Annan’s legacy of fighting for equality and rights lives on


Kofi Annan left the United Nations far more committed than it had been to combating poverty, promoting equality and fighting for human rights — and until his death Saturday he was speaking out strongly for nations working together to solve problems and worried about the rise of nationalism.

As secretary-general of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, Annan saw as his greatest achievements the programs and policies he put in place to reduce inequality within and between countries, to combat infectious diseases and to promote human rights and protect civilians from war crimes including genocide.

He launched the UN Millennium Development Goals at a summit of world leaders in 2000 to cut extreme poverty by half, promote equality for women, ensure every child has a primary school education, reduce maternal and child mortality, and halt the spread of AIDS — all by 2015.

Those goals — only a few of which were fully achieved — were succeeded by an expanded list of UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 that adds issues such as climate action, affordable and clean energy, and promoting peace and justice. The updated list is a major focus of the UN’s current agenda.

As UN peacekeeping chief just before becoming secretary-general, Annan shared blame for the failure of UN troops he deployed to prevent the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995.

When he became UN chief, Annan launched a doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” to prevent governments and leaders from massacring their own people. At a summit in 2005, over objections from some countries, 191 nations endorsed what has become known as the “responsibility to protect” civilians and head off the world’s worst crimes, from ethnic cleansing to genocide. This doctrine is frequently cited — but to the dismay of UN officials, not often implemented.

Annan also saw as a major achievement the expansion of the UN’s work into partnerships with businesses, foundations, universities and civil society.

This led, for example, to the establishment of the Global Compact in 2001 where Annan asked corporate leaders to publicly commit to 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption. More than 9,000 of the world’s leading CEOs have joined the compact, which continues to attract new members, and “corporate responsibility” has become a key feature of the business world.


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