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Kofi Annan's 'interventions'

By Rickey Singh

IN a must-read book that belongs in every serious library, Kofi Annan eloquently articulates the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations, painfully reminds us of the threats to humanity across continents and points to the double-speak and contradictions of some of the world's most powerful nations.

The internationally hailed diplomat, who served two terms (January 1997 to December 2006) as Secretary General of the UN, shares in Interventions—(A Life in War and Peace)—very revealing, at times even personally hurtful moments, in his distinguished career to avoid conflicts and promote peaceful, people-focused development.

Former world leaders like America's George W Bush and Britain's Tony Blair may not be amused by some of the observations during anguished moments Annan shares, for instance, over the US-led military invasion of Iraq.

However, all governments committed to peace; the reforming of global governance; restoring the rule of law; ending the recurring wars in Africa and conflicts in the Middle East; redefining "human security" and combating poverty would be interested in Kofi Annan's assessments of the world he served as UN Secretary General and his hopes, as "a realist", for the future.

The first Secretary General to emerge from the ranks of world body's staff, the Ghana-born Annan leaves no doubts in his 381-page book, co-edited with Nader Mousavizadeh, one of his much- respected UN colleagues, of a deep commitment to people-centred development and without indulging in any self-promotion.

He reminds us that throughout his time with the UN—spanning some four decades, with the last nine as Secretary General—how he sought to match the "unique authority of the United Nations as the sole, truly universal organisation of states with the credibility of seeing that rights were defended; suffering alleviated and lives saved…"

Annan, who offers some very candid comments on the role of the US in world affairs and, more specifically, its initiatives and sustainability of military warfare, particularly in regions such as the Middle East, argues in his book: If the infamous 9/11 terror strikes against the US "changed the world, the consequences of the Iraq War (led by the US) were of a similarly dramatic magnitude…

"From the Arab nations, appalled by the mayhem unleashed following the fall of Saddam," he stressed, "to the deep distrust among (UN) Security Council members bruised by the tortuous negotiations in the run-up to the war to the growing isolation of a United States no longer feared or respected. What the United States had lost, as a consequence of the invasion, was the benefit of the doubt…."

This development, he said, "pained me deeply", since "throughout my years as Secretary General, I had often found myself in the role of global interpreter, explaining the United States to the world, and the world to the United States…

"Despite the singular contribution of the United States to the UN's founding and its mission in the decades that followed," Annan sadly noted, "after Iraq, America was too often unwilling to listen, and the world unable to speak its true mind…"

As he now reflects, Annan thinks that a United Nations for the 21st century "would have to create new partnerships; respond to the needs of individuals, and stand for the principle that national sovereignty could never (my emphasis) be used as a shield for genocide or gross violations of human rights….

"It would have to advance a much broader view of security that integrated peace, development, women's empowerment and human rights if it were to address successfully the challenges of a global age.."

The UN would simply have to make "a difference", emphasised the recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, "in four key challenges of the 21st century—peace and security; growth with development; respect for human rights and the rule of law".

Not surprisingly, in a blurb on Annan's book, (a copy of which I was fortunate to receive as a Christmas gift from our eldest daughter, Wendy, herself a human rights worker), the former two-term president of the US, Bill Clinton, noted:

"In this thought-provoking memoir, Kofi Annan describes the peaceful and more equitable world that is within our grasp and offers his perspective on the challenges we must overcome to get there…Interventions is a powerful reminder that the United Nations still matters and must continue to matter if we want our new century to be more free, peaceful, and prosperous than the last."

A Penguin Press publication, Interventions (A Life in War and Peace) was released in New York and London in the final quarter of 2012.

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