The Scotsman
Thu 15 May 2003

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

Sadruddin Aga Khan, humanitarian

Born: January 1933, in Paris
Died: 12 May, 2003, in Boston, aged 70

PRINCE Sadruddin Aga Khan was a wealthy philanthropist who held a string of top UN humanitarian posts and was the uncle of the spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims.

He started his long career with the United Nations as an adviser to UNESCO on Afro-Asian projects. He was the youngest and longest-serving UN High Commissioner for Refugees, taking over the post in 1965 at the age of 33 and staying in the job for 12 years.

He spearheaded UN efforts to cope with 10 million refugees after the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. He also helped find homes for tens of thousands of Vietnamese who fled their communist homeland by in the mid 1970s, and for Asians kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin. After stepping down in 1977, Sadruddin held a series of other senior UN roles, including coordinator for the UN humanitarian assistance programmes for Afghanistan from 1988-1990 and special UN representative for humanitarian assistance for Iraq and Kuwait after the first Gulf war. He was once nominated as the UN's secretary general. After giving up UN duties, he became increasingly involved in the environmental protection of the Alps. He received a long list of international awards, including the French Légion d'Honneur. Sadruddin was born into a world of fabulous wealth as the son of Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III - the spiritual leader of the world's 20 million Ismaili Muslims in 25 countries. He held French, Iranian and Swiss passports and was educated at Harvard.

Despite the luxury associated with his famous family, he also maintained that his lack of roots helped him to empathise with the plight of the displaced. "If you cannot help the poor, you cannot save the rich," he once said.

Sadruddin was married for five years to a model, Nina Dyer, and their divorce in 1962 hit the headlines. But he soon shed the playboy image and, on the whole, managed to avoid the gossip that dogged many members of the dynasty. He shunned the racehorses, fast cars and diamonds favoured by his half-brother, Aly, who wed the actress Rita Hayworth and was the father of Karim - the Aga Khan IV.

Sadruddin and his Greek-born second wife, Catherine Sursock, were familiar figures on the Geneva social scene. He was passionate about Islamic art and archaeology, as well as promoting understanding between different cultures.

At his Chŕteau de Bellerive on the shores of Lake Geneva, he amassed a huge collection of priceless paintings, drawings and manuscripts from Turkey, Iran and India, dating from the 14th century.

Sadruddin is survived by his wife, Catherine, and three stepsons, as well as his nephews, the Aga Khan and Prince Amyn Aga Khan.