States applaud improved selection process and call for further strengthening

At the first thematic debate on the selection process after the appointment of the new Secretary-General, António Guterres, on 10 April 2017, Member States praised the historic advances in openness and transparency achieved in the process to select him. They called for consolidating, institutionalising and strengthening new good practices, and to act while there is momentum. Brazil said the selection of the new Secretary-General had been the ‘most inclusive, transparent and democratic selection process in the 70 years of history’ of the UN. Nepal wished to raise transparency and inclusiveness to the next level, and Chile stressed that preparing for the next selection process cannot wait and should start now.

1 for 7 Billion welcomes the 10 April debate, which took place in the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Revitalization (AHWG), as the first opportunity to review and strengthen the improved process. The campaign had written to all Member States before the debate urging them to strongly welcome and confirm the historic advances made.  The campaign called for the General Assembly to hold in-depth debates about the options to appoint the next Secretary-General for a longer, single term and for the Security Council to propose multiple candidates to the Assembly, as well as for full implementation of Assembly resolution 70/305 that opposes a monopoly on senior posts in the UN system by nationals of any State or group of States.

Many states supported a deadline for nominations of candidates in future: Costa Rica, Hungary, Nepal, Turkey as well as the 120 states in the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). There was also broad support for making the Security Council process to recommend a candidate to the Assembly more transparent by releasing the results of the Council’s straw polls, with only Russia dissenting. Liechtenstein and Turkey wanted to make hearings with candidates in the General Assembly more effective and less repetitive.

Member States also pressed for further action on unresolved issues: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Liechtenstein, Panama, Nepal and South Africa expressed support for appointing Secretaries-General for a longer, single term, while the ACT group and the NAM called for constructive discussion of the proposal.  Brazil, the NAM and South Africa called on the Security Council to propose multiple candidates to the Assembly in future.

Numerous states (Ecuador, Hungary, Nepal, Panama, Paraguay, Turkey, South Africa as well as those in the NAM) called for merit-based appointments from all regions, expressing their opposition to states or groups of states exercising a monopoly over senior UN appointments. This practice has however been perpetuated, with  the new Secretary-General recently appointing a fifth, successive, French national as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping and a fourth, successive, UK national as Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. On the other hand, many states, including the 25 that make up the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group, welcomed Mr Guterres’ initiative to call for CVs of candidates for senior UN appointments to supplement his own search, especially welcoming nominations of women candidates from developing countries.

Several states felt that aspects of the new process – such as public hearings of candidates – could also apply to appointing senior UN officials. Singapore and the NAM felt that the more transparent and inclusive process involving hearings should also apply to the selection of the President of the General Assembly if there are multiple candidates.

Liechtenstein raised the need to clarify withdrawal procedures of candidacies and to discuss whether nominations could be made by others than by states – such as by civil society. The role played by civil  society in the new process was underlined by the EU, the NAM and Turkey, with the ACT group commending ‘the thorough work done by civil society and especially the 1 for 7 Billion campaign’.

The ACT group and Chile called for a Code of Ethics for the appointment of Executive Heads. Although questions about candidates’ campaign financing and possible unfair advantages had been raised by several states in the course of the selection process, there was as yet no discussion to address these issues by creating such a Code for the selection of the UN Secretary-General, such as exists for the election of the Director-General of the World Health Organization. No state asked how the more open, transparent and time-consuming process should apply to a sitting Secretary-General seeking re-election.

A number of states were open to the suggestion that a stand-alone resolution on the process to select the Secretary-General should be worked on, to replace all previous resolutions on the matter with an updated text.

Considering the new spirit of openness and transparency marking the selection process, and that accredited civil society organisations were allowed to participate in many meetings of the AHWG, 1 for 7 Billion would welcome governments support for a default stance that meetings to discuss the selection and appointment process remain open to NGOs and observers, and are closed only exceptionally. The exclusion of NGOs at the last minute on 10 April at the thematic debate of the AHWG was surprising since most statements made by states were promptly published on the UN website.