Leading UN experts call for "courageous" UN leader to serve single term of office

Senior UN officials and other experts have 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 18 January to debate the priorities of the next Secretary-General, a number of UN experts, politicians and NGO directors expressed support for 1 for 7 Billion’s proposal that the UN's next leader serve a single, non-renewable term of office – possibly of seven years. 

In the words of Amre Moussa, former Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, a single non-renewable term 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 (and a rumoured candidate for the position of UN Secretary-General);  and Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The next Secretary-General must "take some risks"

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 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".  According to Brahimi, 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, 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.

Regional rotation - best candidate

A representative of 1 for 7 Billion 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”.

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 15 December 2015 on candidates to come forward. There will be further debates on the upcoming selection of the UN Secretary-General, which is due to take place in the second half of 2016.