Late US diplomat Holbrooke a shining example of what UN can be, says Ban

17 February 2011
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) with the late Richard Holbrooke in 2007

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today held up veteran United States diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died in December, as a steadfast friend of the United Nations and a shining example of what the Organization can aspire to be.

“If he were with us today, he would scan the horizon: political challenges in Côte d’Ivoire and the Sudan, humanitarian emergencies in Haiti and Somalia, dramatic developments in the Middle East,” he said at a memorial service in the UN General Assembly Hall. “He would seize this moment to make the United Nations all that it can be, all that it must be. And so must we.”

Mr. Holbrooke helped broker the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian war and from 1999 to 2001 was US ambassador to the UN. More recently, he was US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Those who know him best will tell you: he saw his time at the United Nations as the finest in his long and distinguished career,” Mr. Ban said. “He believed profoundly in this extraordinary Organization. He understood its potential. But as a realist, he knew its limits – ‘flawed but indispensable,’ he called it. And he demanded as much of it as he gave of himself. In other words, everything.”

Mr. Ban recalled how Mr. Holbrooke pushed the Security Council to recognize HIV/AIDS as a matter of global security, led a series of Council missions to shine a spotlight on Africa in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and beyond, and fought strenuously for more effective action in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saving countless lives.

He never hesitated to call on the UN to live up to its promises in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste and Kosovo, and he insisted that Israel not be treated as a case apart.

But, Mr. Ban added, “Perhaps his greatest coup was negotiating the historic deal on [withheld] US dues to the United Nations. How? He lured the UN’s toughest critic, Senator Jesse Helms, to a special session of the Security Council – and there, he said, ‘I flattered him egregiously.’ Of course, he did much more than that. One by one, he made his case with more than 100 Members of Congress and a good number of the world’s foreign ministers.

“By the time he was done, he had a package deal that included a series of important reforms of the United Nations – and the United States made good on nearly $1 billion in back dues,” Mr. Ban said.


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