By Michelle Nichols
The 193-member United Nations General Assembly unanimously appointed former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres on Thursday as the ninth secretary-general of the world body for five years beginning Jan. 1, 2017.
Guterres, 67, will replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea. Ban will step down at the end of 2016 after serving two five terms. Guterres was Portugal’s prime minister from 1995 to 2002 and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015.
Guterres pledged on Thursday to act as an “honest broker” and said he would take a humble approach in trying to deal with global issues, with human dignity at the core of his work.
“Diversity can bring us together, not drive us apart,” Guterres told the General Assembly.
“We must make sure that we are able to break this alliance between all those terrorist groups or violent extremists on one side and the expressions of populism and xenophobia on the other side,” he said. “These two reinforce each other, and we must be able to fight both of them with determination.”
The 15-member U.N. Security Council last week unanimously recommended that the General Assembly appoint Guterres. He beat out 12 other candidates, seven of whom were women, amid a push for the first woman to be elected.
Guterres told the General Assembly that protection and empowerment of women and girls was a priority commitment. He has pledged to work toward gender parity within the United Nations.
“We have selected a candidate who is prepared to cut past the jargon and the acronyms and the sterile briefings and get real,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the General Assembly. “He knows the only measure of our work here is whether we are or are not helping and supporting real people.”
Diplomats were now watching to see who Guterres appoints to senior U.N. positions amid speculation by diplomats and U.N. officials that China would like one of its nationals to head peacekeeping and that Russia is keen to lead political affairs.
Currently, a French man runs peacekeeping, an American man leads political affairs and a British man is in charge of humanitarian affairs.
A senior U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several people had insisted that Guterres did not do any deals to win Russia and China’s votes.
“(Guterres is) the sort of person who will pick a strong team around him, appointment on merit,” said the diplomat, adding that, while he had not heard it directly from any Chinese diplomats “it is clear (China is) making a significant challenge for the Department of Peacekeeping.”
When asked earlier this month if Russia had an interest in one of the senior U.N. positions, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters: “We do believe that Russia should be properly represented in the Secretariat.”
He did not specify which post, but added: “We are not the only ones who are expressing the interest in various positions.”