Waldheim (1918-2007) was an Austrian politician,
diplomat and president and from 1971 to 1982 the fourth Secretary-General of
the United Nations (photo: 122690 c UN/DPI/Y. Nagata).
He graduated from the University of Vienna as
a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1944. He was also a graduate of the Vienna Consular Academy. Waldheim joined the Austrian diplomatic service in 1945,
and from 1948 to 1951 he served as First Secretary of the Legation in Paris. He was head of the
personnel department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Vienna from 1951 to 1955.
In 1955 he was appointed Permanent Observer for Austria to
the United Nations and later that year became head of the Austrian Mission when
Austria was admitted to the Organization.
From 1956 to 1960, Waldheim
represented Austria in Canada, first as Minister Plenipotentiary and later as Ambassador. From 1960
to 1962 he was head of the Political Department (West) in the Austrian Ministry
for Foreign Affairs, subsequently becoming Director-General for Political
Affairs until June 1964. From 1964 to 1968 he was Permanent Representative of Austria to
the United Nations. During that period he was Chairman of the Committee on the
Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; in 1968 he was elected President of the first
United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
From January 1968 to April 1970, Kurt Waldheim
was Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria. After leaving the
Government, he was unanimously elected Chairman of the Safeguards Committee of
the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in October 1970 he again became the
Austrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a post he held until
he was elected Secretary-General of the Organization. In April 1971, he was one
of the two candidates for the Federal Presidency of Austria.
During his first three years as Secretary-General he
made it a practice to visit areas of special concern to the United Nations. In
March 1972 he travelled to South Africa
and Namibia in pursuance of a mandate given him by the Security Council in order to
assist in finding a satisfactory solution for the problem of Namibia.
The Secretary-General paid three visits to Cyprus,
in June 1972, August 1973 and August 1974, for discussions with government
leaders and to inspect the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in the island.
During his visit in August 1974, in the wake of the hostilities, Waldheim arranged for talks to begin between Acting
President Glafcos Clerides
and Rauf Denktash (photo: Waldheim with Makarios and Denktash).
Secretary-General also made a number of trips to the Middle East in the continuing search
for peace in the area. In August 1973 he visited Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt
and Jordan; in June 1974 he met with the leaders of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan
and Egypt; and in November 1974 he went to Syria, Israel
and Egypt in connection with the extension of the mandate of United Nations
Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). On these visits he also inspected the
United Nations peace-keeping operations in the area - the United Nations Truce
Supervision Organization (UNTSO), the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and
In February 1973, during an official trip to the
subcontinent, the Secretary-General discussed with the Governments of India,Pakistan and Bangladesh the problems created by the war between India
and Pakistan and ways and means to overcome its consequences. He also inspected the
United Nations Relief Operation in Bangladesh,
the largest relief operation ever undertaken under United Nations auspices. In
February and March 1974, the Secretary-General visited a number of countries in
the Sudano-Sahelian area of Africa where the United Nations
had undertaken a major relief operation to assist the victims of a prolonged
The Secretary-General also opened and addressed a
number of major international conferences convened under United Nations
auspices. These include the third session of the United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (Santiago, April 1972), the United Nations Conference on
the Human Environment (Stockholm, June 1972), the Third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea (Caracas, June 1974), the World Population Conference
(Bucharest, August 1974) and the World Food Conference (Rome, November 1974).
The Secretary-General participated in Security Council meetings held away from
Headquarters, in Africa (Addis Ababa, January 1972) and in Latin
America (Panama, March 1973).
He addressed and attended meetings of the Organization of African Unity
(OAU) in Rabat (June 1972 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the OAU, in Addis Ababa
(May 1973) and in Mogadiscio (June 1974). He also
addressed the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington
(March 1972). In February 1973, the Secretary-General took part in the Paris
International Conference on Viet Nam;
in December of the same year he presided over the first phase of the Geneva
Peace Conference on the Middle East. In July 1973, Waldheim addressed the
Conference on European Security and Co-operation in Helsinki.
On the invitation of their respective Governments, the Secretary-General paid
official visits to a number of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.
After retiring as Secretary-General (allegedly a third
term was vetoed by China) he returned to Austria. In 1986 he won the presidential elections. During the election
campaign it emerged that he was - to put it mildly - not quite open on his
whereabouts and actions during his service in the German army in the Second
World War. This resulted in a diplomatic isolation of Austria
during his time in office. During his presidency he travelled to Iraq to
personally convince Saddam Hussein to release 92 Austrian hostages.
On the occasion of his death the General Assembly held a special
session. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised him
for leading the UN during the Cold War with perseverance. Most ambassadors gave
very brief and polite statements, while the Austrian ambassador Pfanzelter called Waldheim
"an outstanding and distinguished diplomat and statesman" who
"dedicated his life to the service of international peace, development and
During his funeral service in Vienna Cathedral on 23 June 2007 (photo: Dieter Nagl) many Austrian leaders
honoured his work for peace and justice. Foreign leaders stayed away with the
exception of the prince of Liechtenstein.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a special message. Waldheim is
buried in the presidential crypt on the central cemetery of Vienna.
Film of the inauguration
of Kurt Waldheim as Secretary-General.
Austria 22 June 1992
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last revised: 28 March 2010