NEW YORK – Antonio Guterres was sworn in for a second five-year term as UN Secretary-General on Friday after acclamation approved by the General Assembly.
“I am aware of the immense responsibility you entrust to me at such a critical moment in history – I dare say, on the threshold of a new era,” Guterres told the assembly after taking his oath of office. “We’re really at a crossroads with momentous decisions ahead of us.”
He promised to serve all member states equally without an agenda and to work to sow trust between and among nations.
“I will also try to instill hope that we can change things, that the impossible is possible,” he said. “The attitude is never to give up.”
On June 8th, the powerful UN Security Council blessed its second term.
“The members of the Security Council have expressed their unconditional support to Mr. AntÃ³nio Guterres,” said the Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, President of the Security Council this month, before the General Assembly. “In the opinion of the Council, Antonio Guterres meets the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity as well as a firm commitment to the goals and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The approval of the council of 15 nations is critical, because any of the five permanent members (Great Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) can block the nomination with their veto. That happened in 1996 when the United States prevented the reappointment of Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
“The United Nations is facing historical challenges, including a global pandemic, the effects of the climate crisis, mass starvation and migration, human rights abuses and humanitarian crises,” said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield in a statement in which Guterres was reappointed. “Secretary-General Guterres has undertaken to advance our joint action to meet these challenges as well as the mission of the United Nations.”
Congratulations to @antonioguterres when he was reappointed to @U.N Secretary General. He has shown himself to be a capable manager in a demanding role, and we look forward to working closely together in overcoming global challenges.
– Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) June 18, 2021
Guterres, 72, ran unchallenged. His candidacy was supported by the government of his native Portugal and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was present at his swearing-in ceremony.
Guterres, a former Portuguese Prime Minister, took over the UN trains in 2017, three weeks before Donald Trump was inaugurated as US President. Guterres spent much of his first term avoiding conflict with the government and ended up on the former president’s Twitter feed.
Preventing conflict and combating climate change are two of Guterres’ most important themes. Then came COVID-19. The UN chief has tried to turn a global catastrophe into an opportunity for “better reconstruction”.
Human rights groups have criticized Guterres for not speaking up about human rights violations by China, Russia, the United States and their allies.
“With his re-election behind him, the secretary-general should begin calling on all governments that commit human rights abuses, including those who are powerful and protected,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director of Human Rights Watch.
UN officials say such criticism is unfair and that Guterres addresses abuse both publicly and privately with leaders.
The UN chief will not lack conflicts and humanitarian crises in a second term either. Most, if not all, of the conflicts that were ongoing when he took office five years ago remain unresolved, and several new ones, including in Myanmar and Ethiopia, pose new threats to international peace and security.
“It is not for lack of experimentation,” said a senior UN official of Guterres’ conflict prevention and resolution efforts. “He was very involved on all fronts.”