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New Digital Collection: The Selected Papers of Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

by Michael Crowley on 2019-04-13T13:52:00-04:00 in International Studies, Government Publications | Comments

The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York (CCNY), under the direction of Dr. Jean Krasno, undertook a project to publish the collected papers of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who served two five-year terms, spanning ten years from January 1997 to December 2006.  Under Dr. Krasno’s direction the research team read all his papers in the public domain including speeches, remarks, press conferences, reports to the Security Council, noon briefings, statements, and also declassified papers released to the project by the UN to build a database for publication.  A five-volume set of books in print were published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in 2012 entitled The Collected Papers of Kofi Annan: UN Secretary-General 1997-2006

The online set includes primarily the selected declassified papers in their original format: letterhead, handwritten notes, internal memos and so forth. Some additional declassified documents are included here that did not appear in the books due to a lack of space.  In addition, this online set includes selected speeches, interviews, op-ed articles and photographs from the UN Photo Library that illustrate Kofi Annan’s work as Secretary-General.  We also highlight documents that contain handwritten notes by Kofi Annan where we also type out a transcription of the content of the note in order to make them more readable. When he has used initials to refer to a particular person, we have in brackets spelled out the person’s name.  Our goal is to create a curated set of Kofi Annan’s work that can be used for reference, research and teaching.

Global digital availability of the Secretary-General’s papers makes the work of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the United Nations more available to the public beyond the confines of the institution and will allow scholars, diplomats, and the general public to explore with more clarity the inner workings, not only of the Secretary-General’s office, but through his work, the UN’s departments and subsidiaries. Much of the UN’s work and issues taken up by the Organization are reflected in letters from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) to heads of state, foreign ministers, and civil society.  In addition, letters and memos between the UN departments and the Secretary-General reveal previously unseen recommendations and dialogues prior to final policy decisions.  Our view is that the work of UN Archives, the five-volume set of Kofi Annan’s papers, along with this online set of the selected works of Kofi Annan are interactive and mutually complementary in understanding the breadth and depth of this Secretary-General’s work and that of the United Nations.

Significance

More than ever, the world needs the United Nations, with its universal membership, working multilaterally to find global solutions to global problems. No country, large or small, acting unilaterally, can effectively resolve or defy the challenges to end poverty, promote prosperity and well-being for all, and protect the planet.

The United Nations was created in 1945, following the end of World War II, in order to form a multilateral organization to provide a system of collective security and a forum for peaceful solutions to conflict. After two horrifying world wars, it was hoped that this united organization would guide a path to peace. From mid-April to mid-June 1945, fifty nations gathered in San Francisco to finalize the writing of the UN Charter, which forms the rules and structure of the Organization.  The main goal in 1945 was to create a united effort to prevent another world war based on a commitment to collective security.  However, the work of the UN has vastly broadened over the last 70 years to include advancement of human rights, development, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, and peace building, among other activities. 

While the UN is constantly at the forefront of global crises, in the past, the UN was not well equipped to maintain its own institutional memory or history. This lack of access to the UN’s institutional memory has had several causes, including the fact that the UN is overwhelmed with global problems and did not prioritized the importance of making available to the public its institutional history as it moved forward. Other factors include the sense that many of the Member States do not come from cultures of information sharing and have not seen this as a budgetary necessity.  Therefore, preserving and sharing its history was under-valued for many years.  In recent years, the importance of retaining that history has grown tremendously and UN Archives has overseen the preservation of documents and records in an organized and professional manner.  We are grateful to UN Archives for their work and cooperation with this project.

The purpose of the project was to provide an organized historic record of selected official papers of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in order to make more accessible to scholars, students, and policy makers the breadth and depth of the work of the Secretary-General, and of the United Nations, in general. Managing peace efforts in today's complex environment is a daunting task.  The "good offices" of the United Nations Secretary-General can play a pivotal role in determining whether mediated or negotiated settlements to disputes can prevent violence or deter further escalation of a conflict. It should be noted that this is a curated and selected set of his papers. For example, there were some 800,000 papers produced within Kofi Annan’s term. The print, published five-volume set of selected papers, both declassified and public, contains the most politically relevant documents for research and evaluation of his place on the world stage. Now this set of selected papers is available online.  This means that people around the world will have open access to this valuable historical resource about the interconnectivity of peoples and countries around the globe. It is important for the future benefit of the United Nations and multilateral cooperation among Member States to have a greater understanding of how this Secretary-General managed his leadership role within the constraints and opportunities of the office.

