations, creating, notably, a new coordination system and a Deputy Secretary-General position. Human rights were also assigned a special priority, and a worldwide campaign against HIV-AIDS was launched. Under his leadership, the Organization opened its doors to new constituencies, such as academia and the private sector.
Mr. Annan’s first term was crowned by the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and his second was marked by “a sea of troubles” including the September 11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond containing wars and civil conflicts, he prevailed to complete his second term. “Such resilience is a rare quality”, said Mr. Riza, adding that he will remember Mr. Annan as “a builder of confidence and bridges between antagonists, a crusader to better the lives of the unfortunate and the deprived—refugees first”, and “the epitome of soft power, well deserving of the sobriquet ‘the Secular Pope’”.
NANE ANNAN called it a sad occasion commemorating her late husband in the “very United Nations to which he devoted his life”. Describing “not memories but imprints”, she recalled the radiant warmth and joy of a man who wanted a peaceful world for all of us to inhabit and strove for the greater good. “The rebel on the thirty-eighth floor” was known for his persuasive powers, talent for thinking outside the box and his special connection to young people. Saying her husband died too soon, she was grateful for how he lived his 80 years to the fullest and the foundation that is his legacy.
KOJO ANNAN paid tribute to a father who worked on “hallowed ground”, as the United Nations was his home for 45 years. Asking existential questions about his own past and future, he cited his and his family’s far-flung global background: “a mini UN.” Calling himself a global citizen, he described his father’s humble roots in Kumasi, Ghana, rising to become the Secretary-General and therefore believing in vast possibilities. His father’s code was the Edmund Burke quotation that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Saying that his father worked for a world where everyone can find a home, he added that he would urge us to fight the good fight and oppose injustice if he were here. He said that he intends to follow in his father’s footsteps, as a humanitarian, “to make peace possible in honour of daddy”.
ANNAN CATO (Ghana), speaking on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo, expressed appreciation for the sympathy and tributes in honour of Kofi Annan, and thanked all United Nations staff who travelled to Accra for the funeral service. Mr. Annan was committed to the dignity and solidarity of humanity, he said, and devoted his life to making peace and defending human rights. His leadership of the United Nations demonstrated his remarkable diplomatic skills and commitment to the core values of the Organization. This commemorative plenary of the Assembly is an opportunity for reflection and human solidarity, he said, adding that he hoped Mr. Annan’s footprints will serve as a guiding light for generations and his tribute will reinforce collective commitment to the urgent work of the United Nations.