Jan Egeland was born on September 12, 1957 in Stavanger, Norway. He was the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator from June 2003 to December 2006. Egeland was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and succeeded Kenzo Oshima. He traveled extensively, drawing attention to humanitarian emergencies.
Egeland took up the position as director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs on September 1, 2007. Egeland also holds a post as Professor II at the University of Stavanger.
Egeland holds a Magister Artium in Political Science from the University of Oslo. He has been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and a fellow at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, and the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Jerusalem.
Egeland assumed his post as the Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) in August 2003. This position is the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). He was preceded in the post by Kenzo Oshima of Japan.
Prior to becoming the head of OCHA, Egeland was the Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross. From 1999 to 2002, he was the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Colombia. Egeland’s career also includes service to his government as State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1997. In that capacity, he initiated two Norwegian Emergency Preparedness Systems, which have provided more than 2,000 experts and humanitarian workers to international organizations. He has also been Chair of Amnesty International in Norway, and Vice-Chair of the International Executive Committee of Amnesty International, which he was elected on to at the age of 23, the youngest ever to hold the position. He served as Director for the International Department of the Norwegian Red Cross, Head of Development Studies at the Henry Dunant Institute in Geneva and a radio and television international news reporter for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.
Egeland has actively participated in a number of peace processes. He co-initiated and co-organized the Norwegian channel between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1992, which led to the Oslo Accord (Declaration of Principles) of September 1993. He directed the Norwegian facilitation of the United Nations-led peace talks leading up to ceasefire agreement between the Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) guerrillas signed in Oslo in 1996. He also led the host delegation when the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines was successfully negotiated and adopted in Oslo in 1997.
Egeland has focused his efforts in alleviating the needs of this sector of the population in complex emergency situations like the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda, the Darfur region in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where millions of displaced persons are affected. He has also campaigned for addressing the needs of those affected by natural disasters, like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, as well as raising awareness in issues such as gender mainstreaming, sexual exploitation and violence, and internal displacement.
His impartiality in the Lebanon conflict as an honest broker is being questioned by Hezbollah and various other groups in Lebanon. He has been accused by the Lebanese government and media of not focusing sufficiently on the humanitarian crises on Lebanon, while being critical about rocket attacks on Israel. In a United Kingdom Channel 4 interview Egeland laid the blame on the crisis in Lebanon on Hezbollah who he said “Hide amongst the civilian population and which gives the Israeli air force no choice but to attack civilian structures,” though he also has referred to the Israeli strikes as “a violation of humanitarian law,”.
On July 28, 2006 he proposed a 72-hour cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah in order for emergency relief to move the wounded and get food and medical supplies into the war zone. Israel rejected the proposal, claiming that the humanitarian corridor it opened to and from Lebanon was sufficient for the purpose. Egeland responded that “Hizbollah is not necessarily the biggest obstacle to an agreement”. Israel later agreed to a 48-hour halt of bombing, while reserving the right to take action against targets preparing attacks.
He is married, and has two daughters. In 2006, Time magazine named him one of the 100 “people who shape our world”.
In 2008 Egeland published a memoir A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity about his time at the UN from 2003-2006.
He has published a number of reports, studies and articles on conflict resolution, humanitarian affairs and human rights.
Egeland has been criticized for the way he handling relief programs.
In 2007, the Norwegian TV channel TV2 aired a documentary entitled De hvite hjelperne (“The white helpers”) with footage and research from Malawi, concerning the Norwegian Red Cross’s donation of hundreds of Norwegian army surplus M621 trucks. The documentary highlighted the trucks’ primitive construction and poor condition, and general uselessness to the Malawi community. Although Egeland and the Red Cross declared this operation a success, the trucks were little more than scrap metal.
In March 2008, TV2 aired another documentary entitld Sultbløffen (“The famine scam”) about the 2005–06 Niger food crisis. Then-UN relief coordinator Egeland and several others were accused of bluffing, and of blowing the situation out of proportion.