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Former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali dies

Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a history-making diplomat who made his mark as an architect of the Camp David accords and then became the United Nations’ first African secretary-general, has died.

Rafael Ramirez Carreno, Venezuela’s U.N. ambassador and current head of the U.N. Security Council, announced Boutros-Ghali’s passing Tuesday, after which representatives from the council’s 15 current members stood for a moment of silence.

Egypt’s state-run Ahram Online reported that he died Tuesday in a hospital in the Egyptian city of Giza, where he’d been admitted days earlier after breaking his leg.

Boutros-Ghali was 93.

Current secretary-general Ban Ki-moon lauded Boutros-Ghali as “a memorable leader who rendered invaluable services to world peace and international order,” noting he stepped up during “a time when the world increasingly turned to the United Nations for solutions to its problems in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.”

“He showed courage in posing difficult questions to the member states, and rightly insisted on the independence of his office and the Secretariat as a whole,” Ban said. “His commitment to the United Nations — its mission and its staff — was unmistakable, and the mark he has left on the organization is indelible.”

Father of slain Egyptian prime minister

In many ways, Boutros-Ghali was born into the world of diplomacy, Egyptian politics and all the dangers both of those entail.

His grandfather, Boutros Ghali, served as Egypt’s foreign minister and finance minister before becoming the North African nation’s prime minister in 1908. An assassin took his life two years later.

According to his official U.N. biography, he studied international law, political science and economics at Cairo University, Paris University and New York’s Columbia University (the latter as a Fulbright Scholar). A committee member at the Arab Socialist Union for three decades, Boutros-Ghali also got involved in politics through Egypt’s National Democratic Party, including winning a seat in Parliament in 1987.

Yet he consistently set himself apart as not just a politician. He was a well-known lawyer, scholar and professor, the latter including a 1949 to 1977 stint teaching international relations and law at Cairo University.

In the late 1970s, Boutros-Ghali shifted from talking and teaching about international relations to being part of them. As such, he held several top positions in Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

These roles put him on the front lines of several groundbreaking moments, such as the 1978 Camp David Summit Conference that forged an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and set up a framework to resolve other longstanding issues in the Middle East, such as Israel’s withdrawal from the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

First secretary-general from Africa

His ascent, in January 1992, as the United Nations’ sixth secretary-general was a watershed moment not just for Boutros-Ghali but for Africa, too. He was the first man from that continent to be in charge of a body that included representatives from around the world, including its most powerful nations, as well as the organization’s first Arab leader.

This ascent meant Boutros-Ghali had a front-row seat as numerous crises played out, like Rwanda’s genocide, war in Angola and the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia. He also authored “An Agenda for Peace,” a report focused on “preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping.”

Boutros-Ghali’s time at the top, however, didn’t last. The United States, which had criticized him for refusing to cut the United Nations’ budget and over what was then happening in Bosnia, vetoed his bid for a second five-year term, making him then and now the U.N.’s shortest-tenured secretary-general.

Thus, Boutros-Ghali gave way to another African, Kofi Annan, in the same prestigious spot.

He remained in the public spotlight after leaving office as head of the International Organization of La Francophonie (a diplomatic entity with representatives of 80 member states where French is spoken) and, from 2003 to 2012, as director of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights.

His name also became known to whole new audiences — intentionally or not — thanks to references in an episode of the popular American sitcom “Seinfeld” and a buzzed-about sit-down interview with Ali G, an alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

News of Boutros-Ghali’s death stirred a wave of reactions around the world, particularly in his native Africa.


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