Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former UN head, dies at 93

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Secretary General of the International Organization of French-Speaking Communities (OIF) Boutros Boutros-Ghali looks on during an interview with AFP 24 February 2001 in Beirut.Image source, AFP
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Boutros Boutros-Ghali led the UN between 1992 and 1996

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former UN secretary general , has died aged 93, the UN Security Council has said.

He died at a Cairo hospital on Tuesday, Egypt's state news agency said, after being admitted with a broken pelvis.

He took office in 1992 at a time of growing influence for the UN following its decisive role in the Gulf War, serving one five-year term.

However, he faced criticism for the UN's failure to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Washington was angered by his opposition to NATO's bombing campaign in Bosnia.

The 15-member Security Council observed a minute's silence after the announcement of Mr Boutros-Ghali's death, which was made at the start of a session on Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

No further details on his death were immediately available.

Mr Boutros-Ghali had received a phone call from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last Thursday, after being admitted to hospital, Egyptian press reported.

Diplomacy and deception - Nick Bryant, New York and UN correspondent

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the first Arab to serve as UN Secretary General, but also the first to serve only one term in the post. His five years were dogged by controversy. During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, he was criticised for the UN's failure to prevent the massacre. His opposition to NATO's bombing campaign in Bosnia also angered Washington, and contributed to his ousting.

The US wielded its veto when Boutros-Ghali sought a second term, which he regarded as a personal betrayal. Madeleine Albright, the US Ambassador to the UN at time, wore a "friendly smile" and repeated "expressions of friendship and admiration," he claimed in his memoir.

But behind his back she tarnished his image and demolished his authority. His treatment brought to mind the words of a Hindu scholar: "There is no difference between diplomacy and deception."

In terms of a positive legacy, Ban Ki-moon, his successor as UN chief, praised the dramatic rise of blue-helmeted peacekeeping on his watch. In a landmark report entitled Agenda for Peace, Boutros-Ghali also emphasised the importance of post-conflict peace-building, which informs a lot of UN thinking to this day.

But perhaps his biggest diplomatic accomplishment pre-dates his time as UN Secretary General. Serving as Egypt's foreign minister under President Anwar el-Sadat, he played a key role in negotiating the Camp David agreement brokered by the US president Jimmy Carter.

A former Egyptian foreign minister, Mr Boutros-Ghali led the world body during one of its most difficult times, with crises in Somalia, Rwanda, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia.

His five years in office were clouded by controversy, especially about perceived UN inaction over the 1994 Rwandan genocide and Angolan civil war of the 1990s.

To some, he was an effective diplomat who was caught in a rift between the UN and the United States. Others, most notably in Washington, saw him as a symbol of all that was wrong with the organisation.

He was often jeered, and often waded into crowds to confront protesters when security guards permitted. "I am used to fundamentalists in Egypt arguing with me," he told Reuters.

He shocked many in Sarajevo when he said he was not trying to belittle the horrors in Bosnia but that there were other countries where the "total dead was greater than here".

Image source, Reuters
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Boutros Boutros-Ghali with Bill Clinton in 1996
Image source, AFP
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With Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1996
Image source, Reuters
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With French President Jacques Chirac in 1997

Mr Boutros-Ghali was born on 14 November 1922 into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo, and educated at Cairo University and in Paris, where he established a lifelong connection with France.

He went on to study international relations at Columbia University in New York and became Egypt's foreign minister in 1977, under president Anwar al-Sadat.

After leaving the UN, Mr Boutros-Ghali served from 1998 to 2002 as secretary general of La Francophonie - a grouping of French-speaking nations.

In 2004, he was named the president of Egypt's new human rights council, a body created by then-Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak amid US pressure on Arab nations for democratic reform.