By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The ‘man in the mirror’ for the entire global community for the next five years, would be a 62- year- old Portuguese, Antonio Guterres – United Nations General Secretary (UNSG) elected into office last week; who had a tough time till late, tackling the world refugee crisis.
As the Chief of the Refugee Agency of the UN from 2005 to 2015, Guterres promoted and urged all countries to recognize country’s sovereignty and balance its outlook with human sovereignty. He called all nations to recognize human sovereignty and work on that platform.
He also maintained, all countries should prevent refugees mushrooming all over; than protecting refugees.
Guterres on Sri Lanka
Former Premier of Portugal, Guterres is no stranger to Sri Lanka. He visited Sri Lanka as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2006 when the war was escalating and refugee crisis was most severe.
He came, right after, Lt. General Fonseka survived an LTTE suicide bomb attack on 25 April 2006.
During Guterres 2006 visit, he flew to Kilinochchi, to the de facto administration centre of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) administered Tamil territories and met with LTTE’s political head, S. P. Thamilchelvan, who later died in an aerial bombing by government troops, and M. Pavarasan, the director of UN and NGO affairs of the LTTE administration.
In fact, when the SLAF chopper touched down in Kilinochchi, the HC for Refugees was received by S. Thangan, the LTTE deputy political head and the director of LTTE’s peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan.
He urged the LTTE faction to hold frank discussions and have a common understanding with regard to the concerns of Tamils on the resettlement of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs).
His visit was to mainly check on the displaced people in the North and East of the country and to hear first-hand their concerns and needs and discuss humanitarian work. He said less talk and more action is needed to settle the refugee crisis in Sri Lanka.
Guterres also met with government officials including Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa, then president, who agreed he would work closely with the Refugee Agency.
Right after his visit to Sri Lanka he told The Hindu that more needed to be done for the Sri Lankan refugees living in India by the Government of Sri Lanka, the country of origin, to create conditions for people to feel comfortable about considering the possibility of returning from India.
He further said “It has to do with the living conditions, work, education, health, property and security; these are all key questions that need to be addressed for the voluntary repatriation of the people. It is very important that the government of the country of origin do everything possible to re-establish the confidence of people. And I hope it will be also possible in the near future to intensify the voluntary repatriation of the Tamils into Sri Lanka.”
Today, many who took refuge in South India are returning to Sri Lanka, yet, more has to be done, as he said.
Then too Guteress tried his best to prevent the buildup of the numbers of persons displaced due to the ethnic war, some of whom have been out of their homes for more than 20 years.
In 2006 there were some 50,000 people who had fled their homes and camped in many places, in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Puttalam and in the North of the country. The UNHCR under Guterres, was monitoring displacement and providing protection and humanitarian assistance, then.
His new office, after winning the highest number of votes to become the next Secretary General, warmly welcomed him.
The current High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Guterres during his ten years at UNHCR, had managed some of the biggest refugee crises of our times. He said, “Guterres will lead the UN with vision, political skill and deep sense of humanity needed to make an unprecedented push for world peace.”
He also pointed out that, Guterres above all, is a tireless advocate for refugees, the internally displaced and the Stateless, defending their rights in the field and at the highest political levels and that he placed a strong emphasis on finding innovative solutions to help them find safety and a dignified life, as well as on pushing for an end to the conflicts driving so many people from their homes.
As a senior peacemaker in the world, Guterres is also known to be an ardent follower of Catholicism and denounces gay marriage, divorce and abortion which puts him in many an awkward position, but he believes in what he says.
In a BBC interview in the year 2008, when he was asked what does Resolution mean, when the UN Resolution is tabled to be enforced and so called State sovereignty does not allow to engage on the Resolution but punishes its own people, to which Guterres acknowledged there is an issue, but he said, its gradually shifting after the Iraq war ended. He said the Iraq war brought about relevant changes and argued that there were agendas. “Unfortunately we witness the reemergence of State sovereignty as the key factor and we see there are ‘difficulties’ in their responsibility to protect and materialize the Resolution. He said sovereignty of the human is totally sacrificed to the sovereignty of the State.”
He added that a new consensus should emerge in the international community in order to balance the sovereignty of both the country and human beings.
When asked how can an international consensus derive when countries like China and Russia is there to veto any international consensus to protect individual sovereignty, Guterres had responded, “There is a problem in the world governing system created after the World War II.” He also admitted that his refugee agency was created after the WW II.
His views were that it is important to recognize the need for the world governing system to move in a way that allows re-establishing a balance between the State sovereignty and the human being’s sovereignty.
A father of three children, he married for the second time when his first wife died of cancer.
Guterres would replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea, who will step down at the end of 2016 after serving two terms.
When Guterres spoke to the General Assembly in April this year, he said he was a candidate to become UN secretary-general because “the best place to address the root cause of human suffering is at the centre of the UN system.” He spoke in English, French and Spanish during the two-hour long meeting. He also pointed out that “There is a clear lack of capacity in the international community to prevent and to solve conflicts”.
Today, there are also 10 million Stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
When he came in 2006 too he found there were displaced people living for more than 20 years living in camps in the North and he, for sure would also know there are refugees living in India.
His voice for the refugees will be echoing but surely his voice for the oppressed and stateless will be stronger than the outgoing United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki moon because he knows what causes human tragedy and will give no excuses of failure.