New UN chief wants world to stop wars before they start

Antonio Guterres, former head of the UN refugee agency, took over Ban Ki-moon's post on New Year's Day with a promise to shake up the world body.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Since taking the office on Jan 1, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made his first address to the Security Council in New York City, US, January 10, 2017.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Security Council on Tuesday to take more action to prevent conflicts rather than just responding to them as he vowed to strengthen the world body's mediation capacity.

Making his first address to the Security Council since taking office, Guterres said, "People are paying too high a price," adding, "we need a whole new approach."

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and former head of the UN refugee agency took over Ban Ki-moon's post on Jan 1 with a promise to shake up the international humanitarian and diplomatic institution.

An international order based on rules and law "is under grave threat," he said, describing the 71-year-old United Nations' response to global crises as "fragmented."

Guterres asked the Council to make greater use of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which allows the body to investigate and recommend procedures to resolve disputes that could eventually endanger international peace and security.

He has created an executive committee to integrate all UN arms, and appointed a senior official to merge UN prevention capacities for better action. He said too many opportunities to prevent conflicts had been lost due to mistrust among states and concerns over national sovereignty.

The Security Council has been largely deadlocked on the six-year war in Syria, with Russia and China blocking moves by the United States, Britain and France that seek to intervene in the conflict against Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad. Russia and China, proclaiming the sanctity of national sovereignty, opposes such measures, but Russia has aided Assad with air strikes against opposition forces. 

These five countries hold individual veto power, a system in place since the end of World War II when the "Big Five" emerged as victors against the Japanese Empire and Nazi Germany. 

The split between the East and the West over what to do about the Syrian civil war came out during Tuesday's meeting when the American representative to the UN accused her Russian counterpart of hypocrisy. 

"Russia has suggested ... that failure to respect state sovereignty is the main driver of conflict," US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said. "Even as Russia has used its veto to insulate itself from consequences in this council for trampling on Ukraine's sovereignty," she said, referring to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and Russian-speaking parts of Eastern Ukraine.  

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin shot back at Power.

"It is a violation of sovereignty by the United States that led to the very dire situation in a number regions of the world, which we now have to tackle," he said, citing countries including Iraq and Libya.


TRTWorld and agencies