Who Is The New U.N. Secretary-General?

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Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and former Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference following a meeting to discuss the migrant crisis rocking Europe on Aug. 26, 2015 at the UN Offices in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations Security Council today approved Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres as the next U.N. secretary-general, replacing Ban Ki Moon.

Guterres served 10 years as the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, a role he believes has prepared him to serves as secretary general.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Michael Doyle, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, about Guterres and the role he will play on the world stage.

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Interview Highlights: Antonio Guterres

On what Guterres brings to the job

“I think it’s an excellent choice. He brings three really important traits to the job. Number one, he was the prime minister — he was the head of government of Portugal, so he brings political talents, which is essential for the role. Number two, he headed a very important multilateral agency — the High Commission for Refugees. So he knows the U.N. system and he’s dealt with crises. Number three, he has the ability to inspire — I’ve seen him speak to audiences, including students, professors and others. And he can lighten up a room and to persuade people to do the kind of things that are sometimes difficult.”

On the process of electing the secretary-general

“Many people around the U.N., including myself, think it’s a high time we have a female secretary-general. And there were some strong candidates. But the key factor that produced the person is the votes of the members of the security council, and they make a choice based upon their national interest together with what they think is best for the institution. And often, the first one is the strongest.”

On the role of secretary-general

“In the U.N. Charter, he’s described as the chief administrator of officer of the United Nations. But ever since Dag Hammarskjold, there’s a different vision and that is, the secretary-general is someone who has a political, a diplomatic role that’s the nature of the job, the expectations attached to is suggest that he be an advocate for the world’s people, especially those who don’t have a strong voice through strong governments. And it’s a level of responsibility that’s political and that’s designed to be a trust, a responsibility that he holds. I’m hoping that he realizes that.

… The important thing to remember is that the U.N is 193 member states. The influence and the power of the secretary-general is the power of persuasion — that is to bring these member states together to deal with crises of the world. But it needs to be done.”

On expectations for Guterres

“I’m sure that he would understand that having been for 10 years the head of the refugee agency, expectations that he will focus on the crisis in Syria and the protracted refugee crisis around the world, that is the large numbers of refugees in places like Kenya.

Right now, he will be in direct contact with Security Council — they have the political authority and responsibility to intervene in crises of the world. The task that he faces is to persuade them to arrive at a common position that can genuinely address the immense humanitarian emergency within Syria today. And that will be a task that will require every diplomatic talent he has.”


Michael Doyle, former U.N. assistant secretary-general. He’s now a professor of international affairs at Columbia University.

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