UN Security Council backs Antonio Guterres for second term as chief

The backing is a pivotal step towards a General Assembly vote later in June

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The UN Security Council gave its unanimous backing on Tuesday for Secretary General Antonio Guterres to continue for a second term, assuring the General Assembly will re-elect him, most likely on June 18.

The 15 council members adopted a brief resolution by acclamation and approved a communique at a private meeting endorsing Mr Guterres – the only candidate – to be the world’s top diplomat for another five years, starting on January 1.

"He has proven worthy of the post already with the five years he has been in office," said council president and Estonia's UN ambassador Sven Jurgenson.

"He has been an excellent secretary general. He's a bridge builder. He's able to speak to everybody and I think this is something that is expected from the secretary general."

Mr Guterres called the council's decision "a great honour" and said he would be "deeply humbled if the General Assembly were to entrust me with the responsibilities of a second mandate".

He said it had been "an immense privilege" to serve "we the peoples" – the opening words of the UN Charter – during the past 4 and a half years "when we have been facing so many complex challenges".

Traditionally, candidates for the UN's top job have been nominated by a member state, but that is not a requirement in the UN Charter or in a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 2015.

That measure made the previously largely secretive selection of the secretary general more open and transparent, allowing member states for the first time to obtain basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to question them at open sessions.

Mr Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal and UN 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. Mr Guterres took office on January 1, 2017.

This year, seven people submitted applications to be secretary general without backing from any government, including former Ecuadorian president Rosalia Arteaga.

Mr Guterres, whose five-year term ends December 31, was the only applicant nominated by a UN member state, his home country of Portugal.

He followed the 2015 process, holding a lengthy open question and answer session with UN diplomats in the assembly last month and then meeting privately with Security Council members.

"Guterres should use his next five years to become a strong vocal advocate for rights."

Under the UN Charter, the 193-member assembly elects the secretary general.

“The timeline now is that most probably it will happen in the General Assembly in the morning of June 18," Mr Jurgenson said.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth alluded to the need for a candidate to be UN chief to obtain support from the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

He repeated his past criticism of Mr Guterres for failing to comment publicly on alleged human rights abuses by some countries.

Mr Roth made a reference to Mr Guterres’ “non-confrontational approach” towards former US president Donald Trump’s efforts to sideline human rights and embrace authoritarian leaders.

He also criticised Mr Guterres position on what he called China's "crimes against humanity" against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, as well as Russia's vetoes of human rights-related resolutions on its ally Syria.

“Guterres should use his next five years to become a strong vocal advocate for rights,” Mr Roth said.

“His recent willingness to denounce abuses in Myanmar and Belarus should expand to include all governments deserving condemnation, including those that are powerful and protected.”