UN Confirms Guterres for a Second Term as Secretary-General

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The United Nations General Assembly confirmed Antonio Guterres for a second term as secretary-general of the world body that’s coping with challenges including the deepening rift between the U.S. and China and the coronavirus pandemic that’s afflicting swaths of the developing world.

The action on Friday, taken by acclimation without a roll call vote, was expected after the Security Council gave its backing earlier this month to another five-year term for the 72-year-old former prime minister of Portugal.

UN Confirms Guterres for a Second Term as Secretary-General

“I am acutely aware of the immense responsibilities you are entrusting me with at such a critical moment in history,” Guterres said after the General Assembly action. “The pandemic has revealed our shared vulnerability, our interconnectedness and the absolute need for collective action.”

In addition to focusing on the pandemic, Guterres intends to use his second term to pursue his emphasis on combating climate change. In May, Guterres said that countries need to move beyond policies focused solely on economic growth, which he said has fueled inequality and environmental degradation.

Congratulating Guterres, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement that the appointment is a testament to the secretary-general’s “leadership in addressing the world’s growing challenges” from the pandemic and climate change to “mass hunger and migration, human rights abuses, and humanitarian crises.”

‘Free Pass’

But some advocacy groups have said Guterres has shied away from criticizing powerful UN member states.

“He’s condemned the likes of Myanmar and Belarus,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “But China shouldn’t get a free pass in the form of ‘private diplomacy’ for its crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Nor should Russia over its support for Syrian government atrocities.”

Guterres faced little opposition for re-election, although some critics said it was past time for the UN to name its first female secretary-general. Several other candidates submitted applications, but only Guterres was nominated by a UN member state as required.

Guterres took office in January 2017 just as Donald Trump became U.S. president and promised an “America First” foreign policy that threatened to put it in direct and immediate conflict with the UN. Yet as UN chief, Guterres initially found common cause with the Trump administration in efforts to scale back costly and ineffective peacekeeping missions. The relationship grew more tense as the U.S. criticized and then withdrew from UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization.

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