UN Security Council recommends António Guterres for a second term

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By Rick Gladstone

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday (8) formally recommended the re-election of António Guterres as secretary-general, assuring a second term for the Portuguese statesman that will keep him in office until 2027.

The recommendation, which goes to a ceremonial vote of approval by the 193-member General Assembly in a few weeks, ended any hope among the seven little-known contenders who had aspired to the job, including two women. The secretary-general position has been held by a man since the founding of the United Nations in 1945.

“I think he is an excellent secretary-general,” the ambassador from Estonia, Sven Jurgenson, president of the Security Council for June, told reporters at the UN headquarters after the decision. “He has proven worthy of the post.”

Guterres, 72, was the only officially recognized candidate this year for the 2022-27 term, despite a more competitive and transparent system under changes to the selection process first made in the 2016 election for secretary-general.

Activist groups that had hoped to see a woman picked said before the Security Council’s recommendation that as the incumbent, Guterres had a built-in advantage.

“This has always been a race of one, and there was never any real likelihood there would be a challenger,” said Lyric Thompson, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Centre for Research on Women, a Washington-based group that grades the performance of the secretary-general. (For 2020 it gave Guterres a ‘B’,  his highest score to date, versus a C-plus in 2017.)

No other candidate received an endorsement by any UN member state, regarded as a prerequisite for serious consideration. In a further signal of support for Guterres, none of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the 15-member council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — publicly questioned a second term for him.

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who headed the UN refugee agency for 10 years, was victorious in 2016 from a field of 13 official candidates, including seven women. He took office the same year as former President Donald Trump, who was known for his disdain of the United Nations and the multilateral diplomacy it embodies.

The secretary-general was widely regarded as diplomatically adept at having avoided confrontations that could antagonize Trump, leader of the host country of the UN and the organization’s biggest single contributor.

Diplomats also credited Guterres with having steered the UN through the global coronavirus pandemic, which Guterres described as the organization’s greatest challenge since its founding.

But Guterres also was criticized by rights groups and others for what they viewed as his unwillingness to publicly chastise governments that abuse human rights or conceal such behaviour.

And while activists like Thompson’s group commended Guterres for using his bully pulpit to promote gender equality, he was accused of failing to follow through on his vow to eradicate sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse within the vast bureaucracy of the UN

Perhaps the most notable change in the secretary-general selection this year was the emergence of candidates with little or no diplomatic experience who promised transformational changes at the UN.

One of the challengers, Arora Akanksha, a 34-year-old staff auditor at the organization, attracted attention in part because she was the youngest aspirant and bluntly critical of what she viewed as a failing and sclerotic hierarchy.

An online petition for the candidacy of Arora, who uses her last name first, had received more than 6,300 signatures as of Tuesday, but she did not get an official endorsement from any country including Canada, where she is a citizen, or from India, the country of her birth.

Another female candidate, Rosalía Arteaga, 64, who was briefly Ecuador’s president in 1997, entered the race backed by a London-based group known as the Forward campaign. But Arteaga also did not secure the backing of any member states.

The process for selecting a secretary-general is far more public now than it has been for most of the history of the United Nations, when it was shrouded in secrecy and was the exclusive domain of the permanent members of the Security Council. In the early years, they privately discussed and decided on candidates who were not even aware they were under consideration.

In 1953, for example, they secretly chose Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat, who learned about it in a surprise phone call he originally thought was a prank.

-New York Times

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