Kofi Annan

© 2016 Reuters

Human Rights Watch is deeply saddened by the passing of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose deep commitment to the promotion and defense of human rights around the world will be missed. 

“The international community has lost a courageous voice for collective action in the face of atrocity,” said Bruno Stagno-Ugarte, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “Annan was never shy in challenging perpetrators, no matter the political cost. His transformative vision for human rights inspired so many and improved countless lives.”

As secretary-general, Annan was instrumental in making human rights central to the United Nations, advocating for rights promotion to be a primary focus of the organization on par with peace and development. During his tenure, new human rights mechanisms proliferated and existing ones were strengthened, culminating with the establishment of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review, which subjects all UN member states to scrutiny by their peers. Building on his experience as head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, he presided over a major effort to tackle sexual abuse and exploitation within UN peacekeeping, instituting a Zero-Tolerance Policy. Annan was also a staunch supporter of the International Criminal Court and played a key role in giving life to the Responsibility to Protect as an emerging international norm. He presided over the establishment of a Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, as well as a Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. 

After the UN, Annan continued to advocate for human rights and played a central role in conflict prevention through his work at the Kofi Annan Foundation and as chair of The Elders. His personal interventions following the 2007 election in Kenya are credited with staunching post-election violence and averting greater tragedy. He was also appointed UN-League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy for Syria and tried to prevent escalation of the conflict, but resigned in 2012 because of lack of support for his peace plan. Most recently, he chaired the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and recommended that Myanmar review its 1982 citizenship law, which discriminates against the Rohingya Muslim population.

Human Rights Watch sends its deepest condolences to the Annan family as well as the staff at the Kofi Annan Foundation and The Elders.