Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Who has been relentless and selfless in his devotion to the cause of the defense of the poor and the destitute… Whose soul and exceptional expertise have been critical in creating dialogue and opening bridges of communication and understanding between nations.

Jan Egeland speaking at the UN in Geneva in 2006. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre.

Jan Egeland speaking at the UN in Geneva in 2006. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre.

Born and raised in Norway, Jan Egeland has been involved in humanitarian work from an early age, founding a chapter of Amnesty International when he was 15 years old. He has a Magister Artium in political science from the University of Oslo, and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a fellow at the International Peace Research Institute and the Truman Institute for the Advancement for Peace in Jerusalem. This clear focus on politics and peace led him to become the youngest Vice-Chair of the International Executive Committee of Amnesty International at the age of twenty-three. 

Egeland has held a host of leadership positions, from Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, to Head of Development Studies at the Henry Dunant Institute in Geneva, to Secretary-General of the Norwegian Red Cross. While serving as State Secretary to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Egeland implemented two Norwegian Emergency Preparedness Systems, providing over 2,000 trained humanitarian workers to various international organizations. He, together with Johan Jorgen Holst, worked secretly in Norway with delegates from Israel and Palestine to broker a peace agreement between the two states, sometimes called the Oslo Accord, in 1993. Egeland used Norway as the country from which to facilitate other UN Peace negotiations. 

In 2003, Egeland was appointed UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. He has taken this role and adjusted the lens to focus squarely on some of the most complex and difficult emergency situations in need of humanitarian aid. Throughout the years of his tenure, he personally went into the “belly of the beast” in war-torn places such as Uganda to see firsthand the horrors of children taken, abused, and forced to fight. Crucially, he has addressed the needs of those suffering from displacement in the Darfur region of the Sudan during the conflict and genocide from 2003–10. He has interviewed both government and insurgent leaders to get the full stories and bring them to a worldwide audience, demanding that aid be allowed in while working toward peaceful resolutions. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Lebanon have also commanded his attention. 

Jan Egeland’s job included relief efforts for disasters both natural and man-made. From tsunami relief to the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Egeland raised money, awareness, and organize relief efforts to address the immense need for aid. He was criticized in 2004 for his own critical remarks over the relatively “stingy” amount of overall money allocated by wealthy nations for humanitarian and emergency relief aid, but it had the desired effect of bringing about a real increase when the “meager” percentages were brought to light. 

Jan Egeland has been Europe director and deputy executive director at Human Rights Watch and is currently secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He has published articles on peace and conflict resolution, as well as a book, A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity (2008). His career of service to those who are in dire need of aid continues unabated.