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Guterres brings experience with refugees to the UN

Author  :  Feng Daimei     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2016-11-02

The UN General Assembly appointed Antonio Guterres, a 67-year-old Portuguese politician and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as next UN Secretary-General on Oct. 13.

The UN General Assembly appointed Antonio Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as next UN Secretary-General on Oct. 13. Recently, a reporter from CSST interviewed Edward Luck, a professor of international relations and public affairs at Columbia University in New York City and former special adviser to the UN Secretary General, to get his perspective on the appointment of Guterres.

CSST: What are your thoughts on the appointment of Guterres as the next UN Secretary-General?

Luck: Guterres is principled and passionate about helping the world’s most vulnerable populations. His decade as High Commissioner for Refugees gave him invaluable experience in dealing with the pressing needs of the people forcibly displaced by conflict, repression and terrorism. It is a good sign that the members of the Security Council came together so quickly to back him. He has worked closely with them over the years and they came to have confidence in him. However, he will not be a miracle worker. The weaknesses and bad habits of the United Nations are deeply engrained, but Guterres has shown that he is a leader who believes deeply in the purposes and principles of the world body.

CSST: Do you think his selection represents a compromise between the US and Russia?

Luck: The more open and rigorous process employed this year to select a new secretary-general put a premium on the capacity of candidates to respond quickly and effectively to questions posed in public forums and by the member states. Because the process was more transparent, it made it less likely that the decision would be made behind closed doors by a compromise among a few powerful countries. Guterres was widely perceived to have been the most impressive candidate throughout the process, even though there had been an effort to encourage female and Eastern European candidates. He received strong support from nonpermanent members in each round of Security Council voting. He has a reputation of being a strong, principled, and outspoken leader—hardly the description of a weak compromise choice between Moscow and Washington.

CSST: What kind of role does the Secretary-General play in the global issues?

Luck: The agenda of the United Nations is largely determined by the Member States, but each SecretaryGeneral has the opportunity to use his or her bully pulpit to highlight certain priorities. Some of these may encourage higher standards of behavior by Member States and non-state actors. From his background, one would expect Guterres to put some emphasis on human protection and humanitarian questions, such as stemming mass displacements and mass atrocities. Dealing with terrorism has to be a priority, as would rebuilding respect for international law and institutions. There are a number of dangerous crises in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Asia to which fresh diplomatic approaches are needed. In recent years, the UN has helped to facilitate global accords on climate change and sustainable development that will require active monitoring and implementation efforts at the national and regional levels. The secretary-general can remain the world’s conscience on such questions as inequalities in income, health, and living standards, as well as a key facilitator of followup agreements.

Editor: Yu Hui

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