New UN head means a chance for reform
2017-02-01 17:47:36 -
Michael McGowan

The new head of the United Nations faces the mammoth task of tacking a world dominated by conflicts and humanitarian disasters, including the global involvement in the civil war in Syria and the attendant refugee crisis, via which more than 5,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean to the freedom of Europe in the past 12 months.

António Guterres, former socialist prime minister of Portugal, took over the job of the world’s top diplomat on 1 January following Ban Ki-moon’s second five-year term of office. The new UN Secretary General hit the ground running by declaring that ending the conflict in Syria is his top priority, and he intends to use the momentum of ending that war to address all other conflicts.

As head of the UNHCR from 2005 to 2015, Guterres led the refugee agency through some of the world’s worst crises and regularly appealed to western states to do more to help people fleeing conflict.

Originally an engineer by training, Guterres grew up under the Portuguese dictatorship, and was prominent in politics with mid-1970s ‘Carnation Revolution’ that ended 48 years of authoritarian rule. He became a modernising leader, proclaiming a mission of social justice and equality.

As UN Secretary-General, he has described his role to the general assembly as “working as a convenor, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find the solutions that benefit everyone involved.”

Guterres has an amazing track record for his diplomatic and co-operative skills. He will go to extraordinary lengths to seek agreements, and there are high hopes that he may be able to find actual solutions to the enormous challenges of both armed conflict and humanitarian suffering that are gripping our world.

An immediate challenge is to seek a successful outcome from the upcoming UN conference on negotiating a global ban on nuclear weapons. The proposal by 123 members of the UN General Assembly to support such a ban has been led by seven states, including Ireland, and is a historic opportunity in line with the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

With this in mind, the appointment of Gutterres is both timely and an opportunity for major reforms at the United Nations.
There have been several phases of UN reform since its foundation in 1945, an early development being peacekeeping measures to oversee the Middle East ceasefire agreements in 1949, and a year later in the Kashmir conflict.

With newly independent states from Africa and Asia joining the United Nations in subsequent years, development issues became increasingly important and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was established in 1965.

The first half of the 1990s saw a major expansion of the UN Agenda for Peace launched by then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and in April 2007 the General Assembly approved a number of initiatives covering international environment governance.

The choice of Guterres as the UN’s chief has also highlighted the importance and influence of one of the EU’s and UN’s smaller countries in world affairs. The move has certainly raised expectations that serious reform of the UN is in the wind, and that the UN has the opportunity to become a more effective agent in correcting a world in turmoil.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
TAGS : Michael McGowan United Nations Antonio Guterres UN New Head Chance Reform
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