Europe

Who is Antonio Guterres? Meet the UN's next secretary-general

  • 6 October 2016
  • From the section Europe
The new secretary-general of the UN, Antonio Guterres Image copyright AFP
Image caption Antonio Guterres spent a decade as head of the UNHCR refugee agency

The nomination of Antonio Guterres as next UN secretary-general came despite efforts by some politicians for the role to go to a woman, or to someone from eastern Europe.

He is widely expected to select a woman as deputy secretary-general, having said that "gender parity" is crucial at the United Nations.

Speaking earlier this year, Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said insiders believed Mr Guterres, from Portugal, "could give the UN the kind of kick up the backside it needs".

Mr Guterres was born in Lisbon in 1949. He studied engineering and physics at the Instituto Superior Tecnico, before going into academia after graduating in 1971.

But academia only held the fervent Catholic's interest for a couple of years. He joined the Socialist party in 1974 - the same year five decades of dictatorship came to an end in Portugal - and soon became a full-time politician.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Guterres has repeatedly called on rich countries to do more for the world's refugees

In 1995, three years after being elected the Socialist Party's secretary-general, he was voted in as prime minister, a position he held until 2002.

Then Mr Guterres, fluent in Portuguese, English, Spanish and French, turned his attention to the world of international diplomacy, becoming the UN's high commissioner for refugees in 2005.

Under his guidance, the numbers working in the UNHCR's Geneva head office were slashed, while its capacity to respond to international crises by deploying more staff closer to hotspots was improved.

However, it was his tireless attempts to get the world's richest countries to do more for those fleeing conflict and disaster around the world that people remember.

"We can't deter people fleeing for their lives," he wrote in Time magazine last year. "They will come. The choice we have is how well we manage their arrival, and how humanely."

Prior to his nomination, he said that his work at the UNHCR had been excellent preparation for a secretary-general.

"I think we are living in a world where we see a multiplication of new conflicts, and you see an enormous difficulty in solving the conflicts," he said.

"There is a clear lack of capacity in the international community to prevent and to solve conflicts."

Mr Guterres, 67, has two children from his marriage to his first wife, who died in 1998. He remarried in 2001.

Media captionAntonio Guterres has played a key role in the continuing migrant crisis

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