Working in the UN- The New General Secretary António Guterres

Wait…who won what? That’s right you heard it here first! From January 2017 until December 2021 there will be a new Secretary General of the UN. His name? António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal who will be taking the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s place.  Who is António Guterres? Apart from being the Prime Minister…

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Wait…who won what? That’s right you heard it here first! From January 2017 until December 2021 there will be a new Secretary General of the UN. His name? António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal who will be taking the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s place. 

Who is António Guterres?

António Guterres
António Guterres

Apart from being the Prime Minister of Portugal between 1995-2002 Mr Guterres has had a lifelong active participation within the political world as well as humanitarian from a young age. He started off his career by studying physics and electric engineering in University which he soon left behind for politics shortly after he joined the socialist party in Portugal.  He became secretary general of the socialist party in Portugal in the early 90’s which led to him becoming Prime Minister of Portugal in 1995. He was then elected UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2005 which involved providing protection, helping refugees, returnees, internally displaced, stateless people all over the world. As you can imagine this was a vast task which required many reforms for which Mr Guterres is well remembered by. Not only did he oversee the largest organizational reform of the UNHCR history by reducing personnel and administrative costs in UNHCR Geneva, but he also enlarged and improved the response of the UNHCR’s emergency capacity during what we know as the greatest refugee crisis in a long time. Mr Guterres seems to be prepared for Secretary General thanks to his past experiences in the political and humanitarian world. This has also been confirmed by Peter Thomson (the current president of the general assembly of the United Nations) as he stated upon Mr Guterres election that  “[he is] 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 (…)”.

But how is the Secretary General of the United Nations selected?

Mr Guterres might have won the selections for UN Secretary General but how? If we take a step back and look back in time it is clear that the process of selection for Secretary General is traditionally known to have occurred behind closed doors leaving the general public in the dark about what really goes on in the UN. This outdated process included solely those countries who were thought of as the most powerful. However, this time around the UN Secretary General selection process has experienced some reforms; in other words the process involves an interview like discussion between candidates and the general assembly in front of the whole world. If one were to numerically organize this process of selection into different stages it would look something like this:

  1. Candidates are formally presented to the general assembly where all 193 member states of the UN are represented.
  2. An informal dialogue is held where candidates are asked questions by the general public through social media and civil societies.
  3. Each candidate will get two televised hours to present themselves and submit a statement of their vision for the future. Within these two hours member states will have a couple of minutes to ask the candidates questions if there is any time remaining the civil society will then have time to ask their questions.
  4. The Wisnumurti Guidelines come into play which basically is where the UN security council votes behind closed doors and encourages or discourages the different candidates to go forth in the selection process.
  5. The security keeps voting on the candidates until there is one candidate who has the majority and who is not vetoed from a permanent member of the Security Council. That person then becomes appointed as the new UN Secretary General which is announced to the general assembly followed by the general public.

What does a secretary general in the UN do?

As Secretary General it is one’s responsibility to carry out a vast number of tasks, this requires a lot of help as well in order to ensure that everything goes smoothly. The Secretary General has to carry out some administrative tasks by overseeing the UN secretariat in charge of operations, research, translation and media relations. The way in which the Secretary General does this is completely up to them, they can organize the Secretariat in the way in which they see most efficient to complete these tasks. The Secretary General has to manage human resources by deciding who to hire for UN posts such as the head of UNICEF. A very important part of being Secretary General of the UN is peacekeeping, this means they must ensure that there is an under-secretary who oversees peacekeeping missions and makes sure they are progressing peacefully. This of course requires the mediation of the Secretary General to ensure that two parties in conflict communicate peacefully, they are to use their neutrality and try to create a civilized dialogue and ultimately prevent war between the parties.

Being appointed Secretary General is a great honour and something that António Guterres seems to be ready for. As he said in his statement upon being appointed

“I am fully aware of the challenges the UN faces and the limitations surrounding the Secretary-General. (…)”

There might be limitations and challenges but only time can tell how he handles them!

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