UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly unanimously elected Antonio Guterres to a second term as secretary-general on Friday, giving him another five years at the helm of the 193-member organization at a time a deeply divided world faces numerous conflicts, the growing impact of climate change, and a pandemic still circling the globe.
Guterres, the only candidate for the U.N.’s top post, said he was “humbled and energized” by the support of the world’s nations and said the “driving theme” of his second term will be “prevention in all its aspects — from conflicts, climate change, pandemics to poverty and inequality.”
Ambassadors in the assembly chamber burst into applause as Assembly President Volkan Bozkir announced Guterres’ re-election by “acclamation,” without a vote. Just before the announcement, Estonia’s U.N. Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, the current Security Council president, read a resolution adopted by the 15-member council recommending Guterres for a second term.
Under the U.N. Charter, the General Assembly appoints the secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council.
The council said this year it would only consider applicants backed by a U.N. member state and Guterres was the only candidate nominated by a U.N. member, his home country Portugal where he previously served as prime minister. The country’s current president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was in the assembly chamber to watch the event.
Immediately after his re-election, Guterres took the oath of office and delivered an address urging U.N. member nations “to do everything we can to overcome current geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations.”
“There are too many asymmetrics and paradoxes,” he said. “They need to be addressed head on.”
“What we are living through today in terms of mistrust is, I hope, an aberration,” the U.N. chief said, “but it cannot become the norm.”
Guterres pledged to “give it my all to ensure the blossoming of trust between and among nations, large and small, to build bridges and to engage relentlessly in confidence building” — and to “seek to inspire hope that we can turn things around, that the impossible is possible.”
Guterres said the world is facing “a number of dramatic fragilities,” singling out the pandemic, climate change, lawlessness in cyberspace and the geopolitical divide, and stressing that this must be addressed by bringing together the world’s nations and strengthening multilateralism.
“This is a time to understand that each country alone can do nothing… that countries must come together,” he said. “To rebuild trust is the way to make the impossible possible. If we remain divided, the impossible will remain impossible and the fragilities of this world will present themselves into bigger suffering for the people, especially the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”
Guterres said the most important lesson he learned in his first term is the need to rebuild solidarity and trust, “and if there is something I need to do better in my second term is to make sure that I do everything I can to rebuild trust — trust among governments, trust between people and institutions, and trust in the United Nations.”
The secretary-general’s re-election was immediately welcomed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Blinken called Guterres a “results-oriented” and “capable leader in a demanding role.”
The United States “looks forward to continuing our strong and constructive relationship … as we advance the urgent task of bringing about a more peaceful world and prosperous future,” Blinken said. “The United Nations is an indispensable anchor of the multilateral system” where nations work together “to meet such unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, human rights, development, migration, and humanitarian crises.”
Merkel praised Guterres’ commitment to peaceful solutions to conflicts, climate protection and “innovative solutions to global problems” in his first term.
She thanked Guterres for helping set up the COVAX facility to get vaccines to poorer countries and said: “The coronavirus pandemic in particular has shown us that the United Nations’ ability to react quickly to current challenges is essential.”
Guterres came under fire in his first term for failing to criticize Russia, China and the United States, whose support he needed for a second term, especially on human rights issues including China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and Russia’s targeting of dissidents. Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s “America First” policy was sharply at odds with Guterres’ insistence that nations can only solve problems by working together.
With his second term assured, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau said Guterres “should start calling out all governments that commit human rights abuses, including those that are powerful and protected.”
His “legacy will depend on his willingness to speak out for all the oppressed, wherever they are,” Charbonneau said.
Traditionally, candidates for the U.N.’s top job have been nominated by a U.N. member state, but that is not a requirement in the U.N. Charter or in a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 2015. This year, seven individuals submitted applications to be secretary-general without backing from any government, including former Ecuadorian President Rosalia Arteaga.
The 2015 resolution made the previously largely secretive selection of the secretary-general more open and transparent, allowing member states for the first time to see basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to question them at open sessions.
Guterres, a former U.N. refugee chief, was elected by the assembly to succeed Ban Ki-moon after a hotly contested and transparent race in October 2016 that initially included 13 candidates — seven women and six men. Guterres took office on Jan. 1, 2017.
Geir Moulson in Berlin and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report