The Secretary-General must constantly walk a thin line between maintaining the trust and confidentiality of Member States, now 193, that may come to him seeking advice or action on a sensitive matter, while also projecting a public and impartial persona in order to draw attention to the legitimacy and importance of the United Nations as the only global institution with a mandate to: maintain international peace and security; promote sustainable development; protect human rights; uphold international laws and deliver humanitarian aid. 

In Chapter XV, Article 97, the UN Charter states that the Secretary-General “shall be the chief administrative officer of the Organization.”  In other words, the Secretary-General must be the top manager of the Secretariat, which is the bureaucracy that administers the work of the General Assembly, the Security Council, and other bodies of the UN.  However, the Charter also leaves open a small window of political space for the UN’s chief administrative officer.  Article 99 states, “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The very first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, used Article 99 to bring the conflict in Korea to the attention of the Security Council and since that action, succeeding Secretaries-General have continued to assume that political space. However, for example, Kofi Annan has stated that he never had the occasion to use Article 99.  Nevertheless, his papers reveal that in fact he used it all the time without actually referring to it as Article 99.  He constantly wrote letters to the president of the Security Council drawing the attention of the Council to issues and crises, adding his suggestions for possible action.  Responses from the Council president acknowledge his attention to a matter and often thank Mr. Annan for his suggestions. 

In addition to the use of his “good offices” and quiet diplomacy, the Secretary-General can also use the public attention garnered by the office to set goals for the international community, which may address some of the underlying conditions that contribute to disputes and the outbreak of conflict. The UN Secretary-General is expected to address all the issues of these turbulent times with no army and no budget of his own with which to deal with these challenges.  He must also manage perceptions of the impartiality of the office, particularly with the major powers, and yet maintain the legitimacy of the Organization by criticizing acts that violate international law or the moral authority of the UN. This can present a complex day-to-day effort to balance unwarranted criticism with the acknowledgement of failures and the willingness to be held accountable and to make changes. 

All of these issues play a part in the organizational structure of the documents, carefully curated by experts on UN issues, making them accessible and easily searchable by subject, issue, key words, and names.

History of the Project 

The UN has had a policy of storing and preserving all archival materials of the Secretaries-General in special archival boxes in UN Archives and not releasing them for 20 years.  However, a policy paper created by the UN states that the papers could be released upon the permission of the respective Secretary-General. Kofi Annan expressed his desire to have his papers available to the public before the 20-year period.  Dr. Krasno received permission from Kofi Annan to release his papers after they had gone through a thorough declassification process by the UN. 

From 2006 through 2012, the Principal Investigator, Dr. Jean Krasno, led the organization and selection of the papers of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, most of which took place within the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service, now the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, at the City College of New York.  Moving forward with this process, Dr. Krasno built on previous efforts to publish papers and letters by other Secretaries-General.  However, the selected Annan papers include not only letters and speeches but also internal memos, handwritten notes, Op-Ed publications, noon briefings, off-the-cuff remarks, declassified documents and other items not included in previous works. The Collected Papers of Kofi Annan: UN Secretary-General 1997-2006 were published by Lynne Rienner Publishers (LRP) in 2012 in a five-volume set, arranged in chronological order with detailed subject indices. This set is available to libraries and research centers as well as to scholars around the world.  

In working on Kofi Annan’s papers, the team developed a number of skills to implement, structure, and streamline the process and subsequently worked to place Annan’s papers online through JSTOR Forum. The online cataloging effort on the Annan papers took place between 2015 and 2018.  We are now continuing our work in reading, selecting, and curating the papers of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for publication.

Digital Scholarship Services at the City College of New York (CCNY) were able to guide the digital development and implementation of the project using JSTOR Forum (formerly Artstor Shared Shelf), a cloud-based cataloging and management system to which CUNY subscribes that allows institutions to manage and share media collections publicly. In this manner, original cataloging records were created. The curated Kofi Annan papers are now published to the Open Web via Artstor Digital Library, and will be made available in Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), and CUNY Academic Works, CUNY’s institutional repository in the near future. The creation of metadata follows the National Information Standards Organization’s (NISO) Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections (2007).

For more information, visit http://ccnydigitalscholarship.org/kofiannan/

Online exhibit credits

Text written by Prof. Jean Krasno

Kofi Annan collection online exhibit site created by Ching-Jung Chen, Katie Cheng, Chen Gao, Rafay Malik, Alexander Matson and Vivian Chan of the CCNY Libraries Digital Scholarship Services team. 

 


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