U.N. Security Council Recommends António Guterres for a Second Term

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The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday formally recommended the re-election of António Guterres as secretary general, assuring a second term for the Portuguese statesman that will keep him in office until 2027.

The recommendation, which goes to a ceremonial vote of approval by the 193-member General Assembly in a few weeks, ended any hope among the seven little-known contenders who had aspired to the job, including two women. The secretary general position has been held by a man since the founding of the United Nations in 1945.

“I think he is an excellent secretary general,” the ambassador from Estonia, Sven Jurgenson, president of the Security Council for June, told reporters at the United Nations headquarters after the decision. “He has proven worthy of the post.”

Mr. Guterres, 72, was the only officially recognized candidate this year for the 2022—2027 term, despite a more competitive and transparent system under changes to the selection process first made in the 2016 election for secretary general.

Activist groups that had hoped to see a woman picked said before the Security Council’s recommendation that as the incumbent, Mr. Guterres had a built-in advantage.

“This has always been a race of one, and there was never any real likelihood there would be a challenger,” said Lyric Thompson, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based group that grades the performance of the secretary general. (For 2020 it gave Mr. Guterres a “B,” his highest score to date, versus a C-plus in 2017.)

No other candidate received an endorsement by any United Nations member state, regarded as a prerequisite for serious consideration. In a further signal of support for Mr. Guterres, none of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the 15-member council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — publicly questioned a second term for him.

Mr. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who headed the United Nations refugee agency for 10 years, was victorious in 2016 from a field of 13 official candidates, including seven women. He took office the same year as former President Donald J. Trump, who was known for his disdain of the United Nations and the multilateral diplomacy it embodies.

The secretary general was widely regarded as diplomatically adept at having avoided confrontations that could antagonize Mr. Trump, leader of the host country of the United Nations and the organization’s biggest single contributor.

Diplomats also credited Mr. Guterres with having steered the United Nations through the global coronavirus pandemic, which Mr. Guterres described as the organization’s greatest challenge since its founding.

But Mr. Guterres also was criticized by rights groups and others for what they viewed as his unwillingness to publicly chastise governments that abuse human rights or conceal such behavior.

And while activists like Ms. Thompson’s group commended Mr. Guterres for using his bully pulpit to promote gender equality, he was accused of failing to follow through on his vow to eradicate sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse within the vast bureaucracy of the United Nations.

Perhaps the most notable change in the secretary general selection this year was the emergence of candidates with little or no diplomatic experience who promised transformational changes at the United Nations.

One of the challengers, Arora Akanksha, a 34-year-old staff auditor at the organization, attracted attention in part because she was the youngest aspirant and bluntly critical of what she viewed as a failing and sclerotic hierarchy.

An online petition for the candidacy of Ms. Arora, who uses her last name first, had received more than 6,300 signatures as of Tuesday, but she did not get an official endorsement from any country including Canada, where she is a citizen, or from India, the country of her birth.

Ms. Arora, who was well aware of the odds against her candidacy, said in response to the news on Mr. Guterres that her views about the organization had not altered. “The world needs and deserves a new U.N.,” she said. “We cannot expect the same leadership of the past to deliver change.”

Another woman candidate, Rosalía Arteaga, 64, who was briefly Ecuador’s president in 1997, entered the race backed by a London-based group known as the Forward campaign. But Ms. Arteaga also did not secure the backing of any member states.

The process for selecting a secretary general is far more public now than it has been for most of the history of the United Nations, when it was shrouded in secrecy and was the exclusive domain of the permanent members of the Security Council. In the early years, they privately discussed and decided on candidates who were not even aware they were under consideration.

In 1953, for example, they secretly chose Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat, who learned about it in a surprise phone call he originally thought was a prank.

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