New UN head praised as compassionate, competent

Former Portuguese prime minister a vocal advocate for refugees.

October 7, 2016 03:52
4 minute read.

UN selection of Antonio Guterres for secretary general

UN selection of Antonio Guterres for secretary general


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NEW YORK – The Security Council passed a resolution on Thursday recommending that Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres be appointed the next secretary- general of the UN.

The General Assembly is expected to meet next week to approve Guterres, 67, to replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea. Ban will step down at the end of 2016 after serving two terms.

Guterres brings significant UN experience to the post, having served from June 2005 to December 2015 as UN high commissioner for refugees, an organization with nearly 10,000 staff members in 125 countries.

During his tenure, Guterres had to deal with the largest refugee crisis in decades, particularly as the Syrian war unfolded.

The UNHCR’s volume of activities tripled during his time in office as the number of refugees and displaced people worldwide reached an all-time high of some 65 million.

“Refugees have the right to be protected, there is such a thing as international law,” Guterres said during a speech in December.

“To be absolutely honest, If I was in the same situation and I was brave enough to do it [flee my country], I think I would have done the same.”

Guterres stressed that taking in refugees is an international responsibility. During the December speech, he also commented on US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim entering the United States.

“If you say in the US or in any European country ‘we are going to close our doors to refugees,’ what you are saying is the best possible help for the propaganda of terrorist organizations,” he said.

Before joining UNHCR, Guterres spent more than 20 years in government and public service in his home country of Portugal.

He served as a socialist member of the Portuguese parliament for 17 years and a member of the Portuguese Council of State for 11 years. During that time he was elected prime minister of Portugal and held that office from 1995 to 2002.

He briefly presided over the European Council in 2000, where he lead the adoption of the “Lisbon Agenda,” an economic development plan for the European Union.

In April, Guterres – who is fluent in Portuguese, English, French and Spanish – delivered his vision statement to the General Assembly, as is required of all candidates for the secretary- general post.

In the document, Guterres identified what he saw as the UN’s main challenges for the next decade. Among them were: ensuring peace and security, promoting sustainable development, protecting human rights and delivering humanitarian aid.

“In times of insecurity, when people feel uncertain about their future, when anxieties and fears are promoted and exploited by political populists, old-fashioned nationalists or religious fundamentalists, the success of the UN and the international community lies in our common commitment to our common values,” he wrote. “The UN must be proud of its diversity. A diversity that only enriches the strength of the expression of our common humanity.”

In January during a speech given in Rome, current Secretary- General Ban, said of his successor, “We worked closely together during his long and outstanding service as UN high commissioner for refugees. He showed deep compassion for the millions of people who have been forced from their homes.

He worked around the clock to mount effective operations to come to their assistance.”

Ban said that as the former prime minister of Portugal, Guterres had “wide knowledge of world affairs” and a “lively intellect” which will serve him well in leading the UN.

He added that Guterres has “a special responsibility to include, support and empower the world’s women and girls.”

Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon wished Guterres luck in his new position and said, “The State of Israel hopes, and expects, that the UN under his leadership will act in the spirit of its founding principles as a fair body able to differentiate between good and evil and will end its obsession with Israel. I hope that this change in leadership will bring an end to the organization’s hostility toward the Jewish state.”

Congratulatory statements from world leaders poured in on Twitter on Thursday. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said Guterres’s “experience, knowledge and compassion position him as an ideal candidate” for his new role.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that Guterres is “an outstanding candidate with all the qualities and experience to do the job.”

“I had the pleasure of speaking to Antonio this morning to congratulate him on behalf of the United Kingdom and emphasized our commitment to working closely with him in the years ahead,” Johnson added.

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini congratulated the new secretary- general, calling him “a good friend, man of vision, heart and action.”

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