NEW YORK (AFP) – The UN General Assembly on Thursday appointed Antonio Guterres as the new secretary-general of the United Nations, in a shift towards a more high-profile leadership of the world body.
The 193 member states adopted by consensus a resolution formally naming the former prime minister of Portugal as UN chief for a five-year term beginning January 1.
The socialist politician, who also served as UN refugee chief for a decade, is expected to play a more prominent role as the world’s diplomat-in-chief than Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean who will step down after two five-year terms.
His appointment comes at a time of global anxiety over the ongoing war in Syria, the refugee crisis and raging conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen.
Guterres was greeted by loud applause as he entered the packed hall following the vote and told the assembly he was “fully aware of the challenges the UN faces and the limitations of the secretary-general.”
The 67-year-old polyglot pledged to work as a “convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker” to confront global crises.
On Syria, the most pressing crisis on the UN agenda, Guterres said it was time for world powers to overcome divisions over ending the war, just as the key players were gearing up for a new round of talks at the weekend.
“Whatever divisions might exist, now it’s more important to unite,” Guterres told reporters after the vote. “It’s high time to fight for peace.”
The United States and Russia are to host a meeting of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday, and Washington will then hold talks with its European partners in London on Sunday.
The Security Council is deadlocked over Syria after two draft resolutions were defeated in separate votes, one of which was vetoed by Damascus ally Russia.
– Fighting terrorists and populists –
The first former head of government to become UN chief also called for determined action to confront terrorists and populists who “reinforce each other” in their extremism.
“We must make sure that we are able to break these alliances between all those terrorist groups or violent extremists on one side, and the expression of populism and xenophobia on the other side,” he said.
The remarks were directed at the rise of European far-right politicians and also US presidential contender Donald Trump whose anti-immigrant platform has triggered global alarm.
Guterres campaigned on a pledge to promote human rights and enact reforms within the UN system, seen as clunky and too slow to respond to unfolding disasters.
US Ambassador Samantha Power praised Guterres as “supremely qualified” to be secretary-general and stressed he was chosen at a time when the world looks to the United Nations to “do more than it has ever done before.”
She called on him to act as a peacemaker, a reformer and an advocate and declared that he brings “both head and heart” to what has been described as the most impossible job in the world.
Ban told the assembly that Guterres was well-known in diplomatic circles as a man of compassion during his decade as UN high commissioner for refugees.
“He is perhaps best known where it counts most — on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering,” said Ban.
“His political instincts are those of the United Nations — cooperation for the common good, and shared responsibility for people and the planet.”
Guterres is set to move into his new office with his transition team in downtown Manhattan, just across from UN headquarters, until he formally takes up the job on January 1.