By Rodney Reynolds
Antonio Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002) who was sworn in as the ninth UN Secretary-General, will preside over a 71-year-old Secretariat which is badly in need of institutional reforms, including the break-up of a longstanding monopoly of male-dominated high ranking appointments, described as an exclusive preserve of major powers.
Asked about his priorities in the first 100 days of his administration, beginning January 1, he told reporters: “I think that one very important element of the agenda will be to give a clear signal that gender parity is a must.”
“And so, in the appointments I’ll be making, and the first ones will be announced soon, you will see that gender parity will become a clear priority from top to bottom in the UN. And it will have to be respected by all,” he declared, hours after his inauguration on December 12.
The widespread speculation is the likely appointment of a woman from the developing world as the new Deputy Secretary-General (DSG).
According to Nigeria’s Premium Times, the DSG post has been offered to Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, a former Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on post-2015 development planning.
“We are hoping for a significant number of women in his management team,” an Asian diplomat told IDN, “at least at the level of Under-Secretaries-General,” the third highest ranking position at the UN.
He also pointed out there is a longstanding General Assembly resolution which calls for 50:50 gender parity on appointments at decision-making levels. But that resolution is still to be implemented, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
When Guterres announced his five-member transition team last October, he got off to a flying start, with three women and two men.
The three women were: Kyung-wha Kang (Republic of Korea), Transition Team Chief, currently Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; Melissa Fleming (USA), Senior Advisor/Spokesperson, and currently Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner at UNHCR; and Michelle Gyles-McDonnough (Jamaica), Senior Advisor and currently Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director Designate for Asia and the Pacific.
The two men in the team were João Madureira (Portugal), Senior Advisor and currently Minister Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Portugal to the UN and Radhouane Nouicer (Tunisia), Senior Advisor and currently Regional Advisor for the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis.
Guterres also told reporters that he wants to mobilize the entire UN system to achieve the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
“This is a very ambitious agenda, an agenda that must be an agenda for both women and men, and that is why parity is so important in our reform perspectives and that is why the empowerment of women is so important in everything the UN will be doing around the world.”
Speaking at a political level, Guterres said the current crop of political and military conflicts – including in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan — have become more complex — and interlinked — than ever before.”
Guterres, who held the post of UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years, beginning 2005, said they produce horrific violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.
“People have been forced to flee their homes on a scale unseen in decades. And a new threat has emerged – global terrorism,” said Guterres, who will succeed Ban Ki-moon who ends his 10-year tenure on December 31.
Pledging to be an “honest broker” in resolving crises, Guterres offered to be personally involved in conflict resolution.
George A. Lopez, who holds the Hesburgh Chair in Peace Studies, emeritus, at the University of Notre Dame and who has written extensively on UN-related issues, told IDN that Guterres comes to his new position hailed by many as a ‘diplomat’s diplomat’ and by others as a seasoned UN executive who knows well the complex organization’s potential and limitations.
“Given the crises he faces on January 1, 2017, Mr. Guterres will need each attribute – and then some – to increase the UN’s impact as a force for peace, security and human rights.”
In the UN’s mandate of violence reduction and brokering peace, the immediate conditions and potential leverage of the Secretary General move from bad to worse, said Lopez, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts monitoring sanctions on North Korea.
In Syria, he said, the UN voice will not reduce the brutality, but Guterres might be able to exploit how UN humanitarian work could carve out more space at critical junctures of ceasefires.
“Of immediate concern must be the brewing genocidal conditions in South Sudan and Burundi that will require significant UN involvement.”
Then there is need for UN greater peace brokering in the protracted violence in Libya, Yemen and Central African Republic.
Finally, with the new round of punishing sanctions adopted on November 30 by the UN Security Council the nuclear stand-off between North Korea and the international community may create space for Guterres to stimulate a revitalization of the Six Party talks to replicate how sanctions leverage led to the successful Iran nuclear agreement, he noted.
After the swearing in ceremony, Guterres told the 193-member General Assembly: “Twenty-one years ago, when I took the oath of office to become Prime Minister of Portugal, the world was riding a wave of optimism.’
“The Cold War had ended; and some described that as the end of history. They believed we would live in a peaceful, stable world with economic growth and prosperity for all.”
But the end of the Cold War wasn’t the end of history, he declared. On the contrary, history had simply been frozen in some places. When the old order melted away, history came back with a vengeance, he added.
“I remember when I was in school and I was reading history books; all wars had a winner. We are now facing wars in which nobody wins. Everybody’s losing.”
And if you look at the Syria crisis, the Syria crisis is not only a tragedy for the Syrian people that is suffering in a horrible way, and the Syrian people that I will never forget was extremely generous hosting refugees from around the country in an extremely open and positive way, the Secretary-General designate declared.
Lopez told IDN that as UN chief executive, Guterres’ challenges are pressing.
First, many UN members expected this year’s election to produce the first female Secretary General.
Although recognized as a promoter of more women being placed in UN high-level executive positions, he will be under special scrutiny to deliver on this early and often.
Second, the scandal of UN peacekeepers engaged in rape, child abuse and victimization of women is now compounded by compromises in full reporting and dealing with these crimes.
Third, facing an unprecedented global refugee crisis, Guterres must build new capacity and political will in the UN and among member states, even in the face of exclusionary sentiments of the latter.
“Much of Guterres success in any area will rest on his ability to bargain effectively with the Security Council’s permanent five members, chief among them the U.S.,” said Lopez.
The people nominated to foreign affairs positions by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump [with UN Ambassador designate Nikki Haley possibly the lone exception] continue to be hostile to the UN and to expansive multilaterialism for promoting peace and human rights, he pointed out.
“Thus Guterres’ greatest challenge will be persuading Trump that America can never be great again without its constructive role in the UN,” declared Lopez.