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Livia Firth Celebrates UN Secretary-General António Guterres for His Leadership in Integrity

At a time when integrity, courage, and hope are in dwindling supply on the world stage, one leader is standing up with fearlessness – UN Secretary-General António Guterres


Vogue Arabia, December 2020. Photo: Txema Yeste

Happy New Year everyone. I thought I’d start the new year by writing a thank-you letter to someone who, throughout the hurdles of last year, has shown us what a new form of leadership – let’s call it leadership in integrity – looks like: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. We all want our leaders and politicians to represent us, protect us, allow us to prosper and function in a just way. We all know that no one really does, as corporate interests are stronger than any willingness to safeguard our lives. The latest COP results speak for themselves.

Guterres is different. He is a constant figure and presence whose voice resonated strongly, loudly, and clearly, to keep us on guard and focused on social and environmental justice. I admired him from afar as he taught us integrity, demonstrating what it looks like to stand for it fearlessly and constantly. And more than anything, he gave us the confidence that someone out there, in a position of extraordinary power, really cares. If you consider that the Secretary-General is elected by the UN Security Council, whose five permanent members are China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States, you know what I mean when I say that this man has courage.

The United Nations’ role is to maintain international peace and security, protect human rights, deliver humanitarian aid, uphold international law, and support sustainable development and climate action. But in Guterres’s own words, “International cooperation cannot be taken for granted. We must prove its value by addressing the real problems people face.”

António Guterres. Photo: Getty

Guterres relentlessly speaks out about the climate crisis and urges countries to have the courage to phase out fossil fuels. Last year, when scientists confirmed that July 2023 was the hottest month on record ever, he declared, “For the entire planet, it is a disaster. And for scientists, it is unequivocal – humans are to blame. All this is entirely consistent with predictions and repeated warnings. The only surprise is the speed of the change. Climate change is here, it is terrifying, and it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.” He has also unequivocally declared, “The era of fossil fuels must end – and it must end with justice and equity.”

In December, he also invoked – for the first time since taking office in 2017 – Article 99 of the UN Charter, which allows the Secretary- General to act proactively and independently in addressing threats to peace. Guterres used this powerful tool to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza by forcing the Security Council to vote on the matter. It’s a decision that’s been described as a “dramatic constitutional move” and it shows his audacity to fiercely believe in peace and to put more pressure on the international community. And when the US wielded its veto power to block the move, Guterres stated that the Security Council was “paralysed by geostrategic divisions” and took to social media to promise that he “will not give up.” And he still hasn’t, pressing ahead every day to find a solution to the mounting humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

The original Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On Human Rights Day, he posted pictures of the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights, handwritten in Paris in 1948, on his Instagram feed, captioning the post: “From its earliest drafts, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been the roadmap to help end wars, heal divisions, and promote lives of peace and dignity for all. But the world is losing its way. Conflicts are raging. Poverty and hunger are increasing. Inequalities are deepening. Authoritarianism is on the rise and civic space is shrinking. Today, it is more important than ever to promote and respect all human rights – social, cultural, economic, civil, and political – which protect us all. The Universal Declaration shows the way to common values and approaches that can help resolve tensions and create the security and stability our world craves. I urge people around the world to promote and respect human rights for everyone, everywhere.” May these words be our north star for 2024. Thank you, Mr Secretary-General.

Originally published in the January 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

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