Kofi Annan
Kofi AnnanReuters

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan on Thursday was appointed to serve as the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis.

Annan's appointment was announced jointly by his successor, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and Arab League Secretary-General Nabeel Al Araby.

The announcement said Annan carries a mandate to work to bring an end "all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis."

It added Annan will work internationally and in Syria to bring "a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition."

Last week, the UN General Assembly asked Ban to support the Arab League's efforts to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis, including through appointment of a special envoy to Syria.

Annan's appointment reportedly came after Ban failed to find a high-level Arab acceptable to both sides. Anan is a veteran mediator who, in 2001, was jointly awarded with United Nations (U.N.) he ran a Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world".

Ban's decision to appoint Annan came the day before a major international conference in Tunisia, which is expected to gather together over 70 senior officials from nations and international organizations.

The conference comes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shells rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs for the 21'st straight day, with rights observers reporting "hundreds" have been killed.

Assad's brutal crackdown on anti-regime demonstrations has now been ongoing for over a year with rights groups estimating civilian deaths have risen "past 7,300."

However, UN Human Rights officials stopped trying to ascertain the civilian death toll in Syria in January due to the increasing instability and unrest. Their last official count was "over 5,400."

A major point of discussion at the conference between major powers is expected to be plugging Asian, Eastern European, and Russian loopholes in sanctions targeting Assad's regime.

Both China and Russia, with billions of dollars in trade agreements tied to Assad's regimes, have repeatedly stymied international efforts to impose universal sanctions in the Security Council.

Russia has said it will not attend Friday's conference.

Annan, 73, served as the UN's secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. The UN he left behind was more aggressively engaged in peacekeeping and fighting poverty, but also marred by a scandal over the UN-run oil-for-food program for humanitarian relief in Iraq.

He was also locked in a lengthy imbroglio with US officials and lawmakers who demanded reforms in the UN Secretariat aimed at achieving greater budgetary transparency and fiscal accountability.

After leaving the UN, Annan was suggested as a candidate to be president in his native Ghana – a position he declined. He did however remain active in several African organizations.

In 2008, Annan participated in negotiations to end civil unrest in Kenya following disputed elections and mediated agreement on a coalition government.