By Jamshed Baruah*
The nomination process for the appointment of Ban Ki-moon’s successor this year is assuming historical dimensions. Since 1946, when Trygve Lie of Norway became the first UN Secretary-General, all seven heads of the world body have been nominated by the Security Council and rubber stamped by the General Assembly.
Now for the first time the nomination process will be open to all member states of the UN, as indicated in a ground-breaking joint letter by the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council on December 15, asking UN member states “to consider presenting women, as well as men, as candidates for the position of Secretary-General”.
“The change has come about thanks to pressure from UN General Assembly members and the 1 for 7 Billion campaign,” says UNFOLD ZERO, a new platform for UN-focused initiatives and actions for the achievement of a nuclear weapons free world.
1 for 7 Billion campaign comprises individuals from across the world as well as organisations including Amnesty International, Avaaz, Forum Asia and more than 750 others already on board with a combined reach of more than 170 million people worldwide. “Eminent personalities like Kofi Annan and increasing numbers of governments support our aims,” says the campaign.
Senior UN officials and other experts have meanwhile spoken out in favour of further reforms to the process by which the UN leader is selected.
Convening at the Youth and Leaders Summit at Sciences Po, Paris, on January 18 to debate the priorities of the next Secretary-General, a number of UN experts, politicians and NGO representatives expressed support for 1 for 7 Billion campaign’s proposal that the UN’s next leader serve a single, non-renewable term of office – possibly of seven years.
This was the first panel discussion on the priorities of the next UN Secretary-General since the Presidents of the General Assembly and of the Security Council jointly called on candidates to come forward.
Reporting on the discussion, 1 for 7 Billion campaign said: Amre Moussa, former Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, pleaded for a single non-renewable term because it would “liberate the Secretary-General from the pressures of the big powers”.
Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian Foreign Minister and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, also expressed support for a single term, and for the 1 for 7 Billion campaign more generally.
Other UN experts calling for a single, extended term of office included: Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and UN mediator and member of The Elders; Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President of the International Crisis Group and former Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations; Vuk Jeremić, former President of the General Assembly and former Foreign Minister of Serbia (said to be a candidate for the position of UN Secretary-General); and Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.
In response to a question by 1 for 7 Billion on which qualities should be essential in the next UN leader, several panellists said that the successful candidate should have the courage to stand up to powerful nations – a characteristic that is currently the front-runner on 1 for 7 Billion’s public poll on the issue.
According to a Jean-Marie Guéhenno “a key quality of the next Secretary-General is being prepared to take some risks”. Bruno Stagno Ugarte from Human Rights Watch agreed: “we need somebody who has the courage to tell the truth… To tell the UN Security Council what it needs to hear, not what it wants to hear”.
1 for 7 Billion campaign reported Brahimi saying that the next leader should be prepared to say, “I am willing to leave tomorrow” adding: “the UN belongs to the small countries that need it, not the big countries that run it”.
Angela Kane, former UN Under-Secretary-General, reportedly suggested that the next UN Secretary-General take better advantage of Article 99 of the UN Charter, which would empower him or her to bring humanitarian crises to the immediate attention of the Security Council.
Panellists also argued that the next UN leader should be a catalyst for positive change at the UN; be inspiring, visionary and a good facilitator; be willing to engage all relevant actors in a conflict and identify conflicts before they erupt; be willing to speak out for those who lack power and be ‘politically-savvy’ and able to navigate conflicting interests in the Security Council.
A representative of 1 for 7 Billion campaign also asked the panel about their position on ‘regional rotation’ in the selection of the Secretary-General’s selection, namely, the claim that the post should rotate among the various geographical regions, rather than primarily be based on merit.
In line with 1 for 7 Billion’s position that appointment should be merit-based, Vuk Jeremić said that the selection should not be limited to the Eastern European group, which seeks an appointment from that region: “I am personally in favour of opening up the process to the whole world… everyone should get a chance, and appointment should be based on merit.”
Angela Kane stated that regional groupings should be “merged or disregarded” during the selection process and UN member states should instead focus on getting “the best candidate possible” for the job. She observed that as the African region has technically had 15 years at the helm of the UN, “we already have a precedent of disregarding regional rotation”.
According to 1 for 7 Billion campaign, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Mogens Lykketoft has announced three official candidates for the post of the Secretary-General:
Srgjan Kerim from Macedonia, a former Foreign Minister and President of the General Assembly. The UNGA President announced his candidacy on December 15, 2015.
Igor Lukšić from Montenegro, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The UNGA President announced his candidacy on January 15.
Vesna Pusić from Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The UNGA President announced his candidacy on January 14.
In addition, 1 for 7 Billion campaign has spotted 24 candidates on the basis of online news articles. But they have not been officially acknowledged by the UNGA President and therefore they “should not be considered as potential candidates beyond the realms of speculation and hearsay”, says 1 for 7 Billion campaign.