By J Nastranis
Though there are more than two months to go before António Guterres takes over as the United Nations Secretary-General from Ban Ki-moon, he has started preparing himself for the world’s most challenging job.
One day after the 193-member General Assembly appointed him on October 13 as the new Secretary-General for a five-year period, ending December 31, 2021, he has announced the composition of a transition team to prepare for the world’s top diplomatic job.
According to a press release, issued by the UN Spokesperson’s office, the Transition Team will interact with UN officials, Member States and civil society to ensure an informed and smooth transition. The five-member team – three women and two men – comprises nationals of the Republic of Korea (ROK), USA, Jamaica, Portugal and Tunisia.
Kyung-wha Kang from the Republic of Korea heads the team that would stand Guterres in good stead ahead of the assumption of his duties on January 1, 2017. She previously served as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Director General of International Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea. She is currently Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
UN Secretary-General-designate’s Senior Advisor and Spokesperson is Melissa Fleming (USA), the current Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner at UNHCR. She has held leading international communications positions at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with a focus on human rights, conflict prevention and reconciliation: She also worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fon nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security.
All indications are that Fleming would replace Stéphane Dujarric who serves as Spokesman for the outgoing Secretary-General Ban.
Guterres has announced three Senior Advisers in his team. Michelle Gyles-McDonnough (Jamaica), João Madureira (Portugal), and Radhouane Nouicer (Tunisia).
Gyles-McDonnough has practiced privately as a lawyer, served as advisor to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States and has deep development experience within UNDP, including as UN Resident Coordinator for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. She’s currently Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director Designate for Asia and the Pacific.
Madureira has a distinguished career in Portugal’s Diplomatic Service. He is currently Minister Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Portugal to the UN.
Nouicer served at UNHCR for over 18 years in the field and as Director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau. He was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the Tunisian Transitional Government in 2011. He is currently Regional Advisor for the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis.
Guterres, aged 67, was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015. He will become the world’s top diplomat on 1 January 2017, and hold that post for the next five years.
Spelling out his agenda, Guterres thanked the General Assembly for appointing him as the next Secretary-General, adding that he was grateful to the Member States for their trust in him as well as for the transparent and open selection process they undertook.
“I believe this process means that the true winner today is the credibility of the UN. And it also made very clear to me that, as Secretary-General, having been chosen by all Member States, I must be at the service of them all equally and with no agenda but the one enshrined in the UN Charter,” said Guterres.
He also underlined that alleviating the suffering of the vulnerable people, in particular the refugees and those in conflict zones, and gender equality would remain key priorities for him during his tenure.
Secretary-General-designate Guterres also reiterated his belief in the values of peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity, as well as his belief that diversity is a “tremendous asset” and not a threat.
Guterres also applauded the work of the current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and said that he would try his “utmost to honour” Ban’s legacy.
Ten years to the day after his own appointment as Secretary-General, Ban said: “Secretary-General-elect Guterres is well known to all of us in the hall. But he is perhaps best known where it counts most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering,” referring to his time as head of the UN refugee agency.
Noting that he has long valued his advice, and long admired his spirit of service, Ban declared: “He is a wonderful choice to steer this Organization as we build on the progress of the past decade, while addressing the insecurity and uncertainties of today’s world.”
Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), also congratulated Guterres on his election, saying that the Secretary-General-designate “is a strong humanitarian advocate and a successful leader,” and that he looks forward to working with him.
For his part, Assembly President Thomson highlighted that the selection process underscored the principles of transparency and inclusivity.
“It was a process that specifically sought out candidates who embody a firm commitment to the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter; who exemplify the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity; and who have proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills,” said Thomson in his remarks.
“I am confident that Mr. Guterres will serve the global community with dedication, as a moral authority, and be the voice of our collective conscience and humanity, throughout his term,” he added.
Assuring the Secretary-General-designate of his full support throughout the present session of the General Assembly, the body’s President stressed that he would do everything within his power to facilitate a smooth transition.
In this context, Guterres will be participating in a meeting called by President Thomson, on October 19, to discuss with the General Assembly the critical, priority and emerging issues for the global Organization.