Calling World Body’s Fallen Chief ‘A Voice for the Voiceless’, Secretary-General Says Kofi Annan Placed People at Centre of United Nations, Embodied Its Values
Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered, at the wreath‑laying for Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, in New York today:
We are here to pay tribute to Kofi Annan, one of the best of us, a man who embodied United Nations values and made us all proud to call ourselves his colleagues. This is a personal loss for many of us. It is difficult to imagine what a blow it must be to his wife and to his family. Our hearts go out to them.
We know how much Kofi meant to the world. I would like to say a few words about what he meant to all of us who work for the United Nations. Kofi Annan’s years in office were an exciting time. He put forward new ideas. He brought new people into the United Nations family. He spoke passionately about our mission and our role. He created a renewed sense of possibility both inside and outside our Organization about what the United Nations could do and could be for the world’s people.
Because of his long and varied career in different offices and departments, it sometimes seemed as though Kofi knew everyone personally. But even staff members who never met him felt a bond with Kofi, because he was really one of us. As I said on Saturday, in many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations.
His most defining features were his humanity and solidarity with those in need. He put people at the centre of the work of the United Nations, and was able to turn compassion into action across the UN system.
We are still reaping the rewards of the Millennium Summit, when he brought the world together to agree on the first global targets on poverty and child mortality. His response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic united Governments, non‑governmental organizations and the health care industry and undoubtedly saved many lives.
Kofi Annan faced up to the grave errors made by the United Nations in the 1990s — in its response to the Rwanda Genocide and the Srebrenica killings — by shining a light inside the United Nations. The reports he commissioned aimed to make sure such terrible mistakes are never repeated, and set the international community on a new course in its response to mass atrocities.
A true voice for the voiceless, he did not shy away from the most challenging issues but worked creatively to bridge differences and protect the most vulnerable. He stood his ground without antagonizing others; his humility, good humour, courtesy and charm went hand in hand with enormous wisdom and strength.
He will always remain vivid in my memory for as long as I live. But not essentially because of the fact he was an extraordinary statesman, a remarkable diplomat, an inspiring leader, but above all because of his gentleness, of his warmth, of his friendship. He was indeed a good man and a gentleman and always at our disposal to support us, to comfort us, to be in full solidarity with us in any difficult moment that one of us, as colleagues of him, would have.
Perhaps we can best honour his legacy by recalling his own words, delivered at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and I quote: “Securing real and lasting improvement in the lives of individual men and women is the measure of all we do at the United Nations.” In these times of growing political divides and intractable conflicts, we need the peacemaking spirit of Kofi Annan more than ever. Thank you.