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Annan leaves behind a U.N. more engaged in peacekeeping but suffering an image problem

Annan leaves behind a U.N. more engaged in peacekeeping but suffering an image problem

Kofi Annan steps down as secretary-general at midnight Sunday, leaving behind a global organization far more aggressively engaged in peacekeeping and fighting poverty around the world _ but struggling to restore its tarnished reputation.
Taking office six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union opened up a new era of cooperation among the major powers at the United Nations, Annan helped preside over a decade that saw the world unite to wage war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks but divide deeply over the U.S.-led war against Iraq which toppled Saddam Hussein.
He brought presidents and prime ministers together at a Millennium Summit in September 2000 and spurred world leaders to adopt a blueprint to wage a global war on poverty and bring the United Nations, which was created in the ashes of World War II, into the 21st Century.
Five years later, he called a follow-up summit to mark the U.N.'s 60th anniversary hoping to complete the bold changes he sought to promote development, ensure international security and end human rights abuses. History's largest gathering of world leaders took a first step, but it fell far short.
Unlike the upbeat atmosphere at the dawn of the new millennium, the World Summit in 2005 took place after a year of almost daily attacks on the United Nations over allegations of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, bribery by U.N. purchasing officials, and widespread sex abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.
World leaders agreed to create an internal ethics office but they did not give Annan the authority he wanted to make sweeping management changes. The major overhaul of the U.N.'s outdated management practices and operating procedures will be left to Annan's successor, Ban Ki-moon, who takes over on Jan. 1.
In what was considered a major summit achievement, world leaders pledged to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing _ but before stepping down earlier this month U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland accused leaders of failure to translate their pledge into action, especially in Sudan's violence-wracked Darfur region, Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The 2005 summit also approved a fund to promote democracy and a new Peacebuilding Commission to help countries make the difficult transition from war to peace, and it renewed a commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals including cutting extreme poverty by half and achieving universal primary education by 2015.
A new Human Rights Council was highly touted as a replacement for the discredited Human Rights Commission _ but in its first year, the council disappointed Annan and human rights activists by following the commission's tradition of focusing its attacks on Israel and ignoring abuses elsewhere.
At a farewell news conference earlier this month, Annan said he considered his top achievements the promotion of human rights, winning approval of "the responsibility to protect" civilians, fighting to close the gap between extreme poverty and immense wealth, and launching the Millennium Development Goals and the U.N.'s campaign to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases.
Annan said he was also proud that he helped make the United Nations "a truly partnership organization," bringing in the private sector, foundations, universities and nongovernmental groups to help the U.N. in activities ranging from spreading the Internet throughout Africa to assisting in rebuilding communities hit by the December 2004 tsunami and the October 2005 Kashmir earthquake.
Under Annan, U.N. peacekeeping has also expanded with nearly 80,000 U.N. troops and international police currently deployed from Africa and the Mideast to Kosovo, Haiti and East Timor.
Annan's first five-year term culminated in 2001 with the Nobel Peace Prize _ shared with the United Nations _ for "their work for a better organized and more peaceful world." Annan himself was lauded for "bringing new life to the organization," and former U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke called him "a rock star of international diplomacy."
But oil-for-food and the other scandals overshadowed much of Annan's second five-year term. He was besieged with questions about his son's involvement with a company that won an oil-for-food contract, and Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, called for his resignation.
An investigation led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker blamed shoddy U.N. management and the world's most powerful nations for allowing corruption in the US$64 billion oil-for-food program to go on for years. Volcker's final report in October 2005 accused more than 2,200 companies from some 40 countries of colluding with Saddam Hussein's regime to bilk the humanitarian program in Iraq of US$1.8 billion.
Annan told reporters that one of his worst moments was the way oil-for-food "was exploited to undermine the organization."
"I think when historians look at the records, they will draw the conclusion that, yes, there was mismanagement ... but the scandal, if any, was in the capitals and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs," he said.
Professor Edward Luck, director of the Center on International Organization at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said he thinks "historians are going to give Kofi Annan relatively high marks."
"He's certainly someone who aimed high and sometimes failed to achieve what his rhetoric promised," Luck said. "But he certainly did succeed in restoring the individual to the center of the U.N.'s agenda, both in terms of human security and human rights and the responsibility to protect."
Annan's top envoy on Syria-Lebanon issues, Terje Roed-Larsen, said he was also confident that as time goes by "his reputation as secretary-general will steadily grow."
"Through an accomplished mastery of figure-skating, he managed to outmaneuver the rough hockey players of the U.N.," Roed-Larsen said. "He is a true champion of international diplomacy."
Lee Feinstein, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said "Annan was perhaps the most pro-American secretary-general who nonetheless was never accepted by U.N. critics in the Congress."
"His greatest failings were clearly the failure to rein in the U.N. Secretariat and streamline management more broadly," Feinstein said. "His greatest accomplishment was to set a framework that moved the U.N. from one century to the next _ the response to mass atrocities, the central role of democracy, the importance of human rights, and a priority to development."
Annan, 68, said he will maintain all those U.N. concerns _ and many more _ in his new life, likely to be divided between Switzerland and his native Ghana, where Ghana's U.N. Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng said he remains "a hero" and role model to millions of young people.
"You can take the man out of the U.N.," Annan told one recent farewell party, "but you can't take the U.N. out of the man."


Updated : 2021-06-24 08:12 GMT+08:00