On January 1st, 2017 António Guterres took helm of the UN, having successfully served the second-longest term as High Commissioner in UNHCR’s history after Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan.
As the 9th United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres is a worthy successor to Ban Ki-moon. But where Ban’s focus was climate change, Guterres’s will be war.
In a rare show of unity, all 15 ambassadors from the Security Council of the United Nations emerged from the sixth in a series of straw polls to announce that they had agreed unanimously and by acclamation, on António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal.
Guterres said his priority at the UN will be a “surge in diplomacy for peace” and issued an appeal for peace on his first day – New Year’s Day.
“I think we are living in a world where we see a multiplication of new conflicts, and you see an enormous difficulty in solving the conflicts.
There is a clear lack of capacity in the international community to prevent and to solve conflicts.”
What’s needed, is a new “diplomacy for peace” which requires discreet diplomatic contacts and shuttling among key players in conflicts and disputes.
The secretary general should also engage as much as possible and act with humility to try to create the conditions for member states that are the crucial actors in any process to be able to come together and overcome their differences.”
– António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General
Meritocratic approach to the appointment of the new United Nations Secretary-General
Mr Guterres won his position not through usual back room deals, but through an open contest where, as an experienced politician, he was able to outshine rivals from technocratic backgrounds. The veteran politician and diplomat, won unanimous backing from the UN Security Council. It had been the consensus that the job should go to a woman – for the first time – and that she should come from Eastern Europe. But there was no real competition to a man who has served as prime minister of Portugal (the first government leader to hold the top UN job) and then as a forceful and passionate UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Guterres’ elevation follows what has for the United Nations been the most transparent process of nomination and public debate to date.
In that job he started by cutting headquarters costs by some 20 per cent, arguing that the money should be spent on the refugees. He managed to raise funds while criticising the major donors – both the United Sates and the Europeans – over the failings of refugee policies.
“The result is a triumph for the more open, inclusive and meritocratic process,” says 1 for 7 Billion which has worked hard to achieve openness and transparency at the UN. The nomination of Mr Guterres shows that the UN Security Council could not ignore the widespread call for merit to prevail over regional considerations and the political interests of Council members. This new UN-style glasnost has the advantage of lending Guterres added authority as he prepares to step into Ban Ki-moon’s shoes.
“Guterres was not seen as a frontrunner at the beginning of the race. He was “wrong” in terms gender and region, but was widely considered to have done well in his General Assembly dialogue and in other events, with many commenting on his experience and ability to inspire.”
– Natalie Samarasinghe, co-founder of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign
Antonio Guterres thanked the UN Security Council for nominating him and said he will serve the most vulnerable of the world’s citizens.
“To describe what I feel at the moment two words are sufficient: gratitude and humility.
Gratitude first of all in relation to the members of the Security Council for the confidence they have expressed, but also to the General Assembly and to all member states for having decided an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”
– António Guterres,
following his appointment as the new UN Secretary-General
A. Focus on Peace & Culture of Conflict Prevention
Guterres said his priority at the UN will be a “surge in diplomacy for peace.”
To achieve that, he aims to foster a “culture of prevention.”
He wants the UN to act as an “honest broker, bridge-builder and messenger for peace,” and to focus on preventing crises rather than managing them after they occur.
For this to work, Guterres said there needs to be strong partnerships among regional organisations, international financial institutions and the private sector.
B. Focus on Gender Parity
Guterres, won election as UN chief despite calls from some member states for a woman to be chosen for the first time in the organisation’s 71-year history, has announced that Nigeria’s environment minister, Amina Mohammed, will be his deputy and appointed two other women to key leadership posts.
Guterres has made achieving gender parity at the world body a priority of his tenure, which began on 1 January. Women currently fill less than one in four leadership positions at the UN.
Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, a senior Brazilian foreign ministry official, will serve as Guterres’s chief of staff, and Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea has been appointed to the new position of special adviser on policy.
C. Refocus on Refugees
Guterres spent a decade as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.
During this time, he oversaw the most profound overhaul in the refugee agency’s history and built up its ability to respond to the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, as millions of Syrians and others fleeing war and poverty fled to Turkey and western Europe.
He led the UN response to Syria’s civil war, the European migration crisis, the 2014 conflict in eastern Ukraine between separatists and the national government, the Gaza conflict with Israel in 2009 and the aftermath of natural disasters, including the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 250,000.
“He’s not a quiet voice. He’s a forceful outspoken leader on the global stage, and that’s something the UN needs,” said Peter Yeo, president of Better World Campaign, which promotes a strong US-UN relationship.
