Former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan has died at age 80, his foundation confirmed Saturday.
Annan, who was born in Ghana in 1938, served as the seventh UN Secretary-General, from 1997 to 2006, and was the first to rise from within the ranks of the United Nations staff.
He had also been a member, since 2007, of The Elders, a humanitarian group of a dozen leaders and activists of worldwide stature formed by Nelson Mandela. In 2013, Annan became its chairman.
The Kofi Annan Foundation confirmed his death with "immense sadness" in a statement posted on Twitter.
Annan passed away peacefully Saturday morning after a short illness, with his wife Nane and their three children by his side during his final days, the statement said.
The foundation paid tribute to Annan as a "global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer, more peaceful world."
"During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations, he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law."
Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the United Nations in 2001 "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."
Tributes pour in
As news of Annan's death has spread, many are paying tribute to a man who became a global figure as head of the United Nations but was also known by those close to him for his warmth and charm.
Current UN Secretary-General António Guterres told CNN that Annan had been "an enormous source of inspiration" to him, adding that the late leader had been committed to his principles and values even if he had to pay a heavy price for them.
"He was not only a statesman, he was not only a leader, he was a warm person who would support his friends in difficult moments. He was a true colleague and a true friend," he said.
The UN Migration Agency tweeted: "Today we mourn the loss of a great man, a leader, and a visionary."
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "grief-stricken" over Annan's death, adding that he was a "friend to thousands and a leader of millions."
"Kofi was humanity's best example, the epitome, of human decency and grace," he said. "In a world now filled with leaders who are anything but that, our loss, the world's loss becomes even more painful."
A statement from The Elders said its members were "shocked and deeply saddened" by the loss of their friend and colleague.
"We are devastated at the loss of our dear friend and fellow Elder. Kofi was a strong and inspiring presence to us all, and The Elders would not be where it is today without his leadership," said deputy chairman Gro Harlem Brundtland, adding that the group was resolved to continue to uphold Annan's values and legacy.
Carl Bildt, co-chairman of the European council on Foreign Relations and former Swedish Prime Minister, described Annan as "a man of courage, wisdom and friendship" and urged people to read his 2001 Nobel Peace Prize lecture.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo extended condolences on behalf of the entire nation and said the Ghanaian flag would fly at half staff across the country and in all of Ghana's diplomatic missions for a week, starting Monday.
As the first person from sub-Saharan Africa to become UN Secretary-General, Annan "brought considerable renown to our country" he said. "He was an ardent believer in the capacity of the Ghanaian to chart his or her own course onto the path of progress and prosperity."
Zimbabwe opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said he was deeply saddened by the news, having met with Annan only a few days ago. "A rare breed of diplomat; soft spoken but unshakably firm. He had great love for world peace & democracy," he wrote on Twitter. "Go well son of Africa, Champion of the world!"
Kenya National Assembly Speaker J. B. Muturi also recalled that Annan was "the first African to become the UN boss," adding: "Annan's dedication and commitment to peace efforts across the globe has been unwavering and will be solely missed by all."
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that the world had lost one of its giants. "His warmth should never be mistaken for weakness," he said. "Annan showed that one can be a great humanitarian and a strong leader at the same time."
The director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, praised Annan as a "great leader."
What shaped his global thinking?
Annan was descended from tribal chiefs on both sides of his family. After studying in Ghana and at Macalester College in St. Paul, in the US state of Minnesota, he joined the United Nations in 1962 as a low-ranking officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva.
He thought he would stay only a few years but ended up spending almost his entire working life with the organization.
Annan avoided potentially career-ending moments while serving in the department of peacekeeping.
In 1994, the UN Security Council and others including Annan were accused by the UN field commander in Rwanda of ignoring his warnings. An estimated 800,000 people died as the world was reluctant to send troops in.
Speaking in 2004, Annan said: "I believed at the that time that I was doing my best, but I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could have and should have done."
The next year, thousands of Muslims were massacred in Srebrenica as Bosnian Serbs overran a UN "safe zone."
Annan would later say Rwanda and Srebrenica would shape his global thinking. The Secretary-General at the time, Boutros Boutros Ghali, took the heat for UN failings.
Champion of human rights
On taking the helm as Secretary-General in 1997, Annan became a high-profile figure who championed human rights and urged the United Nations to protect civilians if their own governments turned on them.
His first term was highly-rated but his second term, which coincided with the US invasion of Iraq, was not as smooth.
In February 2012, the United Nations appointed Annan the UN and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria. Only six months later, he quit, citing increasing militarization in Syria and "the clear lack of unity" at the UN Security Council.
In a statement released by the United Nations, Guterres described Annan as both a personal mentor and an inspiration to all.
"He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world. In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all of us."