Myanmar, North Korea , Gender Parity

by Dulcie Leimbach. This article originally appeared on PassBlue.

New York — António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said the top two problems he would highlight the most at the opening session of the General Assembly next week were Myanmar’s rapidly unfolding humanitarian disaster and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons provocations.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, was repeatedly asked by media on Sept. 13 how he would handle the presence of Donald Trump at the opening session of the General Assembly, on Sept. 19. He said to “listen” to his speech at the beginning of the Assembly. Photo Credit: MARK GARTEN/UN PHOTOS

“The humanitarian situation is catastrophic,” Guterres said at a media briefing on Sept. 13 at UN headquarters in New York, referring to Myanmar. Last week, he noted, “there were 125,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled into Bangladesh. That number has now tripled to nearly 380,000. . . . Women and children are arriving hungry and malnourished.” (The Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State in Myanmar have virtually no access to humanitarian assistance, according to Doctors Without Borders.)

As for North Korea, Guterres said, the nuclear and missile tests “have created great instability and tension on the Korean peninsula, throughout the region and beyond.”

“Unity in the Security Council is critical,” he added. “This week’s unanimous adoption of a new resolution sends a clear message that the DPRK [North Korea] must comply fully with its international obligations.”

Unity, he emphasized, also “creates an opportunity for diplomatic engagement — an opportunity that must be seized.” (Which is what Russia and China have espoused to deal with the crisis.)

As the new secretary-general, Guterres is slowly becoming more comfortable speaking to the media at the UN since he took office in January. At the Sept. 13 briefing to a very crowded room, he fielded questions for an hour from a range of international journalists — working for large sites like BBC, Reuters, Associated Press and The New York Times — and smaller publications based in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

He answered questions on subjects ranging from President Trump to Myanmar, Lebanon to Yemen, Colombia to Libya — and back to Trump — among other concerns. Mostly, he provided specific answers but backpedaled and generalized at times, reverting to hesitation as if a wolf were hiding behind the door.

Guterres was asked, for example, whether he would meet with Trump personally (yes); whether the expulsion of the Rohingya population from Myanmar was “ethnic cleansing” (“can you find a better word to describe it?” he responded, refusing to call it “genocide”); whether he would be “confrontational” with Trump and related hot potatoes (“listen to my speech in the beginning of the Assembly, and . . . your question will be answered”); and whether Kurds have the right to self-determination (“reconciliation,” he advised, is the prescription now for Iraq).

Notably, when asked what “situation” could be fixed in the short term, Guterres said, Libya, where the people there could “seize this opportunity” to “overcome the divisions and move in the direction of a solution.”

Guterres, answering why the United States was not using him to mediate the North Korea tensions, as he has volunteered to do and Russia suggested would be valid, he said, “the good offices of the Secretary-General can only be implemented when there is a consensus in the Security Council about the need to use them.” That consensus, he added, “was not yet reached.”

He also highlighted two UN-centric topics that he will raise at the annual session, which gets into full swing next week: a new 18-member advisory board of high-level “internationally recognized personalities” — some of them past envoys for the UN, to conduct mediation. The notables include Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury in Britain.

The second topic, Guterres said, was to achieve gender parity strategy among senior-level management by 2021 and across the board at the UN by 2028.

“I have already started to do my part,” Guterres said. “Since January, over half of my appointments to the Senior Management Group have been women — a total of 17 women and 15 men so far, including both appointments and renewal of mandates. There is a large majority of men in the present mandates, which means that in the new appointments, the high percentage of women is even higher.”

Leaders of the UN’s 193 member states have plenty of humanitarian crises and nagging warfare around the world to concentrate on as they begin to speak on Sept. 19. (They also like to delve into picayune national matters, to the consternation of their audience.)

The opening of the General Assembly’s 72nd session is the first time that Guterres, a one-time prime minister of Portugal and ex-head of the UN refugee agency for 10 years, will hold court as secretary-general. The pow wow is the most-attended forum all year for UN members, a week or so in which world leaders fly into New York to speechify, participate in UN meetings and conduct “bilateral” discussions behind the scenes.

The session also marks the debut of Miroslav Lajcak presiding as the new president of the Assembly (he is also Slovakia’s foreign minister); and Israel, in a first for the country, to hold the vice presidency — represented by Danny Danon, its ambassador to the UN.

