Ex-UN chief Boutros-Ghali remembered for challenging US
Cairo - Boutros Boutros-Ghali was one of few diplomats who could speak truth to power although he paid dearly for his courage.
Boutros-Ghali, UN secretary-general from 1992-96 and a former Egyptian Foreign Affairs minister, died February 16th in a Cairo hospital after suffering a broken hip. He was 93.
When Boutros-Ghali — the first Arab and African to be voted to highest post at the United Nations — took office in 1992, he said he hoped to turn the world body into one that could effectively respond to international crises, resolve world conflicts and deliver the humanitarian assistance to those most in need.
He quickly found that reforming the United Nations was far more daunting than he imagined.
“He soon discovered that this could not be done without the consent of the US, the master of a new unipolar world order that was forming after the end of the cold war,” said Mufid Shehab, a former minister and a close friend of Boutros-Ghali.
“Falling out with the US had actually dealt a deadly blow to his reform efforts, which consequently weakened the ability of the UN to deal effectively with world crises.”
Boutros-Ghali conceded the United Nations’ failure to prevent the bloodbath in Rwanda in 1994, when more than 800,000 people were killed in less than 100 days.
Boutros-Ghali was born to a wealthy Christian family and served in Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry helping negotiate the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1979 and became the first secretary-general of the organisation of French-speaking countries (La Francophonie) in 1997.
He sought to use his tenure at the United Nations’ top spot to define the world body’s responsibility in a post-cold war world. Wars, famine and genocide, however, prevented him from turning his thoughts into action.
Apart from the genocide in Rwanda, which happened soon after the United Nations voted to withdraw its peacekeepers from the east African state, Yugoslavia was waiting to break up, opening the door for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which Bosnian Serbs overran a UN safe zone and massacred thousands of Muslim men and boys.
Boutros-Ghali blamed UN members, especially the United States, for their reluctance to intervene or provide the United Nations with the resources it needed.
As if seeking to be even more despicable to US president Bill Clinton’s administration, Boutros- Ghali also opposed NATO bombings in Bosnia in 1995, spoke critically of Israel after the 1996 shelling of a UN camp in Lebanon that killed more than 106 Lebanese civilians and blamed the United States and European countries for blocking his efforts to stop the war in Somalia.
Those stances played a large role in the US decision to vote against Boutros-Ghali’s re-election as secretary-general in 1996. He was the only UN secretary-general elected to only one term.
After leaving office, he accused Washington of using the international organisation to serve its own political interests.
In Egypt and Africa, however, Boutros-Ghali was viewed as a hero, a reformist and a man of principle.
Mohamed al-Shazli, a former diplomat and a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, a non-governmental organisation, said generations of Egyptian and African diplomats would remember Boutros-Ghali for years to come.
“He had raised generations of diplomats here and in other countries,” Shazli said. “Everybody had seen how this man challenged the desire of the US administration to make him a mere lackey.”
Boutros-Ghali was born November 14, 1922, into a Coptic Christian family and was a grandson of Boutros Ghali, Egyptian prime minister from 1908-10. He graduated from Cairo University and received a doctorate degree in international law from the University of Paris.
He was a professor of international law and international relations at Cairo University from 1949-79. He joined the Egyptian government in 1974 and was minister of state for Foreign Affairs from 1977-91.
Boutros-Ghali, who was buried with full military honours, is survived by his wife.