EGYPTIAN Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who died aged 93, was the only UN secretary general to be refused a second term when he fell foul of Washington despite the backing of the 14 other states in the Security Council.
The veteran diplomat, who died in a Cairo hospital, headed the world body between 1992 and 1996, when crises in Somalia, Rwanda, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia posed massive challenges for United Nations peacekeeping operations.
His opponents focused on failings in the UN’s approach to peacekeeping while his supporters highlighted the difficult conditions laid down by the major powers including the United States.
Boutros-Ghali himself felt Washington’s veto was to punish him for pushing UN members to pay their membership arrears—an issue on which the US, which pays 25% of the UN budget, had long been a culprit.
He also thought he was being singled out for condemning the actions in Lebanon of Washington’s main Middle East ally, Israel.
Indirectly, Boutros-Ghali said the United States was arrogant and compared its attitude to that of ancient Rome.
“Like in Roman times, they have no diplomacy. You don’t need diplomacy if you are so powerful,” he said in an interview two days before Washington cast its veto.
“How can I fight Goliath?” he asked.
Boutros-Ghali was born into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo on November 14, 1922 and educated at Cairo University and in Paris, where he established a lifelong connection with France.
To Jerusalem with Sadat
After a university career centred on international relations, including a spell at Columbia University in New York, he became Egypt’s minister of state for foreign affairs in 1977, under president Anwar al-Sadat.
In that year, he accompanied Sadat on his historic trip to Jerusalem, which both forged peace between Egypt and Israel and led to Sadat’s assassination four years later.
Boutros-Ghali became the UN’s sixth secretary general, and its first from Africa, on January 1, 1992.
Things began to go seriously wrong in late 1993, when a US-led operation in Somalia led to casualties among American troops.
The operation, part of a UN drive to provide humanitarian aid despite civil conflict, led to acrimony between the US authorities and the world body.
Further problems emerged during operations in the former Yugoslavia, and after the genocidal massacres of 1994 in Rwanda, which the UN failed to halt.
There was also friction over the implementation of UN sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which had invaded and then been ejected from Kuwait by a US-led coalition a year before Boutros-Ghali took up his post.
After the US cast its veto in November 1996, France and Egypt separately issued statements expressing support for the Egyptian diplomat and noting that Washington had acted without the support of any other country.
However, in the face of the US opposition, Africa had to come up with someone acceptable to Washington, picking the Ghanaian UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping, Kofi Annan, who held the post until 2006.
After leaving the UN, Boutros-Ghali served as secretary general of the community of French-speaking nations.
He later became president of the Curatorium Administrative Council of the Hague Academy of International Law.
In “Who’s Who” he listed his hobbies as “the works of Matisse and collecting old pens from the Ottoman Empire.”
He is survived by his Jewish wife Leia Maria. They had no children.
Boutros-Ghali will forever be a “symbol to national politicians ... and an honourable example at the international level,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement.