United Nations, Dec 12 (IANS) With a stirring call for the UN to change to meet the global crisis of confidence, Antonio Guterres was sworn in Monday as the ninth Secretary General of the world body.
“The UN must be ready to change,” he declared. Many people have lost confidence not only in their governments, but also in the UN, he said.
After listing the crises facing the world, he said that the problems have exceeded the ability of the world body to meet the challenges. “It is time for the UN to recognise the shortcomings,” he said.
Welcoming the Secretary-General-designate, India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin told IANS: “We are looking forward to working with Mr Antonio Guterres on the broad agenda of international cooperation that he laid out at his swearing in.”
The incoming UN head has an Indian connection – the family of his wife, Catarina Vaz Pinto , is from Goa.
While he was making his global rounds to build support for his candidacy, India was the only non-permanent member of the Security Council he visited.
The UN faces a crisis of credibility as it confronts upheavals in the Middle East and Africa, an unprecedented refugee crisis, and global terrorism while trapped in paralysing politics. Guterres promised to take them on.
Guterres told reporters after his swearing in that the first thing that needs to be done to face the global problems is to “tell the truth” and that would be the basis of his approach to the world. It is the only way to build confidence among nations to confront the problems, he added.
The former Prime Minister of Portugal and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, will formally take over on January 1 from Ban Ki-moon, who led the UN for two terms from 2007.
There was disappointment that a woman was not elected to head the world body after the heavy lobbying for the election of a woman by several UN members and civil society organisations that preceded the election to break the male monopoly.
Addressing this, Guterres told reporters that gender parity was a “clear priority” and that it would be reflected in the appointments he will be making.
The election of Guterres was one of the smoothest ever, when he got the OK on October 6 from the fractitious Security Council after only six internal polls. His appointment was endorsed by the General Assembly the next week.
His election was also one of the relatively open ones with the candidates for the job making presentations before the general assembly and civil society groups and answering questions. Diplomats said that Guterres made a strong impression at these sessions.
His quick election by UN standards confounded early expectations that a woman, likely from Eastern Europe, would get the job.
Russia and China came around to backing him, even though he was from a NATO member.
Under the system of geographic rotation, it was the turn of Europe and countries from Eastern Europe had staked their claim as none from the region had held the job. Irina Borkova, the Director General of UNESCO, who is from Bulgaria, was one of the candidates they pushed.
Ultimately in the Security Council with 14 male ambassadors and one female, Guterres prevailed.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])