Thursday, October 06, 2016

UN Appoints Catholic, Pro-Refugee Secretary General

António Guterres, Catholic activist and former Portugese Prime Minister, has been appointed as the new secretary general of the UN.

The UN security general agreed yesterday in a surprisingly swift decision, that Guterres would replace Ban Ki-moon.

Guterres won 13 votes in his favour, with no votes against him and just two abstentions. His selection will be confirmed in a formal vote today, and he will begin his post at the beginning of 2017.

Guterres is in many ways a surprise choice due to his social activist history. He wasn't expected to be welcomed by permanent member states Russia and China, who have previously opposed outspoken humanitarian voices in top UN positions. In this case, a focus on unity in the UN took priority, one security council diplomat said.

Guterres's activism is rooted in his Catholic faith, which he has spoken about previously. Speaking in July about his motivation for the UN position, Guterres said: "I am Catholic. What I believe is my motivation is a certain story in the gospel called the 'Parable of the talents'...I feel that it is my obligation to use my abilities to address urgent concerns," The Wire reported.

Speaking when he worked as the head of the UN's refugee agency, Guterres said: "I am totally committed because of what I felt as head of UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] for 10 years," he said in a debate chaired by the Guardian. "You can't imagine what it is to see levels of suffering that are unimaginable."

Guterres will now have a chance to speak up for the opressed in a new way, and he begins this new role with generally widespread support. 

"I think it's an excellent choice," said Michael Doyle, a former UN assistant secretary general. "We have someone who has great political capability, having been prime minister of his country, he is a strong multilateralist, having a run the UNCHR at a time of tremendous challenges, and he has ways of communicating with an audience that are inspiring."

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