This is important

The post of UN Secretary-General is said to be the world’s most impossible job. It is also one of the most important.

From climate change to armed conflict, extremism to pandemics, many of the world’s defining problems transcend borders and require global solutions. In an increasingly polarised world facing multiple crises, only the UN can step up to meet the complex challenges. A Secretary-General can save lives. We need the best possible person for the job: a highly-qualified and visionary leader, equipped to deal with the world's crises.

The UN Charter was proclaimed in the name of “We the peoples of the United Nations”. As the UN’s top official, the Secretary-General embodies the high values of the Charter and represents the hopes and concerns of the world’s seven billion people. All of us are affected by her or his decisions. 

A unique position to influence global events

The Secretary-General’s role has expanded rapidly in scope, importance and profile since the UN was created in 1945. She or he is uniquely placed to provide global leadership. She or he has powers to prevent wars through mediation, build partnerships with NGOs and businesses and urge governments to fulfil their global responsibilities on the environment, development and human rights. The Secretary-General works with 193 Member States and oversees 40,000 staff and 30 UN funds, programmes and agencies,

Process matters

The Secretary-General is traditionally chosen in secret, by just five countries that hold permanent seats on the Security Council, in an opaque and outdated process for the rest of the UN’s membership to rubberstamp.

The UN has had some excellent leaders but this has been despite, not because of, a process that is substandard and is geared to select the least objectionable, lowest common denominator candidate.

An open and inclusive selection process, with genuine involvement by all UN Member States, will increase the chances appointing the Secretary-General the world needs and could give future Secretaries-General a stronger mandate. That in turn would boost their ability to mobilise support for the UN and drive forward its agenda.  A better process would also help to revitalise the UN, enhance its effectiveness and credibility, and reaffirm its global authority and popular appeal.

Current process

Although agreement has recently been reached to improve the selection process, many reforms are yet to be implemented and the process continues to suffer from the following: 

Control by the most powerful countries

Candidates for Secretary-General are nominated by governments, after which the Security Council agrees on one final nominee – usually the result of secret bargaining among the five permanent members of the Council, subject to their individual vetoes. The General Assembly routinely confirms the final nominee by a majority vote. Thus, the permanent five members can choose candidates that suit their short-term interests.

Absence of basic recruitment standards

The current process falls short of the UN’s own principles, basic recruitment standards and current practice at other international organisations.

•    There is no job description or comprehensive selection criteria
•    There is no timetable and no public scrutiny of candidates
•    The Security Council's "shortlist" contains just one name
•    Backroom deals can get you elected
•    No woman has ever held the post

No transparency, no accountability

There is no systematic and transparent reporting during the process. Candidates can be put forward at the last minute, leaving no time for scrutiny. There is little opportunity for meaningful involvement by the wider UN membership, other than the moment when the final decision is taken on the single candidate put forward, let alone opportunities for engagement by civil society or the general public.

Open to 'horse trading'

The permanent members of the Security Council - and other powerful states - have been known to seek promises from candidates on other senior UN appointments in exchange for support and candidates have been known to make such promises.

What we want

An open, transparent and merit-based selection process offers the best chance to find the best Secretary-General. We need a process that sets out formal selection criteria and qualifications, meets modern practices and exemplifies the UN's ideals. We need a process that meets the higher standards of transparency and accountability that UN Member States and civil society have been demanding for years. We need a process that is grounded in best practice on equality and diversity. We need a process that provides meaningful involvement from all Member States, appropriate input from civil society, and matches that of other high-level international appointments.

The proposals we make are realistic. They do not require an amendment to the Charter. Many of them are based on UN General Assembly resolutions adopted with the support of all Member States, others, on UN expert reports which still await implementation.

Our campaign is based on principles which reflect best practice in the selection of other top public leaders[1].

1 for 7 Billion proposes ten specific reforms which are necessary and can be achieved:

  • A call for nominations by Member States, parliaments and civil society and a closing date for nominations [partly achieved]
  • A formal list of selection criteria [partly achieved]
  • A clear timetable for the selection process
  • Publication of an official list of candidates and their CVs [partly achieved]
  • Regular updates to the UN membership and the general public on the selection process [partly achieved]
  • Candidates to present their leadership vision and goals for the position
  • Open sessions with candidates at which Member States, the public and the media can scrutinise candidates [partly achieved]
  • No backroom deals: candidates not to make promises to permanent members of the Security Council  in exchange for support
  • The Security Council to present two or more candidates to the General Assembly to choose from
  • The term of office to be limited to a single, non-renewable period of seven years to enhance independence and accountability.

Click here for the full text of the ten reforms

Click here to read the 1 for 7 Billion policy platform in full

Click here to download a commentary on the principles and recommendations of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign

Progress made but much more yet to do

The campaign is gathering momentum world-wide. We've worked with a range of countries from all regions pushing for a transparent and inclusive process in which candidates are chosen on merit. 

As a result of intense pressure by many governments and the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council sent an unprecedented letter to all Member States on 15 December 2015 soliciting candidates and stressing that the selection process will be guided by the principles of transparency and inclusivity. The letter marks the official start of the selection process. It outlines some broad selection criteria, encourages the presentation of women candidates, commits to circulating candidates' names on an on-going basis, offers candidates dialogues or meetings with Member States and commits the Security Council to start its selection procedure by July 2016.

Each of these modest reforms were hard-fought campaign wins for 1 for 7 Billion stemming from the landmark General Assemblyresolution 69/321, adopted on 11 September 2015.  This resolution, adopted by consensus, sets the stage for a more open and transparent process and calls for informal dialogues or meetings with candidates, the circulation of candidates' names and their CVs, broad selection criteria, women candidates to be presented and for the above joint letter to be issued to start of the process. It also calls on the President of the General Assembly to play an active and supportive role - in this vein the President has already spoken out in favour of open meetings with candidates to which the media will have access. 

But three major campaign proposals have yet to be addressed: appointment to a single, non-renewable term, the presentation of multiple candidates to the General Assembly to choose from, and a commitment to rule out backroom deals by prohibiting promises to be made in exchange for support. 

What now?

  • With the official call for candidates having gone out, make sure that there is a full debate about the qualities and leadership of the next Secretary-General and that the most highly qualified candidates are put forward by governments, parliaments, the media or civil society.  Take our poll and help us demonstrate what qualities are needed.
  • Ensure that the media scrutinise candidates
  • Press the UN to create a truly open and transparent hearings with all candidates in which the media and civil society can play an appropriate role with regular UN updates at all stages of the process
  • Press for an early debate in the General Assembly on the option of appointing the Secretary-General for a single, non-renewable term
  • Press the Security Council to present multiple candidates to the General Assembly to choose from
  • Press candidates and Member States to commit to not making any promises on senior appointments in exchange for support of their candidacy
  • Join the 1 for 7 Billion campaign

Click here to take action

[1] Security Council Report. Appointment of the UN Secretary-General - Special Research Report. (May 2011)