ABU DHABI, 16th December, 2016 (WAM) — After a controversial election, during which gender was a big part of the campaign, the new United Nations secretary-general was sworn in on Monday.
Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, is the first secretary-general from a western European nation for decades, and therein lies the controversy. It was widely believed to be Eastern Europe’s “turn” for a secretary-general and there were several highly qualified candidates from that region, including women. It was also felt it was time for a female secretary-general, said The National newspaper in an editorial today.
Guterres therefore starts his tenure needing to show political acumen, and it is suggested he will do so by appointing Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s environment minister, as his deputy. But Guterres also has a much bigger task to handle: the many world problems that require UN attention.
In his inaugural speech, he mentioned several, “the acute crises in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan to long-running disputes including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” All of those are urgent, and Guterres has some experience of them, having spent 10 years as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The world is in the midst of its worse refugee crisis for decades. Not since 1945 and the aftermath of the Second World War have so many people been displaced, both inside their own countries and elsewhere. Yet the refugee crisis today is very different than the post world war era. For a start, for many, especially Syrians, there is no country to go back to. After the defeat of Germany, many refugees were able to go back, but with Bashar Al Assad still in power, many of those in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and European countries have little hope of returning.
Secondly, the public mood is very different to 1945. In both the Middle East and Europe, refugees are straining resources and causing tensions with locals.
”All of which means that Guterres will need the best attributes of the office, a focus on mediation, diplomacy and, when needed, a bully pulpit, to sustain the world’s attention on the problem. And success is urgently required. If in five years, Guterres has been unable to make needed changes, the world will face a much more difficult time,” the editorial concluded.