Global Policy Forum

South Seeks Authority to Decide on Next UN Chief


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
May 19, 2006

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- have traditionally exercised, or threatened to exercise, their veto powers to assert their authority in ultimately deciding who should be the secretary-general of the United Nations, come election time.

The 15-member Security Council, which also includes 10 rotating non-permanent members playing a marginal role, recommends one candidate, and the 191-member General Assembly meekly rubber stamps the decision.

But a proposed resolution, initiated by India, is aimed at breaking that longstanding tradition, and perhaps depriving the five big powers of their ultimate authority to decide on the next chief administrative officer of the world body. A one-page draft resolution, currently being circulated, calls on the Security Council to provide a slate of "two or more well-qualified candidates for the consideration of the General Assembly".

"Both nomination and appointment (of the secretary-general) should be discussed at closed meetings, and a vote in either the Security Council or the General Assembly, if taken, should be by secret ballot," according to the draft.

The proposed resolution was circulated at a luncheon meeting of ambassadors from the 114 developing countries that comprise the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest single political coalition at the United Nations. The political thrust of the resolution is to shift the decision-making power -- in the election of the next secretary-general -- from the Security Council to the General Assembly.

India is pushing NAM, chaired by Malaysia, to take a key role in the initiative. At a meeting held at the Malaysian Mission Wednesday, and attended by several NAM delegations and China, it was agreed that NAM would set up a working group to study and improve the draft text submitted by India.

"The next step would be for NAM to reach out to others in the General Assembly to come on board," a Third World diplomat told IPS. But the more important question, he pointed out, is whether the Security Council is willing to abdicate its powers to the General Assembly in the final selection of the secretary-general.

The current incumbent, Kofi Annan of Ghana, completes his second five-year term in December. The Asian countries claim that, according to a system of geographical rotation, it is Asia's turn to field candidates to succeed Annan. The three declared Asian candidates so far are: Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka; Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai; and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. The draft resolution also "reaffirms that in the course of the identification and appointment of the most effective and qualified candidate for the post of secretary-general, due regard shall continue to be given to regional rotation and gender equality."

Don Kraus, executive vice president of the Washington-based Citizens for Global Solutions, told IPS that the draft is a positive step in the right direction. "What's most important is that the process for choosing a new secretary-general is transparent and open, and not the result of secret smoky room negotiations."

Any slate offered by the General Assembly should keep in mind regional and geographical representation, gender equity, and above all, getting the right person to do this incredibly important job, Kraus said. In addition to having a greater say in choosing the secretary-general, the General Assembly should give the U.N.'s chief executive the authority needed to do the job correctly, he added.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, thinks "the Indian proposal is superfluous, unless its actual goal is to make some kind of a political statement". "The fact is that Article 97 of the U.N. Charter expressly provides that the General Assembly has the formal power to appoint the secretary-general, and it has used this power over the years to vote the Security Council candidates up or down," Neuer told IPS.

Though in practice this became a rubber-stamp decision, in 1997 the General Assembly adopted a resolution (51/241) reaffirming the role of the General Assembly, he added. Specifically, Neuer said, the resolution authorised a consultative role for the president of the General Assembly, to identify potential candidates endorsed by member states and communicate those results to the Security Council. In other words, the General Assembly already has the authority to play a leading role without the need for any new resolution.

But world citizens, he argued, are less concerned with the backroom deals at Turtle Bay than with hoping the U.N. will find the right person to lead the organisation on the issues that count: fighting human rights abuses, feeding the hungry, curing disease, combating terrorism and illegal nuclear proliferation.

"We mustn't forget that the General Assembly's 1997 resolution expressly provides that in appointing a secretary-general, due regard must be given to gender equality. After 60 years of men holding the job, is it not time finally to choose a woman?" he asked. If it is to be Asia's turn, appointing a human rights heroine like Burma's Aung San Su Kyi, or Pakistan's Asma Jahangir, would mark a turning point, Neuer said.

The United Nations would be sending a powerful rebuke and a demand of reform to the many societies that continue to treat women like chattel. Moreover, it would uplift human rights activist everywhere. Finally, it would restore the damaged credibility of the U.N., he added. Jessica Neuwirth of the New York-based Equality Now said the Security Council should look actively for qualified women candidates to serve as the next secretary-general.

"There has never been a woman secretary-general, despite repeated expressions of commitment to the importance of including women at the highest level of decision-making, specifically in the United Nations secretariat," she told IPS.

"We would hope that any resolution calling on the Security Council to offer the General Assembly a slate of candidates would ask the Security Council to take into consideration the commitments that have been made to gender balance at the highest levels of the United Nations, and the woeful failure of the Secretariat to date to come anywhere near the goal of 50/50 representation, a goal that was established with a target date of 2000," she added.

"With or without a slate of candidates, we are hoping the Security Council will take this opportunity to seek qualified women candidates for the post of secretary-general," Neuwirth said.

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