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ntonio Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal, who also led the UN's refugee agency for 10 years, took over as the United Nations' new secretary-general and issued an appeal for peace. “Let us make 2017 a year in which we all — citizens, governments, leaders — strive to overcome our differences,” Guterres declared after taking the reins of the UN. He urged people to share his New Year's resolution: "Let us resolve to put peace first."

He added that his priority at the organization will be a surge in diplomacy for peace. To achieve this priority goal, he aims to foster a “culture of prevention.” Guterres wants the high international body to act as an “honest broker, bridge-builder and messenger for peace”, and to focus on preventing crises rather than managing them after they occur.

For this to work, Guterres said there needs to be strong partnerships among regional organizations, international financial institutions and the private sector (UN News Center).

After two terms under his successor Ban Ki-moon, often criticized for absence of initiative, hopes for the revitalization of the UN links with personality and previous UN experience of the new boss of the organization.

Guterres spent a decade as the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees. During this time, he oversaw the most profound overhaul in the refugee agency's history and built up its ability to respond to the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, as millions of Syrians and others fleeing war and poverty fled to Turkey and western Europe. "He’s not a quiet voice. He’s a forceful outspoken leader on the global stage, and that’s something the UN needs," said Peter Yeo, president of Better World Campaign, which promotes a strong USA-UN relationship (USA today).

Gender parity. Convinced of the need to guarantee equal opportunities for women and men in gaining access to senior decision-making positions, member states were encouraged to consider nominating women, as well as men, as candidates for the position of the Secretary-General. Prior to Guterres' election the General Assembly, the U. considered giving its top job to a woman for the first time due to the widely supported idea, that it is already “high time” for a woman to hold the position after seven decades and eight male leaders in the United Nations. Of the 11 candidates in the running to take up this top post, five were women.

According to new Secretary-General opinion, the "gender parity" is key for the organization to thrive. In mid-December, Guterres announced he will appoint the Minister of Environment of Nigeria, Amina Mohammed, as his deputy. Ms. Mohammed also served as Special Advisor to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning, where she was instrumental in bringing about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He also said he would appoint Brazil's Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti as his chief of staff. A senior policy adviser role will be given to Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea.

“I am happy to count on the efforts of these three highly competent women, whom I have chosen for their strong backgrounds in global affairs, development, diplomacy, human rights and humanitarian action,” said Secretary-General-designate Guterres, in the statement adding: “These appointments are the foundations of my team, which I will continue to build, respecting my pledges on gender parity and geographical diversity.” (UN News Centre).

New realities and time to reform. The next UN Secretary-General should strive to find new methods to resolve international conflicts, diminish the atrocities of global terrorism, better manage migrant and refugee flows, and end the many humanitarian crises. Finally, the new boss of the UN needs to recognise that the world has changed and that the UN needs to change in accordance with new realities.

The UN still plays a crucial role in contemporary international development and its Charter is a kind of universally accepted code of conduct of states and their relationships. There is no alternative to the UN in the 21st century, where the world meets new challenges and threats to international peace and security.

Yes, the UN has produced major successes over its more than 70 years – and major failures. One of the main reasons for the lack of effectiveness of the organisation, particularly Security Council, lies in its inability and unwillingness in some cases to ensure the implementation of its resolutions.

While the Security Council is endowed with sufficient powers necessary for the proper execution of its resolutions, unfortunately sometimes its resolutions are not implemented or properly followed.

The adaptation of the UN to a dramatic shift in the international political landscape has become a demand of the time. It urgently needs to be reformed, and the next Secretary-General should make this issue a priority of their future activities, as it attempted by his ancestors – Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan.

But the possibility of a reform depends much more on the policies of the great powers that have sufficient economic and military resources and the leverages of political control at the global level that are necessary for the effectiveness of the relevant reform in the United Nations system.

As arguably the most important international institution of all, the UN Security Council remains the symbol of global governance and the only judge for defining what amounts to a threat to international peace. The competing aims of its 15 members (including five “veto powers”) make the reforming process highly complicated.

The main unknown is the impact Trump’s presidency will have on the UN and global affairs. The Republican billionaire has shown mistrust toward the United Nations and threatened to revisit the Paris climate change agreement, one of Ban’s biggest successes. That has caused concern, given he is the future leader of the UN’s main donor, which contributes 22% of its budget. It’s also unclear what effect a US-Russia rapprochement – something Trump advocates – would have on the Security Council (Euractiv).

The success in the process of the United Nations reform can be achieved only in case of a demonstration of political will of great powers based on a solid foundation of international law which can be a guarantor of sustainable international development in modern era.

Najiba Mustafayeva

Expert in International Law
Research fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies

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