Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, KBE, KCSS ( 17 January 1933 – 12 May 2003) served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1966 to 1977, during which he reoriented the agency’s focus beyond Europe and prepared it for an explosion of complex refugee issues. He was also a proponent of greater collaboration between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies. The Prince’s interest in ecological issues led him to establish the Bellerive Foundation in the late 1970s, and he was a knowledgeable and respected collector of Islamic art.
Born in Paris, France, he was the son of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan and Princess Andrée Aga Khan. He married twice, but had no children of his own. Prince Sadruddin died of cancer at the age of 70, and was buried in Switzerland.
Prince Sadruddin joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1958, and became the Executive Secretary to its International Action Committee for the Preservation of Nubia in 1961. This initiative brought together archaeologists from Eastern Europe and the West at the height of the Cold War.
In January 1966, Prince Sadruddin was appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees after serving for three years as Deputy High Commissioner. At the age of 33 he became the youngest person ever to lead the UNHCR.
Prince Sadruddin had, since 1978, been variously: Special Consultant and Chargé de Mission to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Commission and Convenor and Co-Chairman of the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues and of the Independent Working Group on the UN Financial Emergency. He was later Coordinator for United Nations Humanitarian and Economic Assistance Programmes Relating to the People of Afghanistan and Executive Delegate of the Secretary-General for a United Nations Inter-Agency Humanitarian Programme, which dealt with problems of Iraq’s border areas.
The United Nations community celebrated Prince Sadruddin’s life at a memorial ceremony held in his honour at its headquarters in New York on 28 October 2003. He was remembered for representing the moral and compassionate side of the international community.Then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan commented that “he combined respect for humankind with concern for our environment. He worked on behalf of the poor and dispossessed, while celebrating humanity through culture and art.”