General Assembly praises the historic selection process as Guterres appointed UN chief

On 13 October, the General Assembly appointed António Guterres as the next UN Secretary-General by acclamation.

Every speaker - including the President of the General Assembly, the current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of all five UN regions - praised this year’s selection process as the most transparent, principled and merit-based appointment of the UN Secretary-General in the 70-year history of the United Nations. 

In a major departure from the past, the resolution adopted by the General Assembly appointing Mr Guterres welcomed, for the first time, that the process of his selection was guided by the "principles of transparency and inclusivity" including "informal dialogues with all candidates for the position".

"Gratitude and humility" - António Guterres

In his acceptance speech, Mr Guterres, who will take office on 1 January 2017, paid tribute to the new, more open process, recognising that the "true winner today is the credibility of the United Nations".

He accepted his appointment with "gratitude and humility", stressing that he feels “the acute responsibility to make human dignity the core of my work and, I trust, the core of our common work”. He also underscored the importance of gender equality and assured that “the protection of women and girls will continue to be a priority for me”.  

Mr Guterres added that he was fully aware of the challenges the UN faces and the limitations of his office, but that he wishes to be “a convener, a mediator, a bridge builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefit everyone involved”.

When a 1 for 7 Billion representative congratulated Mr Guterres on his appointment after the ceremony, thanking him for his participation in meetings with NGOs, he responded by expressing his gratitude for the work 1 for 7 Billion has done.

Widespread praise for reform

In his opening remarks, the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, described in detail the historic changes to the selection process which had been “deeply enriched by the engagement of civil society, and the wider global public”.

The five regional groups that took the floor all highlighted how the principles of transparency and inclusivity applied to the selection process had brought major changes, notably as a result of open hearings between candidates and UN member states. The result was a general view to appoint an independent and courageous Secretary-General who will make full use of the powers in the Charter. Several speakers also emphasised the importance of gender equality at all levels.

Mr Guterres was appointed upon recommendation by the Security Council which, in a quick decision that surprised even Council members themselves, decided to nominate him by acclamation to the General Assembly.

The US Permanent Representative to the UN, Samantha Power, addressed the General Assembly as the host country. She conveyed her earlier concerns that the selection process would drag on, and that the Security Council would settle for the "lowest common denominator candidate" - as 1 for 7 Billion had feared at the outset. However, she recognised that this year, the process had evolved from the "smoke-filled rooms" where decisions were taken shrouded in secrecy: 

“For the first time, those vying for the job had to defend their visions for a more secure, just, and humane future in informal dialogues that the entire world could watch in real time. And these conversations mattered – there is no question that the General Assembly and other dialogues shaped perceptions, informing the Council and broader UN membership thinking from the outset”.

The Permanent Representative of Georgia, on behalf of the Eastern European Group of states, underlined:

“As the leader serving seven billion persons around the globe, his determination to foster the respect for human rights will be decisive”. 

Challenges ahead

One of the first challenges for the incoming Secretary-General will be to form a strong leadership team of the highest calibre to assist him.

1 for 7 Billion has consistently campaigned against horsetrading, arguing that candidates for senior UN posts should not be forced into making deals with powerful Security Council members on senior posts in exchange for support, as this defies the letter and spirit of the UN Charter. It is highly significant that the resolution appointing the new Secretary-General, for the first time, specifically recalls Chapter XV of the UN Charter. That Chapter includes Article 100 which prohibits any Member State - including its most powerful, veto-carrying members - from seeking to influence the Secretary-General in discharging his duties. 1 for 7 Billion had campaigned for the inclusion of such a Charter reference in the appointment resolution. 

1 for 7 Billion has also emphasised that there should be no monopoly on senior posts by any state or group of states, as the General Assembly recently reaffirmed. The Secretary-General must have full freedom to select the best possible team, appointed from all regions on the basis of merit alone.