He was alone in the running. The Security Council approved, Tuesday, June 8, the attribution of a second mandate to Antonio Guterres, 72, to lead the UN between 2022 and 2026. A dozen individual candidates were not accepted on the grounds that ‘they were not supported by one of the 193 member countries of the United Nations. The former Portuguese prime minister, in office since January 2017, will have to be officially confirmed by the UN General Assembly.
After a first term devoted to limiting the potentially drastic consequences for the Organization of Donald Trump’s unilateralist policy, Antonio Guterres will have to have “A battle plan for all burning crises”, judge a diplomat.
In this area, its record has been poor for five years, Syria, Yemen or Mali remaining desperately lacking a political solution. A name has been found for North Macedonia and pacification is beginning in Libya, but the UN has above all a supporting role in a process initiated by the Libyans.
A follower of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, Antonio Guterres assures that he is spending lavishly, here to avoid a worsening of the conflict in Cyprus, to try to contain the warlike inclinations of the Ethiopian power in Tigray, and to mobilize the Security Council.
The results of its action are limited, according to several diplomatic sources who speak anonymously, some of which recall the passivity of the UN in the face of the genocide, from 2017, of the Rohingya in Burma.
At the beginning of May, Antonio Guterres pointed out that “The key elements of its activities” were based on discretion. “Sometimes, to be effective, you have to do it discreetly, to establish channels of liaison between the parties”. These are “Essential to avoid the worst in confrontations and try to find solutions”, he specified then.
A political end, under constant pressure from the great powers as well as the smaller ones, the UN chief did not alienate any of the five permanent members of the Security Council (United States, China, Russia, France and United Kingdom ), thus locking its renewal.
“We are indebted to him that the UN did not explode under Trump, which could have been the case. It is not enough, but it will be the challenge of the second term ”, predicts a diplomat from one of these five countries. “He struggled to weigh in to resolve crises, but did his predecessors do better? “, adds another source, also under anonymity.
Without major leverage in the face of the great powers which continue to wage proxy wars, Antonio Guterres has invested in the fight against climate change.
“Public silence on human rights violations in China”
“We will not be able to achieve our objectives in the face of climate change if we do not have a combined approach of the three areas” what are the oceans, pollution and biodiversity, where the lack of progress is flagrant, he noted recently.
Faced with Covid-19, he has often found the right words as a whistleblower on the ongoing and future devastation of the pandemic. But, here too, its room for maneuver has remained limited in the face of nations which have preferred individual withdrawal rather than cooperation in the fight against a common enemy.
The most virulent criticisms of the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015) come from NGOs which accuse him of not doing enough on human rights. He defends himself, ensuring in private to do much more in the meetings of leaders than the latter.
For Kenneth Roth, director of the NGO Human Rights Watch, “Guterres’ first term resulted in his public silence on human rights violations committed by China, Russia and the United States”. The “Should use the next five years to become a strong advocate” as it has started to do for Belarus and Burma since the coup, he added in a statement.