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UNA-UK launches new report on UN Secretary-General selection and senior appointments

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First-ever televised live debate in the General Assembly Hall with candidates for the position of Secretary-General.

On Wednesday 14 June, UNA-UK published its latest Blue Smoke report, "The appointment of the UN Secretary General and other executive heads: opportunities for reform". This timely briefing sets out 10 actionable ideas for the General Assembly to strengthen UN appointment processes and provides detailed analysis on the under-explored issue of interruptions to a Secretary-General’s term of office.

Read the report

Building on UNA-UK's role as a co-founder of the successful 1 for 8 Billion campaign, the organisation is once again turning its focus to a programme of reform to strengthen the way the UN selects its leaders - through increased transparency, inclusivity and accountability.

The report’s proposals - based on improving transparency and inclusivity, addressing undue influence by Member States, and reducing the barriers to civil society participation in General Assembly processes - all enjoy a degree of General Assembly support but need concerted effort to get them over the finish line. 

This should be an urgent priority for the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly (AHWG) - this session’s resolution may well be the last opportunity to make progress ahead of the next SG selection process, expected for 2025-6.

To strengthen UN appointment processes the General Assembly should:

  1. Call on all candidates to disclose their campaign funding sources as a prerequisite of their candidacy
  2. Schedule a dedicated discussion on the convention whereby the Security Council recommends a single candidate for consideration by the General Assembly 
  3. Schedule a dedicated discussion on SG term length and renewability 
  4. Propose a timeline for the next selection process, including a date for the issuance of the joint letter 
  5. Call for states to only consider nominating qualified female candidates and encourage states to work together to submit joint nominations 
  6. Call on the President of the Security Council to keep all Member States and the public well informed at all stages of the SG selection process
  7. Agree on concise language laying out the contingency plan for an interruption to an SG’s term of office 
  8. Reassert that no national of a Member State should succeed a national of that State in a senior post and strengthen it by adding an instruction for the Secretary-General to publish an explanation as to why this rule has not been followed in every instance of non-compliance. 
  9. Call on the Secretary-General to publish the term lengths of all executive heads and encourage all UN entities and states to work to ensure best practice on this issue is mainstreamed throughout the UN system 
  10. Welcome the participation of civil society in previous selection processes and encourage enhanced participation in future selection processes, including deeper collaboration between states and civil society during the nominations phase and a more active role in the GA candidate hearings

Increased transparency and accountability is imperative. Far from further politicising the process, public scrutiny of the way top UN jobs are awarded can help push against inappropriate political influence. For these reasons, greater public scrutiny is relevant to all senior appointments, whether the roles in question are appointed by states (such as the SG) or by the SG under state influence (as with other executive heads) or by some combination. 

The briefing also provides a detailed analysis on arrangements for an SG’s early departure from office - an area that has been almost entirely absent from formal discussions at the UN in recent history. It sets out recommendations that would help institutionalise a well-structured appointment able to withstand all eventualities.

Authored by Ben Donaldson, UNA-UK Head of Campaigns, this report is published as part of the ongoing efforts of Blue Smoke - a working group formed of UNA-UK, Strategy for Humanity and Plataforma CIPÒ.

For more on this issue see the latest edition of the Blue Smoke newsletter, published in partnership with PassBlue.

Read more from UNA-UK on merit-based appointments:

Photo: First-ever televised live debate in the General Assembly Hall with candidates for the position of Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.