Over a long and distinguished career in international affairs, Michael Williams stepped forward to tackle some of the most difficult conflict situations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
A message from the director
It is with great sadness that we mark the death of Michael Williams, Baron Williams of Baglan, who passed away peacefully on Sunday 23 April at his home in Oxfordshire, following a brief battle with cancer.
Michael became a distinguished fellow at Chatham House, one of our first, in October 2011, when he returned to London after completing his time at the United Nations and becoming a life peer and the international trustee at the BBC. Michael brought to the institute his extensive experience both at the UN, where he reached the level of under secretary general (having served as the UN special coordinator for Lebanon and, earlier, as the special adviser to the secretary general on the Middle East), and in government, where he served as special diplomatic adviser to foreign secretaries Robin Cook and Jack Straw and UK special envoy for the Middle East.
Earlier in his career, Michael worked as part of the UN Transitional Administration for Cambodia (UNTAC) and the UN Protection Force for the Former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR), after stints as a senior editor at the BBC World Service and the head of the Asia research department at Amnesty International.
Michael's principal passions at Chatham House were the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He was executive chair of our Middle East and North Africa Programme’s Syria and its Neighbours project and chaired or contributed to numerous events and debates, while offering a steady stream of incisive insights into the difficult situation there through his writing, his regular commentary to the media and addresses to high-level seminars and conferences.
Michael also sustained his keen interest in Southeast Asia, having gained his MA and PhD on Indonesia from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Michael generously stepped in to serve as the acting head of the Asia Programme from mid-2012 to early 2014. In 2012, he helped to welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to London as a Chatham House Prize winner, following her release from house arrest, and went on to develop and lead a major Chatham House roundtable in Myanmar in September 2014.
Michael was a wonderful colleague; humorous, approachable and engaged with senior and junior staff in equal measure. He treasured his time at Chatham House and believed deeply in the institute's mission. He served on the editorial board on International Affairs from 1998–2006 and as a member of Council from 2001–05, and chaired the steering committee of our annual London Conference since its inception in 2014. He was also invaluable to me as an informal adviser throughout his time with the institute. We will miss him greatly.
Dr Robin Niblett
Director, Chatham House
Selected writing from Michael’s time at the institute
Burma: Signs of Hope
Expert Comment, 21 June 2012
The United Nations: Past and Present
International Affairs, September 2013, Volume 89, Number 5
Talking to Hezbollah
International Affairs, January 2015, Volume 91, Number 1
Myanmar’s Troubled Path to Reform
Chatham House Research Paper, 26 February 2015
Is It Better to Forget?
The World Today, June/July 2016
The Road Out of Syria’s Inferno
The World Today, October/November 2016