The agenda for the session is relatively light. The presence of Trump is bound to rivet the most attention within hundreds of miles of the UN, as he makes his maiden speech at the world body, on Sept. 19. He is speaking second, after Michel Temer, president of Brazil, following tradition. (The last country to speak, on Sept. 25, is Turkmenistan.)

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said the top two problems he would highlight the most at the opening session of the General Assembly next week were Myanmar’s rapidly unfolding humanitarian disaster and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons provocations.

“The humanitarian situation is catastrophic,” Guterres said at a media briefing on Sept. 13 at UN headquarters in New York, referring to Myanmar. Last week, he noted, “there were 125,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled into Bangladesh. That number has now tripled to nearly 380,000. . . . Women and children are arriving hungry and malnourished.” (The Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State in Myanmar have virtually no access to humanitarian assistance, according to Doctors Without Borders.)

As for North Korea, Guterres said, the nuclear and missile tests “have created great instability and tension on the Korean peninsula, throughout the region and beyond.”

“Unity in the Security Council is critical,” he added. “This week’s unanimous adoption of a new resolution sends a clear message that the DPRK [North Korea] must comply fully with its international obligations.”

Unity, he emphasized, also “creates an opportunity for diplomatic engagement — an opportunity that must be seized.” (Which is what Russia and China have espoused to deal with the crisis.)

As the new secretary-general, Guterres is slowly becoming more comfortable speaking to the media at the UN since he took office in January. At the Sept. 13 briefing to a very crowded room, he fielded questions for an hour from a range of international journalists — working for large sites like BBC, Reuters, Associated Press and The New York Times — and smaller publications based in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

He answered questions on subjects ranging from President Trump to Myanmar, Lebanon to Yemen, Colombia to Libya — and back to Trump — among other concerns. Mostly, he provided specific answers but backpedaled and generalized at times, reverting to hesitation as if a wolf were hiding behind the door.

Guterres was asked, for example, whether he would meet with Trump personally (yes); whether the expulsion of the Rohingya population from Myanmar was “ethnic cleansing” (“can you find a better word to describe it?” he responded, refusing to call it “genocide”); whether he would be “confrontational” with Trump and related hot potatoes (“listen to my speech in the beginning of the Assembly, and . . . your question will be answered”); and whether Kurds have the right to self-determination (“reconciliation,” he advised, is the prescription now for Iraq).

Notably, when asked what “situation” could be fixed in the short term, Guterres said, Libya, where the people there could “seize this opportunity” to “overcome the divisions and move in the direction of a solution.”

Guterres, answering why the United States was not using him to mediate the North Korea tensions, as he has volunteered to do and Russia suggested would be valid, he said, “the good offices of the Secretary-General can only be implemented when there is a consensus in the Security Council about the need to use them.” That consensus, he added, “was not yet reached.”

He also highlighted two UN-centric topics that he will raise at the annual session, which gets into full swing next week: a new 18-member advisory board of high-level “internationally recognized personalities” — some of them past envoys for the UN, to conduct mediation. The notables include Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury in Britain.

The second topic, Guterres said, was to achieve gender parity strategy among senior-level management by 2021 and across the board at the UN by 2028.

“I have already started to do my part,” Guterres said. “Since January, over half of my appointments to the Senior Management Group have been women — a total of 17 women and 15 men so far, including both appointments and renewal of mandates. There is a large majority of men in the present mandates, which means that in the new appointments, the high percentage of women is even higher.”

Leaders of the UN’s 193 member states have plenty of humanitarian crises and nagging warfare around the world to concentrate on as they begin to speak on Sept. 19. (They also like to delve into picayune national matters, to the consternation of their audience.)

The opening of the General Assembly’s 72nd session is the first time that Guterres, a one-time prime minister of Portugal and ex-head of the UN refugee agency for 10 years, will hold court as secretary-general. The pow wow is the most-attended forum all year for UN members, a week or so in which world leaders fly into New York to speechify, participate in UN meetings and conduct “bilateral” discussions behind the scenes.

The session also marks the debut of Miroslav Lajcak presiding as the new president of the Assembly (he is also Slovakia’s foreign minister); and Israel, in a first for the country, to hold the vice presidency — represented by Danny Danon, its ambassador to the UN.

The agenda for the session is relatively light. The presence of Trump is bound to rivet the most attention within hundreds of miles of the UN, as he makes his maiden speech at the world body, on Sept. 19. He is speaking second, after Michel Temer, president of Brazil, following tradition. (The last country to speak, on Sept. 25, is Turkmenistan.)

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store