Guterres seeks to breathe new life into UN

Antonio Guterres addresses a news conference in Geneva in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 31 December 2016

Guterres seeks to breathe new life into UN

THE UNITED NATIONS: Antonio Guterres assumes the reins of the United Nations on Sunday hoping to breathe new life into the world body.
The Portuguese former prime minister, 67, will become the first onetime head of government to lead the UN, succeeding South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon for a five-year term.
His unanimous election has energized UN diplomats who see him as a skilled politician who may be able to overcome the divisions crippling the United Nations.
One Western ambassador regretted only that a woman wasn’t picked to take the post for the first time, adding with a smile that “except for the gender, he is perfect.”
Guterres faces a monumental task grappling with complex crises in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, North Korea and elsewhere — overseeing a clunky entrenched bureaucracy and a bitterly divided Security Council that will leave him little room to maneuver.
Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House on Jan. 20 likely will further complicate his task.
Guterres has acknowledged that “the secretary general is not the leader of the world,” but rather that his work depends on the goodwill of the world’s great powers.
After two terms under Ban, widely criticized for lacking initiative and charisma, some diplomats are banking on a change of style and personality to revitalize the UN.
An engineer by training and a practicing Catholic, Guterres fought for migrants’ rights as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015.
He served as prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, anchoring his country to the European Union and working to raise living standards.
He has laid out three priorities for change: Working for peace, supporting sustainable development and improving internal UN management.
One issue looms above the others, however.
“My deepest regret on leaving office is the continuing nightmare in Syria,” Ban recently declared.
The UN has looked on helplessly as the Syrian Army laid siege to the fighters' stronghold of Aleppo, the country’s second city, backed by Russia and Iran.
Their sole concession to the UN was to allow a small handful of observers to follow the evacuation of thousands of civilians.
“Too little, too late,” one diplomat said.
Guterres inherits the portfolio with Moscow and Ankara spearheading a nationwide cease-fire effort.
Ban has already gone through two Syria mediators — Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, who both resigned — before appointing Staffan de Mistura, who has appeared exasperated over the UN’s powerlessness over the conflict.
The same helplessness and at times disunity has marked the UN’s response to the civil war that ravaged South Sudan for three years. A US initiative to impose an arms embargo failed, winning only seven votes from the 15 countries that sit on the Security Council.
The approximately 13,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country have been criticized for failing to protect the civilians crowding UN bases.
Elsewhere on the continent, accusations of rape have permanently tarnished the reputation of UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
Guterres has acknowledged the criticism, saying “it is time for the United Nations to recognize its shortcomings and to reform the way it works.”
“The United Nations needs to be nimble, efficient and effective.”


Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

Updated 26 November 2020

Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

COPENHAGEN: Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen broke down on Thursday when visiting a mink farmer who lost his herd following the government’s order this month to cull all 17 million mink in the country to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Frederiksen has faced opposition calls to resign and a vote of no confidence in parliament after an order by the government in early November, which it later admitted was illegal, to cull the country’s entire mink population.
The order was given after authorities found COVID-19 outbreaks at hundreds of mink farms, including a new strain of the virus, suspected of being able to compromise the efficacy of vaccines.
“We have two generations of really skilled mink farmers, father and son, who in a very, very short time have had their life’s work shattered,” Frederiksen told reporters after a meeting with a mink farmer and his son at their farm near Kolding in Western Denmark.
“It has been emotional for them, and... Sorry. It has for me too,” Frederiksen said with a wavering voice, pausing for breath in between words.
The move to cull Denmark’s entire mink population, one of the world’s biggest and highly valued for the quality of its fur, has left the government reeling after it admitted it did not have the legal basis to order the culling of healthy mink.
After a tumultuous couple of weeks since the order was given on Nov. 4, the Minister of Agriculture, Mogens Jensen, stepped down last week after an internal investigation revealed a flawed political process.
Denmark has proposed a ban on all mink breeding in the country until 2022. Tage Pedersen, head of the Danish mink breeders’ association, said this month the industry, which employs around 6,000 people and exports fur pelts worth $800 million annually, is finished.
Denmark’s opposition says the cull of healthy mink should not have been initiated before compensation plans were in place for the owners and workers at some 1,100 mink farms.