Boutros Boutros-Ghali was born in 1922 into a prominent Coptic Christian family in Egypt. His grandfather, Boutros Ghali, served as Egypt's prime minister until his assassination in 1910. Following the assassination, the family officially changed their surname from 'Ghali' to 'Boutros-Ghali.' The late Secretary-General then additionally received Boutros as his first name, and his double name was famously remarked on in popular American TV shows during his time in power, including Seinfeld and Friends.
Boutros-Ghali studied political science, international law and economics in Egypt, France and the US. His surviving wife, Leia Maria Boutros-Ghali, is an Egyptian Jewish woman, who reportedly converted to Christianity. The multilingual couple regularly discussed issues with each other in Arabic, English and French – skills which no doubt enhanced Boutros-Ghali's skills in diplomacy. Moving from academia to politics beginning in 1977, he served many years as Egypt's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and played a central part in Egypt-Israeli negotiations at Camp David.
The first person from Africa and the first Arab person to serve as UN Secretary-General, Boutros-Ghali held the office from 1992 to 1996. He took up the post aiming to enact a program of radical reform to re-launch the UN in 1995 on its 50th anniversary. To this end, he looked forward to the first ever security council summit, for which he was asked to draw up a plan for improving the UN's ability to provide preventive diplomacy for peacekeeping and peacemaking. This culminated in his authoring of the much cited and ambitious report, Agenda for Peace. Although member states appeared to appreciate the recommendations he made in it, they took few steps toward implementing them, as they were otherwise preoccupied with peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia.
His term of office faced much controversy in terms of peacekeeping, as the UN was heavily criticised for its failure to prevent Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Boutros-Ghali himself called it 'my worst failure at the United Nations.' At the same time, he chided powerful states for setting what he felt were impossible requirements for intervention.
He also opposed NATO bombings in Bosnia. This, along with his vocal statements around the US — which pays a quarter of UN dues — being US$1.4 billion in arrears, set off his detractors in America. He was the sixth Secretary-General and notably remains the only one who was not elected for a second term in the post, as the US wielded its veto power to block him from continuing in the role.
He reportedly felt personally attacked by the ousting. Shortly before the veto was used against him he stated, 'Like in Roman times, they have no diplomacy. You don't need diplomacy if you are so powerful…How can I fight Goliath?' Following the veto, Egypt and France both issued statements of support for Boutros-Ghali, highlighting that the US had acted alone in opposing his reelection, while he had retained support from the other 14 states on the security council. He was succeeded in the office of Secretary-General by Ghanaian Kofi Annan.
Notwithstanding the challenges he faced in office, many have also lauded the peacekeeping accomplishments he achieved in such a difficult political environment. His report, An Agenda for Peace, continues to significantly influence UN thinking today, and current Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has praised the expansion of blue helmet peacekeeping overseen by Boutros-Ghali.
In 1999 he published a memoir reflecting on his time at the UN. Following his tenure there, he took up the office of Secretary General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, a position he held from 1997-2002. From 2003-2012 he then served as director of the Egyptian National Council of Human Rights. On 16 February 2016, at 93 years of age, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, died at a hospital in Cairo. The UN Security Council observed a minute of silence in his honour.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.