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Former UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar celebrates 100th birthday

Perhaps the world lost a great pianist … But history gained a great diplomat who made enormous contributions to peace in the world.

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar always said that his passion was music and that he would have liked to have been a concert pianist, but in Peru, when he was a boy, “that was something that only girls did…”

On 19 January 2020, Ambassador Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1981 and 1991, celebrated his 100th birthday.

At midnight on 31 December 31 1991, on his last day as Secretary-General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar signed a document initiating the agreement to end the 12-year war in El Salvador. It was a historic moment, not only because of the effect it had on an entire continent, but because it was the first act of mediation by the United Nations in an internal conflict.

But that peace accord was, in fact, the last in a series of incredible and unprecedented peace achievements which characterized his mandate.

Pérez de Cuéllar was not a stranger to the United Nations. He had previously been Ambassador of Peru to the Organization, and had also served as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs in the Secretariat. When he was appointed Secretary-General, the world was bipolar, divided into two sides that were loyal to either capitalism or communism, maintaining a fine and fragile balance of the Cold War.

During this period, Pérez de Cuéllar had to deal with various international conflicts such as the confrontation between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falklands War; the war between Iran and Iraq; the conflict in Afghanistan; and Western Sahara. He contributed to the successful resolution of conflicts in Angola, Cambodia and to Namibia’s independence. He also prepared the way for the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

He practised and guaranteed impartiality as a leader at the head of an Organization always under pressure to respond to the most difficult global challenges. Pérez de Cuéllar was a true statesman, diplomatic and astute, and his achievements in peacebuilding and cooperation at the United Nations will be remembered during the Organisation’s 75th anniversary in 2020.

Additional links:

UNRIC InfoPoint backgrounder: Appointment of the Secretary-General

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