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September 20, 2017

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New UN secretary general starts job 'without illusions'

The page has been turned. And the new U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres of Portugal has assumed office with a stoically realistic vision of both the crises and opportunities facing the international community. In his first remarks to staff, Guterres stated, "I think we should have no illusions. We are facing very challenging times."

He's right. The new chief executive of the 193-member organization knows of what he speaks. Before being elected to the top post replacing South Korea's Ban Ki-moon, Guterres was the U.N. high commissioner for refugees in Geneva. During the past decade, massive waves of refugees followed the growing global crisis and disorder. People describe him as a man who spent time in the field knowing the day to day travails facing humanitarian aid givers.

"On one hand, we see everywhere in the world conflicts that multiply, that are interlinked, that also have triggered this new photon of global terrorism," he told assembled staff. He then detailed the breadth of a crisis which has 65 million refugees worldwide, the largest number since World War II.

He chided the contemporary era's "conflicts in which international humanitarian law is not respected and situations in which we see massive human rights violations."

While the U.N. is known for its wide-ranging peacekeeping operations, Guterres said, "We still fail in relation to prevention of conflicts and conflict resolution."

Indeed his pledge to "put peace first" in the New Year reflects a sobering challenge to the chaotic international order.

Yet the new secretary general said, "We have witnessed enormous economic progress and enormous technological progress; we have seen less extreme poverty in the world; social welfare has improved as an average."

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