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New UN chief Guterres says ‘UN must be ready to change’

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Antonio Guterres (L) is sworn in as UN secretary general during the Oath of office of the Secretary-General December 12, 2016 at the United Nations in New York. Don EMMERT / AFP

Antonio Guterres (L) is sworn in as UN secretary general during the Oath of office of the Secretary-General December 12, 2016 at the United Nations in New York.<br />Don EMMERT / AFP

Newly sworn-in UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres vowed Monday to improve the world body’s ability to respond to global crises after taking the oath of office.

The first former head of government at the UN helm, Guterres takes over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1 amid bloodshed in Syria and uncertainty following the election of Donald Trump.

“The organisation is the cornerstone of multilateralism and has contributed to decades of relative peace, but the challenges are now surpassing our ability to respond,” Guterres told the General Assembly.

“UN must be ready to change,” he added.

The 67-year-old socialist politician said the United Nations must “recognise its shortcomings and reform the way it works” and singled out the failure to prevent crisis as the most serious failure.

The former prime minister of Portugal was sworn in during a formal ceremony as Syrian forces were on the verge retaking the entire city of Aleppo in a potential turning point in the six-year war.

He will begin his new post just weeks before Trump moves into the White House.

In a reference to Trump’s shock election victory and the surge in populism worldwide, Guterres said “fear is driving the decisions of many people around the world.”

Citizens worldwide are losing confidence in their governments and in global institutions, he said, adding that it was “time to reconstruct relations” between leaders and their people.

Guterres laid out three priorities for change during his five-year term: work for peace, supporting sustainable development and internal reforms.

An engineer by training and practising Catholic, Guterres fought for migrants’ rights over a decade as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015.

He served as prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, anchoring his country to the European Union and working to raise living standards.



1 Comment
  • Enock Omweri

    Applauding the Role of the United Nations in Syria,2016

    It is arguably too simplistic to deplore the impact of the United Nations (UN) in Syria by utilizing the yardstick of how effective the conflict is managed. Over the past five years, the Syrian conflict has proved resistant to various tested conflict management strategies. And with time, metamorphosed into a war.

    William I. Zartman, defines war as the sharp end of conflict. The UN weights at this ‘very’ sharp edge. Like a pendulum, it swings from one extreme to the other.

    On the one extreme are civilian needs; on the other end are expectations for a successful negotiated outcome. In Syria, the propensity of humanitarian needs vis a vis expectations are too complex for any government to adequately meet them, let alone the UN.

    So, since this is the case, why is it that for the better part of the year 2016, some quarters have been singing the ‘failed’ dirge on the role of UN in Syria? And if this has become so, what factors have rendered it to be regarded as such?
    Broadly stated, UNs role in Syria is grouped into two categories; provision of humanitarian relief and aid, and, negotiation of peace hostilities among the warring parties.

    The foundation for the UN’s assistance reposes on the humanitarian principle that “human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found”. United Nations agencies have resoundingly served both civilians and persons hors de combat who are in need.

    For instance, in areas which are hard to reach such as Deir Ezzor, World Food Program (WFP) carried out almost 120 successful airdrops. Subsequently, this led to a decrease in food prices for as much as 53%. Notably, WFP used cranes to take food across closed frontiers, providing temporary relief to almost 75,000 people stranded at the ‘berm’. The impact of this aid cannot be gainsaid.

    In 2016, UNICEF vaccinated over three million Syrian children through various polio campaigns, and provided back-to-learning supplies to almost the same number of children. In addition, UNHCR tracked over one million people using the IDP tracking system inside Syria.

    Compared to previous years, cross-border operations from Turkey and Jordan into Syria registered significant growth in 2016, reaching almost 10,000 trucks.

    Those who blame the UN for taking long to act have accused UN dealings in Syria as a classic case of ‘Stockholm Syndrome”. This accusation fails to take into account the element of constrained humanitarian space and the concept of resurgence sovereignty. The state is a lord to itself, and pursuit of interests within its borders is a sole prerogative. The UN cannot fairly compete with the sitting government.

    Instead of condemning the UN, there should be a constant optimistic appraisal, one which is responsive to humanitarian ambitions and realities in Syria and beyond. On this front, the UN should continue to improve its operational and tactical capabilities. In addition, the UN endeavors to increase its operational foundation with a sole purpose of learning from past lessons.

    The success of UN in Syria should not be pegged on precedents, if you judge so, then you are viewing the whole debacle with filter on in your periscope window. Precedents from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, and Afghanistan are a reminder on UNs work. But even in UN’s darkest moments, there are always lessons to learn and memories to cherish.
    With science it is possible to maintain a clean sheet, but with the glaring reality which the war in Syria brings out, it is impossible not to register pockets of failure.

    The UN acknowledges this. And as Mr. Guterres noted, ‘the UN must ready to change’.

    Until then, UN should be encouraged to thrive in goodness and survive in trouble.

    Enock Omweri