As news of Annan’s death has spread, many are paying tribute to a man who became a global figure as head of the United Nations but was also known by those close to him for his warmth, style and charm.
Current UN Secretary-General António Guterres told CNN that Annan had been “an enormous source of inspiration” to him, adding that the late leader had been committed to his principles and values even if he had to pay a heavy price for them.
“He was not only a statesman, he was not only a leader, he was a warm person who would support his friends in difficult moments. He was a true colleague and a true friend,” he said.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Annan “worked tirelessly to unite us and never stopped fighting for the dignity of every person.”
“Kofi Annan devoted his life to making the world a more peaceful place through his compassion and dedication to service,” she added.
The UN Migration Agency tweeted: “Today we mourn the loss of a great man, a leader, and a visionary.”
Champion of human rights
On taking the helm as Secretary-General in 1997, Annan became a high-profile figure who championed human rights and urged the United Nations to protect civilians if their own governments turned on them.
His first term was highly-rated but his second term, which coincided with the US invasion of Iraq, was not as smooth.
Annan would later call the assault illegal. “I think the worst moment of course was the Iraq war, which as an organization we couldn’t stop — and I really did everything I can to try to see if we can stop it,” he said, speaking in 2006.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Annan a “truly great” Secretary-General.
“It was an honor to work with him in his efforts to reform the UN, strengthen global health and peacekeeping, and reduce poverty. He made the fight against AIDS and the responsibility to protect civilians in conflict zones true priorities for the UN,” they said in a statement.
“After he left office, he continued his leadership on poverty, environmental, and peace issues through his foundation.” they wrote. “In every phase of his life, he held fast to his Ghanaian roots and set a powerful example of determined leadership while always treating others with respect and dignity.”
Former US President George W. Bush, whose pursuit of the Iraq war often set him on a collision course with Annan, paid tribute to him as “a gentle man and a tireless leader of the United Nations. His voice of experience will be missed around the world.”
Former US President Barack Obama said Annan “embodied the mission of the United Nations.”
“His integrity, persistence, optimism, and sense of our common humanity always informed his outreach to the community of nations,” Obama said.
In February 2012, the United Nations appointed Annan the UN and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria. Only six months later, he quit, citing increasing militarization in Syria and “the clear lack of unity” at the UN Security Council.
In a statement released by the United Nations, Guterres described Annan as both a personal mentor and an inspiration to all.
“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world. In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all of us.”