On 1 January 2017, António Guterres officially began his post as the new Secretary-General of the United Nations. He becomes the ninth Secretary-General of the UN, and will hold the post for the next five years.
The appointment of the new Secretary-General took place on 13 October 2016 when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution – by acclamation – to formerly appoint Guterres in his new position. Traditionally, the selection of a new Secretary-General has been a behind closed doors process involving UN Member States but for the first time ever the selection process involved public discussions which were televised and webcast. In these discussions candidates were expected to present their ‘vision statements’ and answer questions “on how they would promote sustainable development, improve efforts to create peace, protect human rights, and deal with humanitarian catastrophes should they be selected to lead the Organization.”
Although appointed in October, the candidate submission and selection process started in early 2016. Firstly, there was a joint call from the Presidents of the UN General Assembly and Security Council calling for candidates to put their names forward. From the outset, the importance of geographic and gender balance in senior posts was acknowledged. Candidates were then provided an opportunity to present their vision statements, answer questions and hold ‘informal briefings’ with UN Member States. On 6 October 2016, the UN Security Council, forwarded the name of Guterres as its nominee for Security-General to the 193-member body. His selection was then ratified on 13 October 2016.
Guterres, from Portugal, is well qualified to take on the role of the world’s top diplomat. He is familiar with the inner workings of the United Nations having served as High Commissioner of the UN High Commission for Refugees between June 2005 and December 2015. During his tenure, the number of people displaced by conflict and persecution increased from 38 million to over 60 million.
He has also spent more than 20 years in government and previously served as Portugal’s Prime Minister between 1995 and 2002. Upon his appointment, a grateful Guterres said “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 all of them equally and with no agenda but the one enshrined in the UN Charter.”
Speaking of his successor, in October 2016 following his election, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “Secretary-General-elect Guterres is well known to all of us in the hall. But he is perhaps best known where it counts the most: on the frontline of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering.” He then added that “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.”
Speaking again, one day before he was set to leave his post as Secretary General, Ki-Moon expressed his gratitude and sense of honour, at having been selected for the position. In his farewell speech, he said “It has been a privilege to serve the world’s people. And it has been an honour to serve with you and all our partners – including Member States, civil society, and many more.”
Guterres’ post is set to end on 31 December 2021, but like his predecessor, he will have the option of seeking a second five-year term.