Antonio Guterres sworn in as new UN secretary-general

New York: Against the backdrop of a more fragmented world and rising fear-based politics, the Secretary-General-designate pledged to build trust between people and their leaders and to reform the United Nations to better serve all people everywhere as his took his oath of office this morning in the General Assembly Hall before 193 Member States.

“It is time to reconstruct relations between people and leaders,” said Guterres, who will take the helm of the Organization on 1 January 2017 as its ninth Secretary-General.  Laying out his vision for the five-year term, he said conflicts had recently become more complex while global terrorism had emerged alongside ‘megatrends’ such as climate change, population growth, rapid urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity.

The world had also seen extraordinary technological progress and globalization that had contributed to growing inequalities.

“A lot of people have been left behind,” he said.  Millions had lost their jobs in developed countries and youth unemployment had multiplied.  Globalization had broadened the reach of organized crime and trafficking, further deepening the divide between people.  Many voters were now rejecting the status quo, as they had lost confidence not only in their Governments, but also in the United Nations.

The Organization would have to be ready to overcome its shortcomings, he continued.  From the crises in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere to long‑running disputes, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world needed creative diplomacy.  Pledging to focus on peace, supporting sustainable development and managing the Organization, he emphasized the need to support men and women working in peace operations.  The United Nations also must do more to prevent and respond to appalling crimes of sexual violence and exploitation that had been committed under the United Nations flag.

Outlining several ways he would reform the inner workings of the Organization, he said building consensus must centre on simplification, decentralization and flexibility. “We will build on existing efforts and implement the recent initiatives,” he said. Pointing out that some United Nations staff and budgetary rules and regulations had seemed designed to prevent, rather than enable, the effective delivery of its mandates, he underscored that it benefitted no one to wait nine months to deploy a staff member to the field.

The United Nations, Guterres said, needed to be nimble, efficient and effective.  It should focus more on delivery and less on process, more on people and less on bureaucracy, he said. A culture of accountability required strong performance management and effective protection for whistle-blowers, but it was not enough just to do better.  “We must be able to communicate better about what we do, in ways that everybody understands,” he said.

Guterres praised Ban for his tireless efforts in pushing unprecedented global progress in the areas of human rights, climate change and sustainable development during a decade fraught by crises.