As UNGA meetings begin, candidates must display courage, integrity and commitment to transparency

1 for 7 Billion welcomes the meetings with UN Secretary-General candidates to be held in the General Assembly on 12-14 April. For the first time in the UN’s history, all UN member states will have the opportunity to engage with candidates through a structured process, taking forward the historic Resolution 69/321 adopted by the General Assembly last year.

The people must be heard

Our campaign has called for such meetings for the past three years, and we commend the President of the General Assembly on his efforts to provide for civil society participation – including through the UN’s public call for questions; for media involvement through press stakeouts; and for increased transparency through webcasting.

“Civil society participation in these dialogues is important if they are to be truly transparent and inclusive. This has been underlined by a number of states, including Security Council members, and we hope that these meetings will be genuinely interactive, with meaningful exchanges that reflect the breadth of issues that have been raised by the public” said Yvonne Terlingen, speaking on behalf of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign’s steering committee.

However, the meetings will only allow for very limited civil society participation and we reiterate our call for candidates to engage meaningfully with civil society, the media and wider public throughout the selection process, including through events and interviews.

Candidates should display courage and integrity

We also urge candidates to use these meetings to display the courage and integrity that the world’s seven billion people want from the next Secretary-General. We have written to all declared candidates asking them to commit publicly to refraining from making promises to states, including on senior UN appointments, in exchange for their support, and to serving only a single term of office.

1 for 7 Billion supports the appointment of Secretaries-General for a non-renewable term of more than five years, as this would greatly strengthen the independence of the office. A single term for future post-holders is supported by former Secretaries-General, prominent individuals such as Sir Brian Urquhart and The Elders, and a growing number of UN member states.

“For 70 years, the selection process has brought the UN into disrepute through backroom ‘wheeling and dealing’ and through political pressures exerted on Secretaries-General at the time of re-appointment. We urge all candidates to display courage and integrity by speaking out against these shameful practices which contravene Article 100 of the UN Charter”, said William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement and a member of 1 for 7 Billion’s steering committee.

Potential candidates should respect the process agreed by states

By adopting General Assembly Resolution 69/321, all UN member states acknowledged the need to improve the Secretary-General selection process, and set out steps to make it more transparent and inclusive, including through the presentation of candidates in a “timely manner”. These provisions were reinforced by the Security Council through a letter, sent jointly with the President of the General Assembly, to all member states in December 2015.

It is essential that this nascent process receives full support as it is implemented for the first time, and the commitment and participation of candidates is particularly important in this regard. 1 for 7 Billion is therefore dismayed that a number of potential candidates have not come forward through the official process, preferring instead to test the waters by meeting with powerful states and by speaking to the press.

This feeling is shared by a range of states, who have used recent General Assembly meetings on the selection process to call on prospective candidates to come forward in time to participate in dialogues. The President of the General Assembly has also encouraged candidates to do so before the forthcoming April meetings.

We therefore urge those intending to stand to respect the process that has been agreed by all UN member states and to declare officially their candidacy. This will enable all states – and civil society – to engage with everyone in the running for the UN’s top job, and not just the eight candidates who have come forward to date and who have, to their credit, agreed to take part in the General Assembly meetings.

“Behind-the-scenes manoeuvring may have been the go-to tactic for candidates in the past but this time, it risks alienating all of us – states and civil society – who have worked so hard to achieve a more open and inclusive process. It also sends a worrying signal about potential candidates’ commitment to transparency and engagement. It’s time to come forward”, said Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association – UK, also a member of the 1 for 7 Billion steering committee.