As Mr. Guterres is set to become the next UN Secretary-General when Ban Ki-Moon steps down at the end of the year, many assumptions are drawn based on his past as former head of UN’s refugee agency. Indeed, Guterres’ time in the UN has earned him a reputation a well-regarded leader and principled diplomat who did not shy away from standing up for humanitarian values and Human Rights, even when that entailed speaking out against the political powers his agency depended on financially.
However, Guterres’ track record on prevention and peacebuilding is less proved, although he has dedicated more attention to the issue in his campaigns than many other candidates. In his vision statement
, the incoming UN chief outlines prevention as one of the central priorities, saying that the UN needs “as surge in diplomacy for peace” and that “the SG should actively, consistently and tirelessly exercise his good offices and mediation capacity as an honest broker, bridge builder and messenger of peace.”
Guterres moreover argues that “the reviews on peacekeeping, peacebuilding and on women, peace and security create a unique opportunity to develop a comprehensive, modern and effective operational peace architecture, encompassing prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and long-term development - the ‘peace continuum’.“ Finally, Guterres has consistently argued for the need to mainstream human rights and foster inclusive engagement and empowerment of women and girls.
In addition to this, Guterres’ previous stances on the human suffering and the scale of conflict he witnessed as High Commissioner are promising for the understanding of interlinkages between development, human rights and peace and security as well as the need to address root causes of conflicts he will bring to the job. He strongly rebuted suggestions that countries could deny refugees access by deeming them potentially radicalized and dangerous simply by virtue of coming from Syria, and in his mission statement he called for the UN to prevent intolerance, violent extremism and radicalization by fostering inclusion, solidarity and the cohesion of multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious societies.”
, Guterres summarised these thoughts on how to work for peace and security by saying that “prevention must be not only a priority, but the priority of everything we do. That means we need a huge cultural change to affirm the centrality of prevention. But there is no single thing that is the most important. The causes of conflict are complex, multiple and increasingly interlinked. To tackle them we need a comprehensive perspective that encompasses the three pillars of the United Nations’ action: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights.”
However, although this sounds promising for those hoping for an SG that will put his political weight behind realising the prevention agenda, much will also be decided by whom will be appointed to senior positions in Guterres’ “cabinet”. The terms of the current under-secretary generals expire in March 2017, and the new persons appointed to lead key bodies like the Department of Political Affairs, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and UN’s Development Agency will have significant influence on how Guterres’ encouraging visions are actually implemented. It is unclear which promises and deals have already been made in order to reach agreement on the appointment of Guterres. Ultimately, it therefore remains to be seen to how much independence the principled diplomat will have in setting the team that should help him realize the lofty ambitions of making prevention the priority of everything the UN does.
You can read more about Mr. Guterres' vision about conflict and crisis prevention in this Peace Portal blog