Photographic exhibition pays tribute to former UN chief U Thant

27 October 2009
U Thant, the UN's third Secretary-General.

The greatest legacy of the former United Nations chief U Thant is his belief in the dignity of the individual, a senior official with the world body said tonight as he helped open a photographic exhibition dedicated to the Organization’s third Secretary-General.

Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, told the opening of the exhibit – which is being staged at the Stamford campus of the University of Connecticut in the United States – that U Thant was a visionary who had realized that the UN “needed to meet the needs and hopes of peoples everywhere.

“He created, or laid the foundations for, many of the institutions that we have today working to alleviate poverty, to protect the environment, and to safeguard health,” Mr. Akasaka said, adding that U Thant had steered the UN through “a period of great change” during his tenure between 1961 and 1971.

“He tackled a broad range of challenges, from successfully concluding the Congo operation, to easing tensions during the Cuban missile crisis, helping to reach a peaceful end to the Viet Nam War, and advocating for the end of apartheid in South Africa.”

Mr. Akasaka also noted that U Thant presided over “an intense period of decolonization and the birth of new nations across Asia and Africa” and stood firmly for the independence during a period of deep Cold War tensions.

But he stressed that the most important impact of U Thant, who also served as a diplomat from Myanmar, was “his belief in the dignity of the individual, and the need to place the well-being of the individual at the centre of all of our efforts.”

In his last report as Secretary-General, U Thant wrote that “the worth of the individual human being is the most unique and precious of all our assets and must be the beginning and end of all our efforts. Governments, systems, ideologies and institutions come and go, but humanity remains.”

Mr. Akasaka observed that “these words embody the spirit of the United Nations and continue to serve as our guiding light today.”

This year also marks the centenary of the birth of U Thant, who died in 1974.


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