Antonio Guterres Recommended as Next UN Secretary-General

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Oct. 6, 2016 – The Security Council on Thursday made a recommendation to the General Assembly to appoint Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres as the next and ninth UN secretary-general.

The move came after Wednesday’s sixth straw ballot which saw Guterres, 67, emerge as the clear winner with no opposition among the 15 Council members. He will take office on January 1 after a formal vote by the General Assembly.

Guterres will be the first former prime minister to take the helm at the United Nations having headed Portugal’s government from 1995-2002 as leader of the Socialist party. From 2005-2015 he was head of the UN refugee agency, winning wide praise for his stewardship during the agency’s biggest refugee crisis.

Guterres will also be the first UN secretary-general from a NATO-member country. Portugal was a founding member of the alliance.

Although he led all straw ballots, his victory will be regarded by many as a surprise given the widely held view that it was time for a woman to lead the organization after eight successive male secretaries-general. It was also expected that the next UN chief should hail from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post.

Guterres qualified as an electrical engineer in 1971 but soon became involved in politics and was involved in Catholic youth movements. A committed Catholic to this day, he recently cited the Biblical “parable of the talents” [Matthew:25] as the reason why he entered the race for the UN’s top job. He cited the same parable in a 2005 interview with the Migration Policy Institute.

During interviews with the General Assembly in April, Guterres mooted introducing a Global Tax to fund humanitarian efforts, telling delegates that the UN and international financial organizations need to find ways for humanitarian efforts to be “funded by global funding sources,” such as fees on plane tickets and financial transactions.

In his lengthy vision statement submitted to the UN General Assembly back in April, Guterres called for a surge in diplomacy as a preventive tool, greater accountability in the UN system, and gender parity in senior posts.

While there is little doubt that he has the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide the UN as it confronts multiple crises, some views he held as prime minister will cause unease at Turtle Bay and beyond.

In a 1995 interview with Portuguese television, he said that “homosexuality is not an aspect I particularly like.” He was not questioned about his current views on sexual orientation during the General Assembly hearings and his views may have evolved in the twenty years since. Ban Ki-moon has been widely hailed for consistently speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guterres too was opposed to legalizing abortion during his term as prime minister, campaigning actively in a referendum that successfully overturned a parliamentary vote that legalized the procedure. He was also reportedly in favor of a law that sent women who had an abortion to prison.

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Guterres expressed his ‘gratitude and humility.’

“To describe what I’m feeling at this moment, I just need two words: humility and gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude firstly towards the members of the Security Council for the confidence in me, but also gratitude towards the General Assembly of the United Nations and all its member states for having decided in an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

– Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Race for Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

Feb. 22, 2016 – There are now six official candidates to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Four of the six declared candidates hail from the Balkans with the former Yugoslav countries hedging that strong trade links with Russia, as well as EU membership in the case of Croatia and Slovenia, and EU accession status, in the case of Macedonia and Montenegro, could see them bridge the West-Russia divide in the UN and get the support of both.

Besides Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Slovenia’s Danilo Turk and Montenegro’s Igor Lusik, the two other candidates are Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Bokova, the current director-general of UNESCO, was nominated earlier this month by the Bulgarian government despite much speculation that her compatriot Kristalina Georgieva was Sofia’s favored candidate – the EU budget commissioner is also favored by the Western P5 countries, Britain, France and the US.

But all is not lost for Georgieva as the candidate process does not rule out a UN member state nominating two candidates nor does it stipulate that a candidate has to be nominated by their country of citizenship.

The sixth and most recent declared candidate is Moldova’s Natalia Gherman. UN Tribune was first to write about Gherman as a potential successor to Ban Ki-moon, noting back in April 2015 that Moldova’s strong ties with Russia, its non-membership of NATO, as well as her own pro-EU outlook, could see her emerge as a compromise candidate.

Gherman is scheduled to speak at New York’s Columbia University next week and it is interesting to note in her bio she lists fluency in English, German, Romanian and Russian – but not French, an unofficial requirement of UN secretaries-general. But there’s little reason for her to worry about this as it’s widely known that Ban Ki-moon was taking intensive French classes after his election, and French-languaue reporters still like to test him on his proficiency.

There are no clear favorites yet to succeed Ban and the list of candidates is sure to increase but what is clear so far is that the next secretary-general will come from Eastern Europe – there is no requirement as such but it is the only region not to have had a secretary-general and there is wide agreement in the general membership, if not the P5, that it is Eastern Europe’s turn – and that the UN may well elect its first female secretary-general.

Update: Feb 29, 2016 – Former UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres has been nominated by the Portuguese government. Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal and served as UN refugee chief from 2005-15, during the worst refugee crisis in UNHCR’s history. The Portuguese government made the announcement on Monday. He is the first candidate to be nominated by a non-Eastern European member state and his candidacy, while popular, is likely to face stiff resistance from veto-wielding Russia.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Three Women, One Man in Race for Top UN Refugee Post

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Oct. 23, 2015 – Among the candidates to take over from Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as the next high commissioner for refugees is Sania Nishtar, a cardiologist, former government minister and founder of a healthcare NGO in her native Pakistan.

Sania Nishtar UNHCR candidate
Nishtar is the only non-European of the four candidates who have applied for the job and agreed to answer five questions posed by the International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), a global network of NGO’s with a long history of work on forced displacement issues.

She told ICVA that while candidates for top UN posts typically come from donor countries, selecting a candidate from the world’s top refugee hosting country would send a signal that all stakeholders matter and it would be empower the most affected countries to contribute.

Nishtar said her first refugee experience was in 1979 when relatives from Afghanistan arrived to stay with her family in Peshawar.

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The CEO of Save the Children International, Jasmine Whitbread, who holds dual UK and Swiss nationality, told ICVA that with many donor countries facing an influx of refugees for the first time, there is an “unparalleled opportunity to re-frame the issue for good.”

“I believe that the very difficulties of the situation we are facing may prove the galvanising force for change we need,” Whitbread said. “UNHCR is well placed to help catalyse this movement, and I would aim to bring all my experience and skills to bear to ensure we do not miss this opportunity.”

She also said UNHCR must throw its full weight behind breaking down the artficial divide between humanitarian and development work.

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Former Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, told ICVA that if she gets the post she would continue the good work started by Guterres on supporting stateless people. She noted that while much of the attention of UNHCR’s work is on refugees and the internally displaced, there are some 10 million people without citizenship.

Thorning-Schmidt also said she was concerned that even though thee are twice as many internally displaced people as refugees, they are not afforded the same protection.

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Filippo Grandi, the former head of the UN Relief and Works Agency, noted that his humanitarian experience dates back to the early 1990s including in Iraq, DRC and Afghanistan.

The Italian, who as head of UNRWA was responsible for the welfare of five million Palestinian refugees, also told ICVA that the high commissioner, as a senior adviser to the secretary-general, is “an important participant in the global discussions on conflict prevention and resolution, sustainable development, human rights and climate change.”

He noted that funding will continue to be a challenge for the refugee agency with only 12 governments providing over 80 percent of UNHCR’s funding.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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