Portugal’s Antonio Guterres likely next UN secretary-general

Sunday 09/10/2016
An April 2016 file photo shows Antonio Guterres as he speaks to reporters on the selection of the next UN Secretary-General at the UN headquarters in New York.

Washington - The UN Security Council voted unanimously in support of Portuguese former prime minister Antonio Guterres to be­come the organisation’s next secre­tary-general. Guterres must be con­firmed by a vote of the UN General Assembly but his approval by the Security Council makes his election all but a certainty.

US Ambassador to the United Na­tions Samantha Power described the vote for Guterres, who has also served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as “remark­ably uncontentious and uncontro­versial”.

If formally confirmed, Guterres would take over from Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general on January 1st. He would be the ninth person to serve in the post.

Given the tensions among Securi­ty Council members, and especially between the United States and Russia over Syria and other issues, Guterres’s uneventful selection was a rare example of consensus. His closest competition was from Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian former budget chief of the Euro­pean Commission. No woman has served as UN secretary-general.

Some non-governmental organi­sations (NGOs) and activist groups had pushed for the selection of a woman as secretary-general and expressed disappointment with the choice of Guterres. WomanSG, an organisation established in 2015 to advocate for the selection of a woman to the United Nations’ top post, said on its website: “There have been eight male secretaries-general but never a female even though women represent half the world’s population.”

Guterres has long experience within the UN system and, as head of UNHCR, has been the organisa­tion’s most vocal advocate for ad­dressing the global refugee crisis. He has argued that the best way to deal with humanitarian crises is through a greater focus on preven­tion.

In an open candidate’s dialogue before the General Assembly last summer, Guterres said: “TV cam­eras are not there when a crisis is avoided and it is difficult for gov­ernments and international or­ganisations to have prevention as a priority… But I believe prevention must be not only a priority but the priority of everything we do.”

In the vision statement that Gu­terres submitted to the General As­sembly in April when he announced his candidacy, he wrote: “Under­standing global mega-trends is cru­cial. We live in times of multiple, evolving and mutually reinforcing shifts. These dynamics, of geo­political, demographic, climatic, technological, social and economic nature, enhance threats and op­portunities on an unprecedented scale.”

On the issue of fighting terrorism, which Guterres also said should be based on a strategy of preven­tion, he wrote: “Force must be used when necessary and in accordance with the UN Charter but let us not forget that it is also a battle for val­ues.”

In comments made in 2015, Gu­terres was highly critical of Europe’s handling of the refugee and migrant influx. He called Europe’s lack of or­ganisation and an “extremely dys­functional” asylum system a major impediment to resolving the crisis.

“To me it is… clear that if Europe would be properly organised, it would be a manageable crisis,” Gu­terres said at a news conference in Paris. “We’re talking about 4,000 or 5,000 people per day in a union that has 508 million people. We had until now 300,000 that crossed the Mediterranean, which is less than one per 1,000 of the European pop­ulation.”

Along with humanitarian crises, Guterres will face a number of sim­mering global conflicts in addition to the Syrian war, including recent tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan.

In his vision statement, he called for “a surge in diplomacy for peace” and promised that if elected he would “exercise his good offices and mediation capacity as an hon­est broker, bridge builder and mes­senger of peace.”

He also will be tasked with over­seeing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate accord.

Jack Leslie, former chairman of USA for UNHCR, an activist group that raises funds in the United States to support the work of UN­HCR, expressed pleasure with Gu­terres’s selection. In an interview with the newswire Devex, Leslie said: “I think the UN needs a real activist… given the political climate that so many countries are facing and the backlash against globalisa­tion.”

Leslie described Guterres as a “terrific guy, a big, strategic think­er and a very solid crisis manager, which, unfortunately, is in great de­mand these days”.