Security Council backs Portugal’s Guterres as UN chief

Agence France-Presse
Security Council backs Portugal’s Guterres as UN chief
Applause rang out in the chamber as the council recommended Guterres for a five-year term from January 1, diplomats at the session say

UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council on Thursday, October 6, unanimously backed Antonio Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal who was the UN’s refugee chief for a decade, to be the next secretary-general.

During a closed-door meeting, the 15 council members adopted a resolution formally presenting Guterres as their choice to be the world’s diplomat-in-chief.

Applause rang out in the chamber as the council recommended Guterres for a five-year term from January 1, diplomats at the session told the Agence France-Presse.

The 67-year-old socialist politician, who will be the first former head of government to lead the United Nations, has pledged to revamp the global diplomatic body to boost its peacemaking efforts and promote human rights.

Guterres, who was in Lisbon on Thursday, was due to make a statement at 1600 GMT.

A vote by the General Assembly’s 193 member-states to endorse the successor to Ban Ki-moon is expected next week, probably on Thursday.

The unanimous backing for Guterres followed an informal vote on Wednesday during which 13 of the 15 members supported his candidacy and none of the five veto-holding powers blocked him.

Speaking in Rome, Ban hailed Guterres as a “superb choice”, saying that “his wide knowledge of world affairs and lively intellect will serve him well in leading the UN in a critical period.”

The outcome however confounded some UN diplomats who did not expect such an outspoken candidate with strong political experience to win support from the permanent council members: Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.

Speaks his mind

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, this month’s council president, told reporters after the vote that Guterres was a “great choice”.

As UN high commissioner for refugees, a post he held until December, Guterres traveled the world and saw “some of the most gruesome conflicts we have to deal with,” he said.

Churkin cited his experience as prime minister and described him as “a person who talks to everybody, speaks his mind, a very outgoing, open person.”

Guterres will be confronted with a long list of pressing world crises when he takes over in January along with demands for sweeping reform of the world body, seen as clunky and too slow to respond to emergencies.

The war in Syria, now its sixth year, has raged on as the council has been bogged down in deep divisions between Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, and Western powers supporting opposition rebels.

With a record 65 million people displaced globally, the United Nations has been struggling to provide humanitarian aid and ensure that the rights of refugees are protected.

Peacekeeping operations, at the heart of the United Nations’ mandate, have been clouded by a string of allegations of sexual abuse by the blue helmets sent to protect civilians in Africa.

Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said Guterres must “return leadership to the United Nations” to address so many urgent crises.

“The role of the UN has never been as important as it is today and for that Mr Guterres is the right leader,” said Ambassador Francois Delattre of France, which strongly backed Guterres throughout his campaign.

More women at the UN ?

Guterres, who served as prime minister from 1995 to 2002, won the number-one spot in all of the informal votes held by the Security Council.

There were 13 candidates in the race, two of whom dropped out, including seven women who stepped into the fray amid calls from civil society and some countries for a first woman to take up the top post, after eight men.

Guterres has promised to ensure gender parity at the United Nations — a tall order given that women currently hold only 25 percent of its senior leadership positions.

Expectations are that a woman will be appointed to be the UN’s number two, its deputy secretary-general.

With the arrival of a new secretary-general, the world body is headed for a shakeup of its top positions, which have traditionally been held by nationals from the powerful countries on the Security Council.

Churkin on Thursday addressed speculation that Russia had traded its support for Guterres in exchange for a Russian-backed appointee to a plum post, possibly as head of the UN’s political affairs department.

“There were no under-the-table deals,” he said. “There were questions asked. No direct promises given.” –

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