TRUNA has a long tradition of "House Meetings". This one took place on 26 November 2017.
Mary Holmes, who spoiled the ten people who attended with excellent refreshments, started the discussion by comparing her expectations of the SG with the job description she presented. Mary had thought of the SG as primarily a spokesperson, aiming to draw attention to the world’s problems in the hope of reducing them. The job description (https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/role-secretary-general) states: “The Charter describes the Secretary-General as "chief administrative officer" of the Organization”, which shows this not to be the full picture: more “secretary“ than “general”. The SG is primarily the most senior administration person, with no executive powers such as those exercised by governments. Martin Barber, a former UN employee, pointed out that Guterres’ room for manœuvre was limited by the promise he had made to the five Security Council members to continue to accept their nominations for his top staff.
This led to two topics:
1) a comparison of the status of António Guterres with that of some of his predecessors: Ban Ki-moon was seen as ineffective; more credit was given to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Kofi Annan, and the highest praise reserved for Dag Hammarskjöld.
2) the general loss of status (especially in the UK) of the UN, which was seen to be due partly to the recent inability of the UN to deal effectively with the humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen and Myanmar, as well as problems with peace-keeping troops. UK politicians rarely refer to the UN. Another reason for public ignorance in the UK was the disappearance of UN activities in schools.
Mary and Martin also steered the discussion to António Guterres’ life before he joined the UN. His educational career and record in the socialist government of Portugal after the overthrow of dictator Marcello Caetano were both seen as impressive, and the fact that after he stepped down as Prime Minister he taught mathematics to refugees in Lisbon demonstrated his genuine interest in them, later to emerge in his career in UNHCR.
Attention turned to a list of seven objectives for the UN enunciated by Guterres (https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2017-09-19/sgs-ga-address).
The seven points in his speech related to:
1. Nuclear Weapons
2. Counter Terrorism
3. Conflict: Myanmar, Yemen, etc.
4. Climate Change
6. Cyber War & Cyber Issues
7. Migration and Refugees.
In practice, it was pointed out that Guterres had been unable to condemn breaches of International Humanitarian Law (bombing medical facilities in Syria and Yemen), despite his responsibility to draw to the attention of the Security Council breaches of International Humanitarian Law.
One goal was felt to be lacking; the creation of a network of media offices around the world capable of disseminating rapidly UN news and views on world affairs.