About António Guterres
António Guterres, is a former Prime Minister of Portugal and took over as the United Nations’ new Secretary-General on Monday morning following the approval of the 193-member UN General Assembly on October 13, 2016, as was formally and unanimously recommended by Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, president of the 15-member Security Council.
Guterres is a member of the Club of Madrid, an independent non-profit organization composed of democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 57 different countries, and which works to strengthen democratic institutions and leadership.
In May 2005 Guterres was elected High Commissioner for Refugees by the UN General Assembly. As High Commissioner, he headed one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations, which at the end of his term had more than 10,000 staff working in 126 countries providing protection and assistance to over 60 million refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and stateless persons. His time in office was marked by a fundamental organizational reform, cutting staff and administrative costs and expanding UNHCR’s emergency response capacity during the worst displacement crisis since the Second World War.
During his second mandate as High Commissioner, he worked chiefly to secure international aid for the refugees of the Syrian civil war, calling the refugee crisis an “existential” one for host countries (such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey), and describing additional aid as a “matter of survival” for the refugees. He left office on 31 December 2015, having successfully served the second-longest term as High Commissioner in the organization’s history, after Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. He was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015.
Discover, Explore & Learn more via UN | Biography | António Guterres
Thirteen people were nominated in the race to become the next U.N. chief, but three had already withdrawn before the secret ballot. In a bid for more transparency in the opaque selection process, the candidates were for the first time able to make election campaign-style pitches to the General Assembly.
Seven of the candidates for secretary-general were women amid a push by civil society groups and a third of the 193 U.N. member states for the first female U.N. chief in the 71-year history of the world body, which has had eight male leaders.
The WomanSG lobby group described the win by Guterres as “a disaster for equal rights and gender equality” and said it was an outrage that it appeared the female candidates were “never seriously considered.”
When Guterres spoke to the General Assembly in April of 2016, he said he was a candidate to become secretary-general because “the best place to address the root cause of human suffering is at the center of the U.N. system.” He spoke in English, French and Spanish during the two-hour long town hall meeting. Guterres pledged to present a roadmap for gender parity at all levels of the United Nations if elected.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft paid tribute to all the candidates and in particular the women.
“Although it’s high time for a woman … the most important thing for the UK was the qualities of leadership of this position,” he told reporters.
He said Guterres was the person to “provide a convening power and a moral authority at a time when the world is divided on issues, above all like Syria.”
“In the end, there was just a candidate whose experience, vision, and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters.
“If we have these trans national threats and we don’t have somebody at the helm of the United Nations that can mobilize coalitions, that can make the tools of this institution … work better for people, that’s going to be more pain and more suffering and more dysfunction than we can afford,” she said.
The U.N. Director at Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, said: “Ultimately, the next U.N. secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way.”
Just as the UN seemed fated to sink into irrelevance for its impotence to heal the bleeding wound of the Syria crisis, here comes a brave operator with a record of bridge-building dating as far back to the Portuguese revolution of 1974. The new UN Secretary-General has pledged to move away from fear and focus on rebuilding trust globally.
Portuguese officials have welcomed the choice as an honour for the country and a triumph for Portuguese diplomacy.
Discover, Explore & Learn more via:
- 1 for 7 billion | Guterres poised to become next Secretary-General
- CBC | World | Portugal’s Antonio Guterres chosen as UN secretary general
- CNBC | Politics | Portugal’s Guterres poised to be next UN Secretary-General
- Graphiq | Visualizations Related to A Timeline of UN Secretaries General
- Global News Network Liberia | GNN Personality Of The Week – Profile Of Pending UN Secretary General, Antonio Manuel de Oliverira Guterres
- Open Democracy | 50.50 Inclusive Democracy | Redressing the UN’s gender gap: how do the SG contenders compare?
- Reuters | Politics Special Report | As refugee crisis grows, U.N. agency faces questions
- The Conversation | How the UN ended up with António Guterres as its new secretary-general
- The Guardian | António Guterres to be next UN secretary general
- The Guardian | Next UN chief names three women to senior posts
- The Guardian | The new UN secretary general’s biggest priority must be Syria
- The National (UAE) | Guterres is a good fit for an uncomfortable world
- The Portugal News Online | UN confirms former PM Guterres as new secretary-general
- TVNZ | New UN Secretary-General Guterres ‘humbled’ by nomination
- UN Dispatch | New UN Secretary General
- UN News Centre | UN’s 2016 Year in Review: Challenges and milestones for the international community
- United Nations | Secretary-General | Biography
- USA Today | U.N. Security Council formally nominates Guterres to be next secretary-general
Research, Insight & Perspective by A. Maherali
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