With the official UN Secretary Council vote to ratify António Guterres’s nomination as Secretary General, there has been much discussion over the challenges the new UNSG will face. Among Guterres’ various challenges is the problem of the UN’s “moral accountability” to Haitian people affected by the ongoing cholera epidemic. Though the UN has taken several years to acknowledge a need for greater action in Haiti, the cholera epidemic has become a routine topic in the discussion on the new UNSG.
A New Voice for a Complicated World
The Editorial Board, The New York Times
October 5, 2016
By any measure, António Guterres of Portugal is an excellent choice to replace Ban Ki-moon of South Korea as the next United Nations secretary general. He has experience, energy and diplomatic finesse, all of which he’ll need to lead the United Nations as it confronts regional wars, rising tensions between Russia and the West, China’s aggressive posture in Asia and the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.
Against these challenges, the secretary general post has only limited power, and its diplomatic influence is even more attenuated with stateless terrorist groups and insurgencies that cross international borders. A good part of Mr. Guterres’s work will be to figure out how the United Nations, a 193-member body, can navigate a world in which terrorism and war are melded and now are driven by multiple forces.
After leading Portugal as prime minister, Mr. Guterres served as the United Nations high commissioner for refugees for a decade until 2015, dealing with the displacement of millions fleeing wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere by providing food and shelter and finding them refuge in other countries. Mr. Guterres was effective at pressing Western nations to do more to help and at hammering out agreements in difficult circumstances. As the refugee crisis has worsened, it has generated a nationalistic backlash in Europe and the United States. Mr. Guterres’s understanding of the problem and his passionate advocacy for just and compassionate solutions could persuade governments to keep accepting refugees, rather than shut them out.
Wars in the Middle East and elsewhere have eroded confidence in the United Nations’ ability to be a force for peace, its core mission. Mr. Guterres has spoken of intensifying diplomatic efforts to reach peace agreements in Syria, Libya and Yemen. He will need to do that while also seeking to mitigate the dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, overseeing implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, enforcing nuclear sanctions against North Korea and feeding millions of people at risk of starvation.
The demand for peacekeepers in conflict zones is greater than ever, requiring the United Nations to persuade more countries to contribute troops. Its inadequate efforts to stop sexual assaults and other abuses by these troops is a shameful record that Mr. Guterres will have to work hard to correct. He will also have to insist that United Nations officials stay focused on reforming the agencies that failed to respond adequately to the Ebola crisis in 2014 and ensuring a better means of accountability for harm done, like the cholera epidemic caused by United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Though Mr. Guterres had been the front-runner for the job for many months, there were more than a dozen other candidates, including qualified female candidates, especially Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, a European Commission vice president and former World Bank official. In the end, the 15-member Security Council coalesced around Mr. Guterres. An official Council vote ratifying the choice is expected Thursday, with a vote of the General Assembly after that. Mr. Guterres has said he will appoint women to leadership positions, a pledge he must keep.
Mr. Guterres, a forceful personality and an effective political communicator, may become, as Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the United Nations, said, the kind of secretary general “who will provide a convening power and a moral authority at a time when the world is divided on issues, above all like Syria.” If Security Council members permit Mr. Guterres to do that, he may yet restore the mission and reputation of an international institution that is still trying to find its role in a perilous and complicated world.
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