UN honours memory of Boutros Ghali

The 193-member United Nations General Assembly today honoured the memory of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 93, recalling his legacy in helping the world body find its footing in a new global landscape during the tumultuous early 1990s.

Addressing the Assembly’s special tribute at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Boutros-Ghali had both the fortune and the misfortune to serve as the first post-Cold-War UN chief.

"While the United Nations was never as paralysed during the Cold War as many have portrayed, the new dynamic gave the Organisation new leeway to act. This brought promise and peril – and Boutros-Ghali experienced both," Ban said.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General presided over an opening ceremony in front of the Meditation Room at UN Headquarters, where he wrote a tribute to Mr. Boutros-Ghali in the Book of Condolences and then invited other dignitaries and guests to sign as well.

UN flags in all duty stations will be flown at half-mast today in the late Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali’s honour.

At the General Assembly tribute, Ban recalled that in his very first month in office as the sixth Secretary-General of the world body, Boutros-Ghali presided over the first-ever Summit of the Security Council – a powerful symbol of the will of world leaders to make greater use of the UN. Ban said that at the time, Boutros-Ghali told the assembled leaders: "As the new era begins, it calls for both ideas and action to place international life on stronger foundations."

Noting that Boutros-Ghali, building on his long career as a professor of international law, broke barriers as the first African and Arab Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Ban stressed that he consistently gave voice to the poorest and least powerful members of the human family. He also steered the Organization through a series of world conferences on the environment, population, human rights, women’s rights, social development and the unique challenges faced by the world’s small island developing states, the UN chief said.


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs a book of condolences at UN headquarters in memory of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

The sixth United Nations Secretary-General, his term was marked by brutal conflicts in Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, among others. Soon after his inauguration, the Security Council met in its first-ever summit of Heads of State. At their request, Boutros-Ghali authored the report called 'An Agenda for Peace,' an analysis on ways to strengthen UN capacity for preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping.

"These global gatherings captured the imagination and gave the world exciting new policies, directions and purpose," Ban said. "The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that is our inspiring new template today owes much to the pioneering intellectual work of the 1990s," he added.

Ban emphasised that the former Secretary-General also oversaw remarkable growth in peacekeeping. Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda for Peace report made far-reaching proposals for fortifying this flagship UN activity, many of which have since become standard practice – but many of which also remain unfulfilled.

During Boutros-Ghali’s time in office, peacekeeping helped Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique and other countries emerge from conflict. At the same time, engagements in the Balkans, Somalia and Rwanda highlighted the gap between the needs of a given situation and the material support and political unity required from the Member States, in particular the Security Council, Mr. Ban said.


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pays tribute in memory of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Credit: United Nations

"Here, too, the echoes resound and, indeed, haunt us to this very today," Ban said.

Ban said the former Secretary-General pursued major restructuring efforts, managerial reforms and other steps that strengthened the UN. Mr. Ban highlighted in particular the former Secretary-General’s report, ‘An Agenda for Democratisation,’ for breaking new ground in emphasizing the links between peace, development and democracy at the national level – as well as his calls for the democratization of the international system.

Noting that while the former Secretary-General won respect near and far, including as a leading Egyptian diplomat before joining the UN and, afterwards, as Secretary-General of La Francophonie, Ban emphasised that Mr. Boutros-Ghali never attempted to endear himself to everybody.

"Perhaps he was too direct for some; he might have been too professorial for others; some definitely found him too independent – a goal that he considered among the highest virtues for any Secretary-General of the United Nations," Ban said.

"No one could deny his commitment to our Organization. Throughout his service, he never relented in defending the United Nations and our Charter. As he said at the outset of his term, ‘With all the convulsions in global society, only one power is left that can impose order on incipient chaos: it is the power of principles transcending changing perceptions of expediency,’" Ban added.

Also speaking at today’s event were representatives from Swaziland, on behalf of the African States; India, on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States; Armenia, on behalf of the Eastern European States; Uruguay, on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean States; Liechtenstein, on behalf of the Western European and Other States; United States, on behalf of the host country; Lebanon, on behalf of the Arab States; and Egypt; and an observer from La Francophonie.

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