Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has died aged 80 after a short illness, it was announced Saturday.
The Ghanaian led the U.N. from 1997 to 2006 and was chair of the Elders, a group of former heads of state and human rights advocates set up by Nelson Mandela.
As U.N. head, Annan was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War. He, along with the U.N. as a whole, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter “we will never forget his calm and resolute gaze, nor the strength of his struggle.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote on Twitter: “A great leader and reformer of the U.N. he made a huge contribution to making the world he has left a better place than the one he was born into. My thoughts and condolences are with his family.
Annan, who passed away at a hospital in Bern with his family present, was described by incumbent U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres as “a guiding force for good” on the world stage.
He was the first person of sub-Saharan African descent to take up the position at the top of global diplomacy. He served two terms as the seventh U.N. chief.
The Ghanaian died following a short illness according to a statement by The Elders. He was born in 1938 and first entered the U.N. system in 1962 as an officer for the World Health Organization before working his way up to the headquarters in New York.
His roles included overseeing peacekeeping operations and focusing on the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. After leaving his post as secretary-general he took on the job of special representative to Syria, a post he resigned from in 2012 citing increased militarization.
In July, he visited both South Africa and Zimbabwe urging voters in the latter country to move forward with peaceful elections.
Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who is deputy chair of The Elders, said: “We are devastated at the loss of our dear friend and fellow Elder. Kofi was a strong and inspiring presence to us all … Throughout his life, Kofi worked unceasingly to improve the lives of millions of people around the world. While we mourn his passing today, we resolve as Elders to continue to uphold his values and legacy into the future.”
In its own statement the Geneva-based Kofi Annan Foundation called him a “global statesman and deeply committed internationalist”.