New UN chief Guterres to focus on gender equality, empowerment of women


World, America

Guterres was unanimously appointed by the 193-member UN General Assembly as the successor to Ban Ki-moon.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, meets with Secretary-General-designate, Antonio Guterres (Photo: AP)

New York: Newly-appointed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday vowed to work as a "convener" and "bridge-builder" to help find solutions to the world's pressing challenges, underscoring that human dignity, gender equality and fighting the alliance of violent extremists and expressions of xenophobia will be among his priorities.

Guterres was unanimously appointed by the 193-member UN General Assembly as the successor to Ban Ki-moon and will assume his new role for a five-year term beginning January 1, 2017. "I am fully aware of the challenges the UN faces and the limitations surrounding the Secretary-General," Guterres said in his first address to the General Assembly following his appointment as the 9th Secretary General of the UN.

He said the dramatic problems of today's complex world can only inspire a "humble approach - one in which the Secretary-General alone neither has all the answers, nor seeks to impose his views; one in which the Secretary-General makes his good offices available, working as a convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefit everyone involved".

Guterres underscored the importance of diversity in meeting the challenges of the world. He called on the international community to ensure that "we are able to break the alliance between all the terrorist groups and violent extremists on one side and the expressions of populism and xenophobia on the other side". "These two reinforce each other and we must be able to fight both of them with determination," he said.

Having worked as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years, Guterres said he has witnessed "first hand" the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth. "I have visited war zones and refugee camps where one might legitimately ask: what has happened to the 'dignity and worth of the human person'," he said.

The immunity among people of the world to the plight of those most socially and economically underprivileged has underscored that he has the "acute responsibility" to make human dignity the core of his work.

He also noted that gender equality will be a focus area of his work as the UN chief. "I have long been aware of the hurdles women face in society, in the family and in the workplace just because of their gender. I have witnessed the violence they are subject to during conflict, or while fleeing it, just because they are women," he said adding that the protection and the empowerment of women and gender parity in the organisation "are and will continue to be a priority commitment for me".

Guterres expressed faith in a "reform-minded" UN saying he believes in the universal values of peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity that its stands for.

"Based on these values, I believe that diversity in all its forms is a tremendous asset, and not a threat; that in societies that are more and more multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, diversity can bring us together, not drive us apart," he said.

Later in brief remarks to reporters outside the General Assembly hall, Guterres said the crises in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and in other parts of the world underscore that it is "high time" that the international community remove its difference and work collectively for peace and security.

He said the suffering of the Syrian people "breaks my heart" and vowed to do his best to serve the cause of peace for the Syrian people. He said in the over two months that he has before he takes over as Secretary General, he will do his best to recognise the difficulties, problems and divisions among UN member states "and act as a convener and honest broker" to find solutions to the crises including in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen.

He said he will work as "someone trying to bring people together and make people understand that whatever divisions might exist, now it's more important to unite because (of) the risks for those countries, for their people and to the international community and collective security. It is high time to fight for peace," he said.

Guterres said he was deeply moved by the unity and consensus the Security Council and the General Assembly have shown in his selection process. He hoped that through the same unity, the UN bodies and the international community will be able to face the challenges and "take on time the decisions necessary in order to foster peace and end conflicts" and make human rights and development accessible to all.

Earlier, in his first remarks to the General Assembly he said he felt "gratitude and humility" on emerging as the choice for the post of UN Secretary General. "It is with the same gratitude and humility that I stand before you today, now joined by a profound sense of responsibility," he said.