From 28 September to 3 October, the 70th session of the UN General Assembly held its general debate at UN headquarters in New York. In line with the theme of the debate—“The United Nations at 70: a New Commitment to Action”—states from all regions took the opportunity to express their support for critical and timely changes to the appointment process for the Secretary-General.
The debate came on the heels of a new General Assembly resolution, which, if implemented, will make the appointment process for the UN’s highest office more transparent, inclusive, and fair. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia underscored that “for the first time in UN history, there is an agreement that there should be a concrete beginning of the election process, lists of candidates and informal meetings with them.”
Many states highlighted that no woman has ever served as Secretary-General, and emphasized that, after 70 years, the time had come to ensure that women were fairly considered for the post. Charles Flanagan, the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, observed that appointing a woman as Secretary-General “would send a powerful message to women and men around the world that here at the UN, we are willing to remove the barriers that prevent women from fulfilling their potential”.
Several states noted that the process also needed to be more inclusive of member states, including the Philippines, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. President Sauli Niinistö of Finland argued that the office of Secretary-General is not simply a job, but “an institution of which the whole UN membership should feel ownership.”
As the UN celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, President Solís Rivera of Costa Rica characterized reform of the appointment process as an important way to commemorate the occasion. An “inclusive, transparent, and equitable process,” which could appoint “a visionary, independent and strong leader," would be a critical first step towards making the United Nations a “more robust, dynamic and energetic organization” in years to come.