Dame Margaret Joan Anstee, former United Nations Under Secretary-General and supporter of ACUNS, died on 25 August 2016 at her home in the United Kingdom.
There was perhaps no one who believed quite so passionately in the ideals of the United Nations, and she dedicated her whole life to its mission of alleviating poverty, social development, and peace. She and Sir Robert Jackson, in 1970 “produced the best argued, most comprehensive plan for rationalizing and streamlining the UN’s development work yet seen,” according to Edward Mortimer. She worked on the ground in the Philippines, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Chile, and Morocco—fell in love with each of these countries and was loved by its peoples.
Miss Anstee, as she was then called, helped to coordinate the relief efforts after a cyclone in Bangladesh, an earthquake in Mexico, a drought in Peru, the Chernobyl catastrophe, and the environmental damage done by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. In 1987, she was appointed Director General of the UN Office at Vienna and head of the UN Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs as well as the UN Drugs and Crime programmes.
Her last assignment was perhaps the most challenging, as SRSG for the UN Verification Mission of the elections in Angola which ended with the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi calling her a prostitute and returning to the jungles to continue the civil war for another decade.
In 1994, Margaret or Joan (depending on the period of time people got to know her) Anstee was made Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, by Queen Elizabeth. She continued to advise the Government of Bolivia, chaired an expert panel for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and served on Jimmy Carter’s Council on Conflict Resolution.
Dame Margaret participated in peacekeeping exercises for the British Army, NATO, and Latin American governments, usually playing a kidnapped UN representative. She continued to write books and articles, lectured, and gave radio and television interviews, until the end of her life.
Dame Margaret was committed to finding practical solutions and moving forward but was also frustrated by the UN bureaucracy. She “suffered no fools” but also had a sensitive caring personality. Many people probably owe her their lives, in five decades of UN service. I owe her my career and learned much from her about determination and steadfastness in relation to goals of the international organization and transmitting this passion to the next generation.