10/07/2016, 18.00
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António Guterres to be the new UN secretary-general

The UN Security Council on Wednesday picked the former High Commissioner for Refugees and former Portuguese prime minister as the next head of the United Nations Secretariat.

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Security Council nominated Portuguese António Guterres, a Catholic, as the new secretary-general of the United Nations. The nomination must now be ratified by the General Assembly, probably on 13 October.

If confirmed, on 1st January 2017 Guterres, 67, will take over from Ban Ki-moon, whose second term expires on 31 December. Previously, Guterres headed the UN refugee agency from 2005 to 2015.

Expectations that a woman might be appointed for the first time as the UN’s top diplomat, as proposed recently by some member states, were not met.

Elected leader of Portugal’s Socialist Party in 1992, Guterres served as the country’s prime minister from 1995 to 2002. From 1999 to 2005, he chaired the Socialist International.

Unexpectedly, Security Council permanent members Russia and China agreed on his name; until a few days ago, the two seemed to have differing views about it.

"I am Catholic. What I believe is my motivation is a certain story in the gospel called the 'Parable of the talents'. . . I feel that it is my obligation to use my abilities to address urgent concerns," he is quoted as saying in The Wire.

Such openness about religious beliefs is new for the United Nations. Traditionally, the world body has always kept its distance from various religious denominations, inspired by secular universal values ​​shared by all.

The new secretary pledged to serve especially "those that are most vulnerable: the victims of conflict, of terrorism, the victims of the violation of rights, the victims of poverty and injustices."

One of the most pressing issues is the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said Guterres must "return leadership to the United Nations" to address this and other urgent crises.

Guterres also promised to ensure gender parity at the United Nations -- a tall order given that women currently hold only 25 per cent of its senior leadership positions.

Many expect that a woman will be appointed at the UN's number two post, that of deputy secretary-general.

The decision to choose the Portuguese politician has not pleased everyone. For the head of a human rights NGO in Geneva – who requested anonymity – Guterres is not the best choice. He is a man of many words but little action. As Portugal’s prime minister, he said he would end corruption in politics and the public service, but failed to deliver.

For the human rights activist, somebody more decisive would have been better to meet urgent crises like those in Syria, South Sudan and Somalia.

The new Secretary General will also face the delicate question of reforming the United Nations with respect to the General Assembly's power, the veto power in the Security Council, and the representation of different nations.

Many hope to see reforms implemented by 2020.

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