Childhood & Early Life
António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres was born on April 30, 1949, in Lisbon, Portugal, to Virgílio Dias Guterres and Ilda Cândida de Oliveira. He went to ‘Camões Lyceum,’ which is now known as ‘Camões Secondary School,’ in Lisbon. In 1965, he graduated school with a ‘National Lyceums Award,’ which is given annually to the best student in the country.
He enrolled at ‘Instituto Superior Técnico’ to study physics and electrical engineering. During his college days, Guterres witnessed the decline of António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship. Subsequently, he took part in protests that eventually ended Salazar’s successor, Marcello Caetano’s reign, in 1974.
After graduating from ‘Instituto Superior Técnico’ in 1971, he started his career as an assistant professor, teaching telecommunications signals and systems theory. However, he quit his academic job in 1974, to start a career in politics when Portugal was going through a period of transition from dictatorship to democracy.
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In 1974, Guterres joined the ‘Socialist Party’ in an attempt to become a full-time politician. Subsequently, he entered the party’s leadership team and held the office of the Secretary of State of Industry in 1974 and 1975. He was elected to the Portuguese parliament in 1976. Over the next two decades, he served many parliamentary committees.
In the late 1970s, he became a member of the team that negotiated Portugal’s entry into the ‘European Union.’ In 1991, he founded the ‘Portuguese Refugee Council’ along with other ‘Socialist Party’ members. The following year, he was appointed as the Secretary-General of the party after its third successive defeat in the parliamentary elections.
Cavaco Silva decided to run for the post of President in the 1996 Presidential election, so he did not seek a fourth term as Prime Minister. António Guterres' ‘Socialist Party’ won the parliamentary election in 1995. He was appointed the next Prime Minister by President Soares named Guterres. On October 28, 1995, his Cabinet took the oath of office.
During his first term as Prime Minister, Portugal enjoyed good economic growth, which allowed his government to increase welfare spending and create conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs to reduce poverty. He also oversaw the transfer of Macau to Chinese sovereignty and played a vital role in campaigning for East Timor’s independence.
In 1999, he was again appointed the Prime Minister. However, his second term as the Prime Minister was not as successful as the first term. In 2000, the country suffered an economic slowdown. In 2001, the Hintze Ribeiro Bridge collapsed in Entre-os-Rios, which damaged his reputation and popularity.
In October 2000, decriminalization of drug use was approved by the Parliament and in March 2001, civil unions for same-sex couples were legalized. The ‘Socialist Party’ suffered a disastrous defeat in 2001, which forced Guterres to resign from his post.
In May 2005, Guterres was elected by the UN General Assembly as the High Commissioner for Refugees. During his time as the High Commissioner, the office saw a fundamental organizational reform. In 2006, he visited China and requested the Chinese government to reconsider its decision to send back asylum-seeking refugees from North Korea.
He also worked extensively to secure international aid for Syrian refugees. In June 2013, he came up with a US$5 billion aid effort to help millions of refugees of the Syrian civil war. He chose actress Angelina Jolie as his Special Envoy which was widely considered as an effective PR move. Along with Jolie, he visited refugee camps like the ‘Kilis Oncupinar Accommodation Facility’ and ‘Zaatari refugee camp.’
By the end of his term, the humanitarian organization had more than 10,000 staff providing assistance and protection to over 60 million people across 126 countries. Guterres became the second-longest serving High Commissioner after Sadruddin Aga Khan. He left office on December 31, 2015, amidst recommendations to extend his term by a year.
Guterres became the Secretary-General of the United Nations on January 1, 2017. After taking office as the Secretary-General, Guterres resolved to uphold peace. He said he was deeply saddened upon learning about the demise of ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ laureate Liu Xiaobo. He criticized Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen. He appreciated the 2018 North Korea–US summit and offered assistance from the United Nations to help achieve success in dismantling the nuclear weapons program of North Korea.
Awards & Achievements
On June 9, 2002, he was honored with the Grand Cross (GCC) Military Order of Christ by the Portuguese government. On February 2, 2016, he received the Portuguese honorific civil order, Grand Cross (GCL) of the Order of Liberty (Order of Freedom). Guterres has received similar honorific civil orders from other countries, such as Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Japan, Belgium, Brazil, Poland, Uruguay, Tunisia, and Mexico.
In 2005, he received the ‘Personality of the Year’ award from the ‘Foreign Press Association in Portugal’ (AIEP). In 2007, he was honored by ‘The International Rescue Committee’ (IRC) with its prestigious ‘Freedom Award.’
In 2009, he was given the ‘Calouste Gulbenkian International Prize’ which he shared with Middle East’s ‘Peace Research Institute.’ In the same year, ‘Forbes’ magazine included him in the list of ‘The World’s Most Powerful People in 2009.’ Guterres received the ‘W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award’ in 2015. In the same year, he was honored with ‘The National German Sustainability Award.’
Family & Personal Life
António Guterres married Luísa, a child psychiatrist, in 1972. Guterres and Luísa have two children, namely Pedro and Mariana. In 1998, Luísa succumbed to cancer at a hospital in Hampstead, London.
In 2001, he married Catarina Marques de Almeida Vaz Pinto, the former State Secretary for Culture, Portugal.
Guterres is a devout Catholic. He is a close friend and confidant of church administrator and famous Franciscan priest Father Vítor Melícias. He met Father Melícias during his college days when he joined a club for young Catholics called ‘Group of Light.’