by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- The UN General Assembly by acclamation on Thursday formally appointed Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and a former UN High Commissioner for refugees, the next secretary-general to begin his five-year term on Jan. 1, 2017.
"Having been chosen by all member states, I must be at the service of them all equally and with no agenda but the one enshrined in the UN Charter," he said in General Assembly Hall remarks.
Acknowledging limitations of the office, he promised to be "a convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefit everyone involved."
The ninth secretary-general to-be said he greeted his appointment with humility for being entrusted with the position and gratitude for the transparency of the selection process, saying, "I believe this process means that the true winner today is the credibility of the United Nations."
Having witnessed "the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth ... visited war zones and refugee camps" Guterres said, "one might legitimately ask: what has happened to the 'dignity and worth of the human person'? What has made us immune to the plight of those most socially and economically underprivileged?"
He wants to make "human dignity the core of my work."
"This also underscores the importance of gender equality. I have long been aware of the hurdles women face in society, in the family and in the workplace just because of their gender," the secretary-designate said.
He vowed to work for "peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity. Based on these values, I believe that diversity in all its forms is a tremendous asset, and not a threat; that in societies that are more and more multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, diversity can bring us together, not drive us apart."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Guterres "brings deep and solid political experience.
"His political instincts are those of the United Nations: cooperation for the common good, and shared responsibility for people and the planet," Ban said. "He recognizes the crucial importance of women's empowerment, from peace tables to the halls of this house."
"I have long valued his advice, and long admired his spirit of service," the secretary-general said of his designated successor.
"You have often shared your feeling of privilege to be part of the United Nations," Ban told Guterres. "Despite all the challenges, you said, 'this is still the best place in the world to work'."
"After 10 years, I could not agree more," Ban said.
The president of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, lauded Guterres but also praised member states.
"For the first time in the history of the United Nations, the selection and appointment process for the secretary-general has been guided by principles of transparency and inclusivity," he said.
"It was a process that specifically sought out candidates who embody a firm commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter; who exemplify the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity; and who have proven leadership and managerial abilities, extensive experience in international relations, and strong diplomatic, communication and multilingual skills." Thomson said.
"And throughout it all, the process emphasized the need to secure the best possible candidate for the role," he added.
For the first time there were 13 publicly announced candidates, seven of them women and all were interviewed for two hours each by member states. The selection of Guterres by the Security Council last week came on the sixth round of an informal straw poll that was supposed to be secret but the results of the first five were quickly leaked and the finally round quickly announced. Guterres led all polls.
Throughout the acclamation session there was much praise for Ban, especially on 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the active support of Mrs. Ban.
Representatives of the major geopolitical groups in the United Nations spoke after the appointment of Guterres, praising him for his experience.
"The African group is particularly encouraged by the transparency and inclusivity which had guided the selection process and thus reinforced the legitimacy of the General Assembly, said Ambassador Abdallah Wafy of Niger, this month's chairman of the African Group.
Wafy also thanked Mogens Lykketoft, president of the previous, 70th, General Assembly for instituting the new more transparent process and to Thomson for "leading the process to its logical conclusion."
"Terrorism, violent extremism, xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance, and its ramifications has been a daunting concern worldwide and is one of the foremost issues that the Secretary-General-designate need to raise awareness in countering the threats it imposes through international cooperation," said Ambassador Mansour Al Otaibi of Kuwait, this month's chairman of the Asia-Pacific group.
"Under his leadership, it is with hope that we, as nations united, will build the bridges needed to pave the way to a peaceful, prosperous and just world," he said.
Ambassador Cristian Barros Melet of Chile, this month's president of the Group of Latin America and Caribbean states, said Guterres' tenure as high commissioner for refugees is "more relevant now than ever as we face large movements of refugees and migrants, one of our most pressing challenges."
Barros said the group was confident Guterres will instill "the highest standards of integrity into the United Nations system while promoting unity and understanding to find the best global solutions."
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, speaking for the Western European and Others Group, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, said, "We look to him to efficiently and effectively manage the Secretariat and advance much needed reforms to enhance the UN's ability to face the challenges of this century, and we express our utmost confidence in his experience, ability and skills to lead this Organization over the coming years."