As much as has been written about the former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who would have turned 100 this month, a question mark still hovers over why the US used its veto in the Security Council to keep him from serving a second term like all his predecessors. During a visit to his home overlooking the Nile in Giza, when I put the question to him directly, he avoided an answer, saying, “I was in a sensitive position. Much of the information I obtained was by virtue of my capacity, so even after leaving it, I cannot divulge its secrets.”
“But that information is part of history,” I said. “Your position enabled you to witness it. Don’t you feel you have an obligation to offer your testimony?”
“The day will come when the secrets come to light with no need for intervention on my part. All I can say is that everything has a price. Sometimes, people find that what they have to pay for something is more valuable than what they will get in return, so they turn down the deal.”
He fell silent for a moment, then said, “I had the opportunity to get a second term as secretary-general. An aide of the US president at the time told me that Washington would not object.” He smiled and added, “In fact, they promised they would host a party for me at the White House to celebrate my 70th birthday.”
“But then Washington used its veto to prevent your second term. That was the first time it used its veto against a secretary-general.”
“That’s true. That was because I did not want to pay the price which would have come at the cost of my principles and self-respect.”
He said no more on the matter. But I believe I would be close to solving the riddle if I ventured that the question of his second term arose soon after the Qana massacre in 1996. That was when Israel shelled a UN compound in southern Lebanon where hundreds of civilians had taken refugee after Israel launched its Operation Grapes of Wrath attack. A total of 106 civilians were killed in the compound and over 100 were injured. Boutros-Ghali launched an investigation into the incident and the commission found that the shelling was deliberate. Washington asked the secretary-general not to publish his findings but he refused. So Washington used its veto to stop a resolution condemning Israel based on the findings, and it used its veto again to stop the resolution to appoint Boutros-Ghali for a second term.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.