Introducing Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General to be

Thalif Deen, courtesy of Sunday Times, 10 October 2016, where the title reads New UN Chief: “Secretary” to the P5 – “General” to the Rest of the World” … Note that the highlihghting emphasis below is my imposition Editor, Thuppahi. 

When the 15-member Security Council decided, by acclamation, to recommend Antonio Guterres of Portugal as the new UN Secretary-General (UNSG), it also torpedoed two proposals on the negotiating table: a woman as the first UNSG, or in the alternative, an Eastern European as the first UNSG. But both proposals fell by the wayside as the Security Council opted for another Western European: the fourth UNSG from an over-represented geographical region, beginning with Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953), Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961) and Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981).

alchetron-com-unhcr-chief1 Guterres as UNHCR chief –Pic at

The recommendation of the Security Council will go before the 193-member General Assembly for approval later this week. The Assembly has traditionally rubber-stamped the recommendations of the Security Council at every election of a UN chief—and never raised any objections to the single name submitted.

The decision of the Council to ignore the claims of six women candidates (two dropped out earlier in the race) has been dismissed by some as “sexist” in an institution which preaches gender empowerment to the world at large but fails to practice it in its own backyard. And in the 71-year-old world body, member states have elected only three women as Presidents of the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN. And that’s a ratio of three to 68 men voted annually for a one-year term.

Still, one of the women candidates Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, a former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), responded by describing the election of Guterres as “bitter sweet”—Bitter: Not a Woman. Sweet: By far the best man in the race.”

The Council – which has remained sharply divided and paralyzed over the devastating five-year old civil war in Syria, the relentless bombing of civilians in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition and the continued nuclear tests by North Korea – displayed rare unanimity, however, when it unanimously voted in favour of the former Prime Minister of Portugal.

A member of the country’s Socialist Party, Guterres proved his credentials as an international civil servant when he served for 10 years, until December 2015, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, holding the rank of Under-Secretary-General (USG).

Despite all the hoopla about transparency in the election of a UN chief, the final decision, as in the past, depended on the five veto-wielding permanent members (P-5) of the Council: the US, UK, France, Russia and China. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a former UN Under-Secretary-General told the Sunday Times: “I am pleased that the P 5 – even at a time of sharp disagreement between US and Russia – agreed that professionalism, competence and integrity matters for the post of SG/UN”.

As a longtime UN watcher said: If you don’t play ball with the P-5 – or cozy up to them – you’d never get the job.  And as someone once rightly pointed out, the Secretary-General really plays a subservient role of a mere “Secretary” to the big powers doing their bidding but asserts his authority as a commanding “General” to the rest of the 188 member states. Perhaps that justifies the title of “Secretary-General,” two titles rolled into one.

And every Secretary-General has to win the goodwill of the P-5 to get another five year extension on the job. But a proposal to make him more independent with a single, seven-year term in office never got off the ground.


Speaking of Guterres, Nandasiri Jasentuliyana, a former Deputy Director General and Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, told the Sunday Times the UN, at last, will be headed by a multilateralist who understands international organizations. “And what a relief from a decades-long colourless and incompetent leadership”. The UN, he said, could not have sustained another decade of mediocracy and rudderless guidance that most of the rest of the candidates would have offered.“It needed some form of independent leadership– at least to the extent that such leadership is tolerated by the five permanent members. And the UN needed a man of stature and it got one,” said Jasentuliyana, a former President of the International Institute of Space Law.

Guterres, 67, will be the ninth UN Secretary-General, the other non-Europeans being U.Thant of Burma, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana and the current incumbent Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will step down on December 31.

The writer can be contacted at

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António Guterres (Portugal): 2005-2015

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One response to “Introducing Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General to be

  1. M.D - medical doctor nguyễn mạnh hùng & phạm thị trâm

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