Photo: UN Secretary-General meets South Sudanese refugees during a visit to Imvepi settlement in northern Uganda in June 2017. UN Photo/Mark Gart - Photo: 2017

UN Chief Pleads for “a Surge in Diplomacy for Peace”

By J Nastranis

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has stressed the pressing need for increased diplomacy on vexatious global issues, broad adherence to the aims of the landmark Paris climate accord, wider engagement with the world’s youth and dedicated efforts to ensure gender parity across the UN system.

In an interview with UN News in the run-up to the 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 72), which will convene at UN Headquarters in New York on September 12, Guterres said the UN “must be an instrument for a surge in diplomacy for peace.” Guterres, the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), took up his post on 1 January 1, 2017.

He explained how he is working with the international community to make parties to conflict see that “nobody is winning” in today’s devastating wars; to spotlight the links between climate change and sustainable development to ensure a globalized world that “leaves no one behind;” and to follow through on his deep belief that an equitable presence of both male and female colleagues makes organizations work better.


Asked about the role of multilateralism in today’s world, Guterres said: “We live in a world with global problems – climate change, terrorism, inequality – and there is no way we can solve [them] on a country-by-country basis. We see, more and more, that only global solutions can address global problems. And for global solutions to be possible, we need to have mechanisms of governance allowing countries to come together and manage together the problems of our times.”

Not only the UN, but also multilateral organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and regional organizations like the European Union, and the African Union are “essential to allow us to face the very dramatic challenges that are today threatening humankind,” he added.

UN’s role in the face of “terrorism, extremism, the refugee crisis”

Asked about his vision for the role the UN should be playing in the face of “terrorism, extremism, the refugee crisis,” the UN Chief said: “The UN must, first of all, be an instrument for a surge in diplomacy for peace and we are doing everything we can, facing all the crises that we have – from Mali to South Sudan to Libya to Central African Republic to Syria to Afghanistan to Somalia – to do everything we can to convince the parties to those conflicts and those that have leverage, that support the parties to the conflict, we are doing everything we can to convince them that these are wars that nobody is winning; everybody’s losing.”

Guterres considers “absolutely essential” that they forget their differences, their contradictions of interests and that they really come together to put an end to these tragic series of crises, violence and conflicts. Because these conflicts are also becoming more and more interlinked and more linked to global terrorism.

He added: “So we need to fight terrorists where they are, but we need to address the root causes of terrorism. That means solving conflicts, and at the same time, building cohesive societies where people can feel they belong, where they don’t feel discriminated [against] and respect human rights, to make sure that terrorist organizations have more and more difficulties recruiting people. “

Youth unemployment in certain parts of the world, he pointed out, is one of the most dramatic problems that facilitate the work of terrorist organizations recruiting people that have no future. “So we need – in sustainable development, in human rights and in a peace and security approach – to combine all the UN instruments in order to be able to defeat terrorism.”

Climate change

What about the effects of climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

First of all, noted Guterres, climate change today is undeniable: a huge drought in the south of Portugal; forest fires multiplying terribly; heat waves in the United States; and dramatic floods in Sierra Leone, India and Nepal. “We always had floods in the past but now natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more intense and with more devastating consequences. We see deserts progressing. We see glaciers diminishing. We see the sea levels starting to rise. So it is clearly a threat to us all.”

Second, to fight it all, today there is an important instrument – the Paris Agreement. “We need to make sure that all countries commit themselves to that [accord]. And wherever countries are not able to do so at the government level, that the societies, the business communities, the cities, are able to lead the process and in this way, we can be able to meet the Paris Agreement, but with an increased ambition because Paris is not enough to be able to contain global warming at the level that is acceptable.”

At the same time, the UN Chief said, there is need to see the clear link between climate change and development, and the sustainability of development. The 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, are the global programme accepted by all Member States to have a fair globalization – a globalization that leaves no one behind. And this contrary to what has happened in the recent past with so many regions that are dramatically, negatively impacted by technological progress or globalization.

“We need to make sure that globalization that has brought enormous advantages for humankind, that it leaves no one behind. That there is inclusivity and that there is sustainability for our children and our grandchildren also to benefit from what we are achieving today.”

Gender parity

Asked whether he was satisfied with the progress so far in strengthening gender parity within the UN system, which he had promised when he assumed office, Guterres said: “I’ve appointed members of the Senior Management Group, which is the top level of the United Nations, between appointments and the renewal of mandates we have done it with 19 women and 17 men, which means parity has been taken very seriously by me in the decisions I can make. And we will have, at the end of my mandate – this is a very strong commitment – at the level of the Assistant Secretaries-General and Under-Secretaries-General across the board, all over the Organization, full parity.”

A road map for parity is ready to be submitted to Member States in the areas where they need to take decisions aiming at reaching in 2023 in a majority of the areas of the UN, but for some that have more specific difficulties: in 2028, full parity for international staff across the board. “So this is a strong commitment. And it’s not because this idea is now very much in the public debate. It’s because it’s my deep belief that organizations work much better when there is an equitable presence of both male and female colleagues.”

The Role of the young people

What could the young people do to fight racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and discrimination?

I think that young people are exactly my hope because young people are much more cosmopolitan. They are much less prone to these irrational approaches of nationalism, of xenophobia, racism; they understand diversity is a richness; it’s not a threat. I hope that young people will push their societies, their communities, their governments to understand that they need to have policies of social cohesion, they need to have policies that allow for everyone to feel that his or her identity is respected but, at the same time, that they belong to the community as a whole.”

Favourite historic figures and books

Asked about his favourite historic figures, the UN Chief said two personalities had “a very, very important influence” on his political life, both ideologically and in relation to the political attitude, political behaviour: one, in his youth, Olof Palme; another, in the maturity of his life, Nelson Mandela. “I think they correspond to a fantastic combination: on one side, the policies that are at the same time clearly oriented for equality, for a progressive view of the world, equality between people, equality between societies.”

Olof Palme made a fantastic contribution to the development of a progressive vision of his country and of international relations. And then Nelson Mandela is the very symbol of forgiveness, tolerance and the capacity to rebuild a society that was so deeply and so tragically divided, Guterres explained.

Guterres described himself as “a compulsive reader of history,” adding: “There are two history authors that I really consider the best I’ve read. One is French, Georges Duby. He was an excellent medievalist. The other is British, A.J.P Taylor. But of course, I am Portuguese; I come from a country of poets. There is a Portuguese poet that I consider absolutely unique: Fernando Pessoa.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 9 September 2017]

Photo: UN Secretary-General meets South Sudanese refugees during a visit to Imvepi settlement in northern Uganda in June 2017. UN Photo/Mark Gart

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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