Thursday, October 13, 2016

New UN Secretary General looms as key ally of the Pope

In tune with FrancisAssuming he's approved as the new UN Secretary General next week, the background of former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres suggests he could become a key global ally of Pope Francis. Crux has the story.

As a Catholic Socialist with a deep concern for refugees and global justice generally, Mr Guterres emerged as the Security Council runaway favourite last week, when all 15 members agreed to put his name forward to a formal vote, which happened on Thursday.

Having the support of the world’s superpowers - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - makes him first in line to replace South Korean Ban Ki-moon, though he still needs the approval of the UN General Assembly. The voting will take place on October 17.

Mr Guterres, a trained engineer who worked as an assistant professor before joining his country’s Socialist Party in 1974, led Portugal from 1995 to 2002. From there, he moved to international diplomacy, becoming the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees in 2005, a post he held for a decade.

Fluent in Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish, he’s a father of two. His first wife died in 1998, and in 2001 he married again.

He’s generally regarded as a man of moral integrity, well versed in the international sphere, and reform-minded. During the years he headed UNCHR, the UN’s refugee agency, Mr Guterres reduced bureaucratic personnel by a third, sending more people to the field.

In his vision statement in applying for the position of Secretary General, Mr Guterres wrote of the challenges facing the world in terms of rising inequality, terrorism and organised crime, climate change, and the proliferation of armed actors internationally.

All are issues about which Francis has often spoken, even producing a teaching document on the environment.

Last September, when addressing the UN’s General Assembly during his visit to New York, Francis called for an institutional reform that guarantees all countries have a genuine and equitable influence on decision-making processes.

He also warned against the body losing its pillar of integral human development and the ideal of saving future generations from war by becoming “idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonisation by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”

Mr Guterres visited the Argentine Pontiff in Rome in December 2013.

At the end of their private audience, Mr Guterres said: “The Catholic Church has always been a very important voice in the defence of refugees and migrants. A voice of tolerance, of respect to diversity in an indifferent world, if not hostile, to everything that’s foreign.”

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