The pros and cons of Kofi Annan’s diplomatic career

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Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan died recently at the age of 80. He had spent almost half of his life at the UN headquarters where he began his career as a junior official and rose to the highest position of the secretary general. And in his condolence message, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres observed: “Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good. It is with profound sadness that I learned of his passing. In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations.” The Nobel Peace Prize 2001 was awarded jointly to the United Nations and Kofi Annan for their work for a better-organized and more peaceful world.

It is ironical that part of the credit for Kofi Annan’s elevation to the UN secretary general goes to his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali after the latter defied the United States’ desire not to publish the report on Israel’s Qana massacre in southern Lebanon. The United States punished Ghali for his defiance by blocking his re-nomination to the key UN post. The next turn for the top UN post was Africa and hence, the US worked to get Kofi Annan, who hails from the African country of Ghana, nominated to the post.

Annan was successful in running the United Nations in smoothly mainly because of his long experience with the world body. He opposed the invasion of Iraq, by maintaining a strong conviction that all indications showed that Iraq had not possessed weapons of mass destruction, as claimed by the Americans and the British. He also declared that the invasion of Iraq was illegal.

On the other hand, Annan was accused of keeping silent about corruption in the UN Oil-for-Food Program owing to the fact that his son was working in one of the companies that carried out the program, but an investigation into this had proved that these allegations were false and baseless.

On the Palestinian issue, Annan took a position in favor of the Palestinian cause in general and he could not do more than that. He was against the policy of illegal Israeli settlement in the Palestinian territories. However, Annan avoided confronting the US policy, which was completely biased towards the Israeli aggression, despite the existence of many international resolutions rejecting the Israeli crimes. He was unable to implement these resolutions because of the American hegemony over the international organization.

On certain occasions, Annan’s positions were negative toward the Palestinian issue and this was evident when he described the Palestinian people that they are not considerate to the second party. He made such a remark without explaining how the people under the longest and the worst occupation could be considerate to the occupier. Though he made such remarks, they did not spare him from Israeli attacks even after he left the United Nations.

This was more obvious when Annan expressed deep regret over the decision of US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, by saying ‘giving something that Trump does not own to those who do not deserve it.’

When the Syrian crisis broke out, Annan was chosen as joint special envoy of UN and the Arab League to Syria. He made a great effort to solve the problem. He proposed a six-point peace plan to the Security Council, and this plan mainly focused on cessation of hostilities and achieving an UN-supervised ceasefire. Starting inclusive Syrian-led political process with involvement of the opposition in the negotiations, ensuring freedom of the press and the freedom movement for journalists, intensifying the pace and scale of release of the detainees, ensuring timely provision of humanitarian assistance to the conflict zones, and respecting the freedom of association and peaceful demonstrations were the other major points.

When Annan found out that it is very difficult and complicated to bring together the concerned parties to the negotiating table, he resigned from the post of special envoy. He cited the intransigence on the part of both the Syrian parties, as well as the stalemate on the UN Security Council that prevented any peaceful resolution of the crisis.

He also stated that the lack of international unity and ineffective diplomacy among the world leaders had made the peaceful resolution in Syria an impossible task. The then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Annan for the great efforts exerted by him while carrying out his assigned mission.

When pressure mounted on Aung San Suu Kyi, state councilor and foreign minister of Myanmar, with regard to the Rohingya Muslims following violations of their civil and human rights, she decided to form a committee of her choice. She chose Kofi Annan to lead the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. The objective behind the creation of the committee was apparently to give her some credibility as it was aimed at easing international pressure on her government towards crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslims. At the same time, she wanted to divert attention from the criticism that had been directed at her personally.

It was not expected that Kofi Annan would accept this dubious task that eventually dealt a big blow to his credibility and reputation. A government that perpetrated ethnic cleansing against a minority, which was deprived of all its rights, constituted the very committee, headed by Annan. They have been subjected to killing, displacement and rape by the Buddhist hardliners with the Myanmar government’s blessings.

The report was not acceptable because of the fact that a criminal had formed a committee to investigate his crimes! Moreover, there was no need to form a committee to inquire about perpetrating of such crimes as these were all well documented by the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council, and by all the international human rights organizations. The Kofi Annan Committee submitted a weak report, which did not even mention the name of Rohingya Muslims because Suu Kyi, who formed the committee, did not want to hear the name of these victims.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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