Defender of the Week #3: Kofi Annan

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

– Kofi Annan

‘Defender of the Week’ places the spotlight on individuals who have been tireless in their advocacy for human rights and the environment. This week the late Kofi Annan is Defender of the Week.

After his death over the weekend at age 80, it seemed only fitting for Jurist International to pay homage to the former UN Secretary-General. As the first staffer and black African to become UN Chief, Annan served from 1997 – 2006; almost a decade. In 2001, Annan was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (along with the UN), for his “work for a better organised and more peaceful world.”

“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,” current UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, revealed in a UN statement on Saturday.

Annan’s legacy is often viewed as controversial; as head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations during the Rwandan genocide and the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995, many argued that he failed to prevent both atrocities from occurring. Later, Annan admitted to having “failed’ Rwanda, notwithstanding the fact he urged UN member states to offer military support.

In the 2004 Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide, Annan admitted in a statement that “this painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of my thinking, and many of my actions, as secretary-general.”

However, despite this, Annan will be remembered for his countless positive achievements; such as his work fighting the AIDS pandemic, driving the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, working with the UN to create a greater focus on human rights (this led to the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council), serving as the UN special envoy for Syria for six months in 2012, and chairing an independent commission investigation into the Rohingya refugee crisis.

In 2012, Annan resigned from the UN in protest over “a lack of unity by world powers and growing militarisation on the ground” which made his role impossible.

Perfectly articulated by Zeid Raad Al Hussein, Kofi Annan will be remembered as “a friend to thousands and a leader of millions,” regardless of his often controversial legacy.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.

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