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Cover Story
Ex-Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres Says, “The U.N. Must Be Ready to Change”
As the Ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations
United Nations Secretary-General-designate Antonio Guterres (right) meets with Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal (1995 to 2002) and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015) took the oath of office following the Assembly's tribute to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who steps down at the end of the month after leading the global Organization for the past 10 years.
Antonio Guterres was sworn in on Dec. 12, 2016, as the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, saying the world body must change to better confront global crises such as the war in Syria, according to the press release issued from the United Nations.
During a solemn ceremony at the General Assembly, the former Prime Minister of Portugal placed a hand on the U.N. charter and took the oath of office administered by the President of the U.N. General Assembly, Peter Thomson.
The first former head of government at the U.N helm, Guterres takes over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1 amid ongoing bloodshed in Syria and questions over how the US role in the world could shift under President-elect Donald Trump.
"This organization is the cornerstone of multilateralism, and has contributed to decades of relative peace, but the challenges are now surpassing our ability to respond," Guterres said in an address. "The United Nations must be ready to change."
The 67-year-old socialist politician said the United Nations must "recognize its shortcomings and reform the way it works," singling out the failure to prevent crisis as a serious weakness. The UN's refugee chief for a decade, Guterres was sworn in as Syrian forces were on the verge of retaking the entire city of Aleppo - a potential turning point in the nearly 6- year war.
"This is a war in which everybody is losing. This became a threat for everybody around the world," Guterres later told journalists. "It is high time to put an end to this nonsense."
Guterres vowed to "engage personally" in conflict resolution, signaling a more proactive approach to the role of secretarygeneral than under the 72-year-old Ban, the South Korean who led the world body for two five-year terms.
The new U.N. chief will begin work just weeks before Trump takes office on January 20. "Fear is driving the decisions of many people around the world," said Guterres in a reference to the surge of populism that propelled Trump to the White House.
Guterres laid out three priorities for change during his five-year term: work for peace, support sustainable development and improve internal U.N. management. The 71-year-old United Nations has been criticized for its clunky bureaucracy, which has at times slowed down the response to global emergencies. Guterres vowed to press ahead with gender parity at the United Nations, saying it was a priority to appoint more women to senior posts.
An engineer by training and a practicing Catholic, Guterres fought for migrants' rights 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.
US Ambassador Samantha Power praised Guterres as "the man for the job in such challenging times."