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Secretary-General from 1 November 1989 - 31 January 1999



Pekka Johannes Tarjanne, of Finland, was a scientist and politician before joining ITU. Born in Stockholm in 1937, at the age of twenty-four he became the youngest doctor of technology in Finland, with a degree from Helsinki University of Technology. He undertook research and teaching in Denmark and the United States before returning to Finland in 1965, where he became professor of theoretical physics first at the University of Oulu, then at the University of Helsinki. Tarjanne was President of the Finnish Liberal Party from 1968 to 1978 and was a member of parliament from 1970 to 1977. He served as Minister of Transport and Communications as well as Minister responsible for Nordic cooperation. From 1977, Tarjanne was Director-General of Posts and Telecommunications of Finland and presided over the restructuring and deregulation of the sector.

In 1989, Tarjanne was elected Secretary-General of ITU by the Plenipotentiary Conference in Nice. He was re-elected by the conference in Kyoto in 1994. Believing that access to communications is a basic human right, throughout his tenure he spearheaded efforts to promote widespread access to information technologies, especially in developing countries.

Tarjanne also promoted the improvement of emergency telecommunications. Along with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), ITU was a driving force in drafting and promoting the first global treaty on the issue. The Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Relief and Mitigation and Relief Operations was adopted in 1998 in Tampere, Finland, and went into effect on 8 January 2005.

Another important challenge was to increase the private sector’s involvement in ITU, which Tarjanne saw as fundamental to ensuring ITU’s responsiveness to industry. His efforts were rewarded in 1998 when the Plenipotentiary Conference in Minneapolis accorded wider rights and obligations to private-sector members.

Perhaps Tarjanne’s most important legacy, however, was the restructuring of ITU itself. Following a decision by the conference in Nice, Tarjanne led work to match the Union’s organisation to the demands it faced. Speaking of this reform he said:

Throughout its long history, ITU has shown an amazing capacity to adapt — not only to technological change, but also to changing economic, social and political circumstances. I like to think that this resilience is due to the fact that ITU really is… a unique and irreplaceable part of the international community.

The result was a decision by the 1992 Additional Plenipotentiary Conference in Geneva to streamline ITU into three Sectors: Telecommunication Standardization, Radiocommunication, and Telecommunication Development – the structure that endures to this day.