Kofi Annan was born in an aristocratic family of Ghanian tribal leaders. He undertook university studies in Ghana and continued his education at Swiss and US universities, including the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr Annan joined the UN in 1962, first working in the organisation’s European and African branches and later at the UN New York City Headquarters.

In mid-1990s he served as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, a professional episode that exposed him to criticism after the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. According to certain opponents of Mr Annan’s peace prize candidature, he had not done enough to prevent genocide in Rwanda or the massacre of a thousand Muslims in the UN-declared safe area in Srebrenica.

In 1995/1996 Kofi Annan was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the former Yugoslavia.

He served two terms as the UN Secretary-General (1997-2006). Mr Annan is fluent in English, French and several African languages. At the end of 2004, the reputation of the UN and its leader was tarnished by a scandal involving malfeasance in the implementation of the Oil-for-Food programme in Iraq.

The United Nations was an international organisation established after the Second World War by 51 countries, including Poland, committed to keeping peace based on international cooperation and collective security. The organisation, the successor of the pre-war League of Nations, was created on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations signed in 1945 in San Francisco, USA. Today, the UN has 193 Member States.

The main purposes of the UN include: maintaining international peace and security, organising multifaceted cooperation and supporting development of friendly relations among nations, promoting social, economic, cultural and humanitarian development and harmonising actions taken by the nations to achieve these goals, and advocating respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The main principles governing the United Nations are the sovereign equality of its Members, prohibition of intervention in internal matters of Members and peaceful resolution of disputes. The UN operates from its Headquarters in New York City and European offices in Geneva and Vienna.

Although created to safeguard peace in the world, the UN has failed to protect the international community from numerous conflicts and crises; still it remains the largest global forum for resolving political problems.