Kofi Annan, the first black African to become UN secretary-general, has died aged 80 in Switzerland, his aides say.
He “passed away peacefully on Saturday after a short illness”, the foundation named after him said on Saturday.
Mr Annan served two terms as UN chief from 1997 to 2006, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for humanitarian work for his efforts.
He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
In a statement announcing his death, the Kofi Annan Foundation described him as a “global statesman and deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world”.
“Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy. He selflessly placed others first, radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did.”
The diplomat, who was originally from Ghana, died in hospital in the Swiss city of Bern. He had been living near Geneva for several years before his death.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for helping to revitalise the international body, during a period that coincided with the Iraq War and the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Kofi Annan described his greatest achievement as the Millennium Development Goals which – for the first time – set global targets on issues such as poverty and child mortality.
However, Mr Annan was not immune from criticism. His critics blamed him for the UN’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when he was head of the organisation’s peacekeeping operations.
Later, after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he and his son were accused of being involved in the “oil for food corruption scandal” that led some to call for his resignation, though he was later exonerated.