What's In Blue

Posted Mon 20 Jul 2015

Informal Discussion on Selection and Appointment of the Next Secretary-General

On Wednesday (22 July), Council members are scheduled to have their first discussion on the process for the selection of the next Secretary-General. The topic will be raised during consultations under “Any Other Business” (AOB). This issue has in recent months been the focus of discussions in the General Assembly within the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalisation of the Work of the General Assembly. The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group (ACT), made up of 27 UN member states, has also taken up this issue. On 1 June, it sent a letter to the president of the Council, as well as to the president of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, with the group’s proposals for the selection and appointment of the next Secretary-General. (Ban Ki-moon’s term ends on 31 December 2016.)

The issue of the selection of the next Secretary-General was raised by several members during the 30 June wrap-up session on the Council’s activities for June. Malaysia, as president of the Council for June, had circulated a concept note for the wrap-up session which included the selection of the Secretary-General among the topics that members might want to focus on. In their statements, Chile, Spain, the UK and Venezuela supported a transparent and inclusive process for the selection of the next Secretary-General. Spain additionally spoke about the possible establishment of a list of candidates and the presentation of candidates “in sufficient time to allow for interaction with member states”. The UK said that the broadest selection of candidates should be encouraged and was open to the process being widened so that member states and civil society could assess the candidates’ credentials, while stressing that it is the Council that should take the lead in this process. Venezuela suggested that the official presentation of candidates should be done early enough to “ensure better interaction between the Security Council and the General Assembly.” Russia on the other hand made clear that it did not see the need to start the discussion on the selection of the Secretary-General at this point, and that any proposals for greater participation by member states in the process required careful study.

Over the years, there have been a number of proposals for reforming the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General from the General Assembly as well as from individual member states and civil society. In recent months, there have been renewed calls for greater transparency and inclusiveness in the selection process.

On 27 April, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalisation of the Work of the General Assembly held a thematic debate on the appointment procedure for the Secretary-General. Thirty-two member states and the EU spoke at the debate, with nearly all who spoke backing the need for a clear timetable and open exchanges with candidates. The majority called for female candidates to be seriously considered. Several speakers expressed support for the proposal that more than one candidate should be put forward by the Security Council to the General Assembly, and some proposed consideration of a single, non-renewable term for the Secretary-General. Of the permanent members, only the UK spoke positively about the reform of the Secretary-General selection process, suggesting a clear “structure” in the process, including a deadline for candidate declarations and a timetable for appointment. China, Russia, and the US made statements in favor of the status quo, while France did not express strong views either way.

The members of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalisation of the Work of the General Assembly have been negotiating a draft resolution, which includes a section on the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General. While this is a resolution adopted annually, this year there have been many substantive suggestions related to a more transparent process of selecting the next Secretary-General. The negotiations have currently been suspended until 24 August.

The proposals in the ACT letter touch on some of the same issues being raised in the General Assembly. Among the proposals are sending a joint letter from the presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly inviting member states to present nominations, particularly of qualified female candidates, and setting a deadline for nominations in order to start the process. It further suggests that at the end of the nomination process, a joint Security Council and General Assembly document be published with next steps and timelines for the selection process.

None of the proposals from ACT would require amendments to the UN Charter. The Secretary-General is elected by member states under a process outlined in article 97 of the UN Charter and in rule 141 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly and rule 48 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council. Article 97 of the UN Charter states that the Secretary-General “shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”. In practice this is formalised through the adoption of a General Assembly resolution. Under rule 83 of the General Assembly Rules of Procedure, this decision is an important question which requires a two-thirds majority. Rule 48 of the Security Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure requires that the recommendation “be discussed and decided at a private meeting”, unless otherwise agreed. (For background information on the appointment of the Secretary-General please see: Special Research Report, Appointment of a New Secretary-General of 16 February 2006; Special Research Report, Appointment of a New Secretary-General of 21 June 2006; and Special Research Report, Appointment of the UN Secretary-General, 24 May 2011.)

At the end of June, ACT organised an event at the UN focused on the selection of the next Secretary-General and involving civil society groups that have taken up this issue. A panel made up of Mary Robinson, a member of the Elders, which has included the selection of the Secretary-General as one of its proposals for reform of the UN, Ambassador Mathew Rycroft (UK) and William Pace, on behalf of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, which represents over 100 NGOs interested in a more transparent and inclusive selection process, presented their views. Robinson proposed a formal timetable for candidates to publicly declare their platforms, to be followed by hearings with both the General Assembly and the Security Council. She also suggested that the Secretary-General should be appointed for a single, non-renewable term. Ambassador Rycroft focused on transparency, structure and inclusion in his statement. He called for an open Arria-formula meeting, clear deadlines and a date by which the selection process should happen, suggesting that the former should happen by December 2015 and the latter by June 2016. While endorsing the desirability of a female candidate, he made it clear that he did not agree that the Council should recommend more than one candidate. He also indicated that he was not in favour of regional rotation, while acknowledging that this was an important principle for Eastern Europe. (While the UN Charter, in article 97, does not provide guidance regarding rotation of the post of the Secretary-General, each region, except for Eastern Europe, has held the post at least once.)

The desire for a woman Secretary-General after having had eight male Secretaries-General has led to the formation of groups advocating this goal, including the “Campaign to Elect a Woman Secretary-General” made up of women academics and civil society leaders, and the “Group of Friends in Favor of a Woman for Secretary-General of the United Nations” initiated by Colombia and made up of member states.

Some members may be interested in discussing possible next steps for the Council. In 2006, the Security Council president briefed the president of the General Assembly regularly, starting in March, on the status of Council consultations on this issue. The President of the General Assembly (PGA) in turn briefed member states through the co-chairs of the Working Group on the Revitalisation of the Work of the General Assembly and the Chairs of the Regional Groups, as well as by transmitting letters from the Council. Some members may be interested in having New Zealand, as president of the Council, write to the PGA, in order to start a formal channel of communication to discuss some of the current ideas around the process. Regarding the idea of a clear timetable for the selection process, Rycroft indicated during the ACT event that he would be seeking support in the Council. Council members who are also members of ACT – Chile, Jordan and New Zealand -are expected to be supportive of the proposals in the ACT letter. It seems that China, Russia and the US may be less keen to change the appointment system that is in place.

Another issue that may be discussed tomorrow is the role of the informal Working Group on Documentation and other Procedural Questions in taking up this issue. At the wrap-up session, Angola, the chair of this working group, said that it would be looking for ways of working with member states on the implementation of the proposals in the ACT letter.