Security Council agrees on Portugal’s Guterres as next UN chief

World Today

In this Friday, Dec. 18, 2015 file photo, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres won the Security Council’s unanimous backing Wednesday to become the next U.N. secretary-general. A formal Security Council vote is expected Thursday, and then his candidacy will go before the entire U.N. General Assembly for final approval.

In announcing the decision, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin said after a sixth informal straw poll, “we have a clear favorite, and his name is Antonio Guterres.”

By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the post.

East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a secretary-general and it was their turn. There has also never been a woman secretary-general and more than 50 nations and many others campaigned to elect the first female U.N. chief.

There was disappointment among East Europeans, who fielded many candidates in the race but never united behind one, and among supporters hoping for a woman. Seven of the 13 candidates who entered the race were women.

As the former head of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres briefed the Security Council many times. The position was made more high profile by the mass exodus of migrants from Syria and Iraq since the civil war began more than five years ago.

Since 2011, the UNHCR calculates that nearly five million people have fled Syria, 2.7 million have left Afghanistan, and more than one million have moved out of Somalia.

Guterres is known for his charismatic personality and is diligent work with refugees.

According to his biography on the UNHCR website, Guterres was elected by the U.N. General Assembly as 10th High Commissioner for Refugees in 2005 and served until the end of last year.

He was the Portuguese Prime Minister from 1995 to 2002 and founded the Portuguese Refugee Council in the UNHCR in 1991.

UNHCR said he oversaw “the most profound structural reform process in UNHCR’s history and built up our organization’s capacity to respond to some of the largest displacement crises since the end of World War Two.

In his last speech as high commissioner in December, 2015, Guterres called for “a new deal” between Syria and Europe – the destination that so many were trying to reach to begin a new life. He also called on the international community “to support Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey” to prevent “refugees from slipping further into destitution.”

“There must be more international support to refugees and to their hosts, and humanitarian assistance has to match the level of the needs,” he added.

He also reminded skeptics that “…refugees are the first victims of such terror, not its source..”

Current U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s term ends at the end of the year.

Story by CCTV America with information from the Associated Press.