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The right man for an impossible job

GENEVA (SE): Before Donald Trump formally becomes the president of the United States of America, another major shift on the global stage is due to take place.

On the first day of the New Year, António Guterres, a much respected politician from Portugal became the new secretary general of United Nations (UN), to replace Ban Ki-moon from South Korea, who has held the post for the past 10 years.

Guterres described his feelings in taking on the position in two words, “gratitude and humility,” which The Catholic World Report notes are words not commonly uttered around the halls of the UN. “However, Mr. Guterres is no ordinary person,” it notes.

As an office holder in the UN, he is called to be independent, impartial and respect integrity, as well as be fluent in English and French, the two working languages of the worldwide body.

As secretary-general, he was selected by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Since Portugal does not belong to the council, he was available for selection and his name was then put forward to the General Assembly.

He was born in Lisbon in 1949 and is an engineer by profession. He spent 17 years in parliament and served two terms as prime minister of Portugal between 1995 and 2002. 

A strong Catholic, he is a member of the Socialist Party, within which he is described as leaning to the right, like a German social democrat.

He presided over Portugal’s commitment to European unity and pursuit of economic policies that enabled it to become one of 11 countries to adopt the Euro as its currency in 1999.

He was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for 10-and-a-half years, completing his term in December 2015. 

When he took up the job, there were about 38 million refugees in the world, but when he left, there were more than 65 million. He provided a strong voice for the destitute displaced by conflict and persecution.

In his acceptance speech on October 13, Guterres asked, “What has happened to the dignity and worth of the human person?”

The Catholic World Report reported that at a conference later the same day, he told the delegate from The Philippines that the UN needs to be resilient and relevant, while at the same time acting with passion and compassion.

He told the Syrian delegate, “My heart is broken.” However, he praised Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, along with other countries for their generosity in offering shelter to refugees.

The delegate from Algeria provided a light moment, congratulating him in Portuguese, thanking out-going secretary, Ban, in Korean, and apologising to the translators who only deal with the two official languages in English.

The Palestinian delegate told Guterres that he is the right man for an impossible job.

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