GENEVA/ACCRA, Ghana—Former United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan, who recently headed a high-profile advisory commission on Rakhine State, has died at the age of 80, his foundation said on Saturday.
Ghanaian national Annan died in hospital in Bern, Switzerland, in the early hours of Saturday, two of his close associates said.
In Geneva, the Kofi Annan Foundation announced with “immense sadness” that he had died peacefully in his sleep after a short illness, saying he was surrounded in his last days by his second wife Nane and children Ama, Kojo and Nina.
Annan served two terms as U.N. Secretary-General in New York from 1997-2006 and retired in Geneva and later lived in a Swiss village in the nearby countryside.
In 2016, Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Kyi approached Annan and asked him to lead a commission that would analyze the situation in Rakhine State in the west of the country, where communal strife between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya Muslims had been on the rise since 2012.
It was the first time foreign experts had been invited to assist the country’s efforts to tackle the Rakhine crisis. He accepted the offer to lead the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and made recommendations on ending the violence in the crisis-torn state and promoting development there.
The commission released its final report at a press conference in Yangon on Aug. 24, 2017. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi immediately endorsed its 88 recommendations and vowed to implement them in the shortest timeframe possible given conditions on the ground. Annan’s recommendations have been treated as a roadmap for promoting communal reconciliation and regional development in Rakhine.
“In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, whom Annan appointed to head the U.N. refugee agency, said in a statement.
As head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Annan was criticized for the world body’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s.
As U.N. boss he was linked to peace efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus. He submitted a reunification blueprint for Cyprus, which was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots in 2004.
“The U.N. can be improved. It is not perfect but if it didn’t exist you would have to create it,” he told the BBC’s Hard Talk during an interview for his 80th birthday last April, recorded at the Geneva Graduate Institute where he had studied.
“I am a stubborn optimist. I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist,” Annan added.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein paid tribute to Annan as “humanity’s best example, the epitome of human decency and grace.”
Zeid, who has criticized major powers and other countries during his four-year term, which ends later this month, said that whenever he felt “isolated and alone politically” he would go for long walks with Annan in Geneva.
“When I told him once how everyone was grumbling about me, he looked at me—like a father would look at a son—and said sternly: ‘You’re doing the right thing; let them grumble.’ Then he grinned!”