Global Policy Forum

High-Level Panels

UN Secretary Generals have established a number of high-level panels to promote new thinking and to jump-start reform action by governments. However, the eminent members of such panels -- often former heads of state, foreign ministers and other luminaries -- are usually rather conservative and "realistic" and they rarely challenge existing power arrangements. Because the eminent persons are too busy to spend much time on their duties, much of the work of the panels devolves to a small core staff and particularly the powerful post of staff director. But there are exceptions, the Commission on Global Governance, who worked independently of the UN, produced an interesting and moderately creative report in 1994.

In his second term as Secretary General, Kofi Annan established three panels to make recommendations on UN reform. In 2004, the "Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations" released a report that drew much criticism from NGOs who feared that the proposed changes could weaken the role of NGOs at the UN. Later in that same year, the "Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change" released its report which discussed some controversial issues including Security Council enlargement and the "responsibility to protect" doctrine. Towards the very end of Annan's term, the "Panel on System-Wide Coherence" released a report proposing to streamline the UN's work in development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.

While these panels solicited broad inputs, their conclusions are generally tailored to please the US and other powerful players at the UN. If implemented, their proposals may or may not actually improve the workings of the world body. The books on UN reform by Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, though not the result of a panel process, remain by far the most thoughtful and original contributions to the UN reform discussion.

Key Documents

UN Reform Commissions: Is Anyone Listening? (May 16, 2002)

Edward C. Luck analyzes the effectivness of Panels and concludes that they are influential but not not always constructive.

High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence

This page covers the System-Wide Coherence panel, who released its report in November 2006.

High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change

This page posts information on the "Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change," set up in 2003 by Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations (Cardoso Panel)

This page follows the "Cardoso Panel" and its recommendations on UN relations with "Civil Society."

The Independent Working Group on the Future of the UN

This page posts information on the "Independent Working Group on the Future of the UN."

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