Former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who led the world body through global turmoil in the 1990s and lost his job over disputes with Washington, has died, aged 93.
Boutros-Ghali was a blunt-spoken Egyptian who redefined the UN’s peacekeeping role during a turbulent tenure from 1992-1996, marked by war in the former Yugoslavia and famine and genocide in Africa.
He died at Al Salam Hospital in Cairo on Tuesday, Reuters reports, citing a hospital official.
Egypt’s state news agency MENA said he had a broken leg and heart and kidney problems.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Boutros-Ghali for leading the organization through “one of the most tumultuous and challenging periods in its history”.
Ban said Boutros-Ghali “showed courage in posing difficult questions to the member states and rightly insisted on the independence of his office and of the secretariat as a whole”.
Boutros-Ghali came from a wealthy family with an impressive political lineage and he bridged several realms.
As an Egyptian, he was able to claim to be both Arab and African. He was a Coptic Christian from a mainly Muslim country and married an Egyptian Jew, who converted to his religion.
As the first post-Cold War secretary general, Boutros-Ghali could be blunt and almost undiplomatic in dealing with critics and assessing the state of the world.
From the perspective of destitute Africans, he said, the situation in Yugoslavia looked like “the war of the rich”.
He said British media criticism of him might have been “because I’m a wog” — a pejorative term dating to colonial times.
Boutros-Ghali was the UN’s first secretary general from Africa.
He focused on the famine in Somalia and organized the first massive UN relief operation in the Horn of Africa nation.
Boutros-Ghali, who had a reputation for being proud and prickly, also took on the daunting task of reorganizing the UN bureaucracy by slashing posts and demoting officials at a pace that earned him the nickname “the pharaoh”.
But Washington had wanted him to do more to reform the body and Congress would not pay the more than US$1 billion in back dues the country owed while he remained at the helm.
Many diplomats suggested he was jettisoned by Bill Clinton’s Democratic administration during an election year to pre-empt criticism from Republicans deeply hostile to Boutros-Ghali and the UN.
In 1996, 10 Security Council members led by African states sponsored a resolution backing him for a second five-year term but the United States vetoed Boutros-Ghali when his reappointment came up for a vote.
In his 1999 memoir Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga, Boutros-Ghali cataloged his frictions with a Clinton administration that he characterized as meddlesome, ill-informed and lacking in follow-through on UN resolutions.
Before the United Nations, Boutros-Ghali, whose grandfather was Egypt’s prime minister until his assassination in 1910, had worked in the administrations of Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.
He accompanied Sadat on the historic 1977 visit to Jerusalem and played a prominent role in the subsequent Camp David accords on the Middle East.
Under Mubarak, Boutros-Ghali was the architect of Egypt’s return to the center of affairs in the Organization of African Unity, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
In the UN job, Boutros-Ghali was criticized for its failure to act during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and for not pushing hard enough for UN intervention to end Angola’s civil war, which at the time was one of the longest-running conflicts in the world.
Boutros-Ghali was jeered in Sarajevo, Mogadishu and Addis Ababa. His style was to wade into crowds and confront protesters when security guards permitted.
“I am used to fundamentalists in Egypt arguing with me,” he told Reuters.
– Contact us at [email protected]