You are here:

High Commissioner for Human Rights: Transparency checklist

Published on


This page is part of our campaign to find the best High Commissioner for Human Rights. Back to the campaign hub.

UNA-UK is campaigning for a fair, open and inclusive appointment process to find the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Transparency is vital because perceptions matter; the future postholder’s mandate will be strengthened if it is clear they have come through a thorough, meritocratic recruitment process.

UNA-UK's transparency checklist shines a light on the selection process by reporting on a list of provisions that we believe, if implemented, would constitute a robust process. The checklist is based on UN best practice as well as wider trends for inclusivity and transparency given the importance of the role.

The checklist uses a traffic light scoring system*:

GREEN - a provision which has been implemented/satisfied
ORANGE - a provision whose implementation is unclear or which has been partially implemented/satisfied
RED - a provision which has not and will not be implemented/satisfied
GREY - a provision that may not yet be due for implementation / whose future implementation is TBC

We will be keeping the checklist updated as the selection process unfolds. Visit UNA-UK's campaign hub for more on the high commissioner for human rights appointment.


The appointment process is held in a timely manner, allowing for sufficient time for a thorough process - RED

The process was launched publicly with a Note Verbale to all member states and a public job advertisement on the UN Secretary-General's website on 11 June, leaving just 10 weeks to complete the process. Given that the UN's standard notice period for permanent staff is three months and that the deadline for applications (11 July) is less than two months from the anticipated start date (1 September), there are concerns that this is too short a period for a robust process, with insufficient time for: widespread promotion of the vacancy; a wide range of candidates to apply; rigorous vetting of candidates; and civil society input. There are also concerns that this will leave the successful candidate with little time to prepare for this challenging role.

Based on formal selection criteria - GREEN

Selection criteria are outlined in the Note Verbale to member states, as well as the job advertisement, released on 11 June 2018.

Publication of a  job description - GREEN

The job advertisement, published by the Secretary-General on 11 June 2018, describes the top level responsibilities. The 1993 General Assembly resolution creating the post (GA RES 48/141) outlines the set of duties that comprise the High Commissioner's role.

Arguably, this list needs updating given that the context and nature of the role has changed in the last 25 years. However, there are risks associated with reopening this discussion at a time when there has been pushback against human rights mandates at the UN.

Equality and diversity - ORANGE

The Note Verbale emphasises the nomination of female candidates and also specifies geographic balance. Despite the differing member state views on other forms of equality and diversity, UNA-UK believes that this is an opportunity to welcome the nomination of e.g. differently-abled candidates and LGBT+ candidates, and thereby demonstrate that the Secretariat takes a firm stance in favour of human rights for all.

Publication of a clear timetable - RED

While it is positive that the public job advertisement includes a clear deadline for nominations, UNA-UK notes that the 2011 Joint Investigative Unit report on appointments states that the Executive Office of the Secretary-General should, via its website, provide public access to a comprehensive timetable for the appointment. The report states that this should include the following information, only one of which has been publicly disclosed:

The expected date by which:   

  1. All applications need to be received;  (DISCLOSED)
  2. Candidates selected for interviews will be contacted; (UNDISCLOSED)
  3. Interviewed candidates will be informed of the results of the recruitment process; (UNDISCLOSED)
  4. Consultations  are expected to be conducted and the final selection announced; (UNDISCLOSED)
  5. The new incumbent is expected to report for duty; (NOT EXPLICITLY DISCLOSED - it is anticipated that it will be 1 September, the day after the current postholder's term ends)


Inclusive process welcoming nominations from all UN member states - GREEN

A Note Verbale was sent to all member states on 11 June 2018 calling for nominations with a deadline of 11 July. In addition, UNA-UK has been told the vacancy will be disseminated through the Delegates Portal and is listed on the Secretary-General's website.


Inclusive process welcoming nominations from from civil society and the public - ORANGE

In a letter replying to UNA-UK and partner NGOs on 11 June, the Chef de Cabinet stated: "The Secretary-General will make a specific request to Member States, non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions and regional organizations for the nomination of women candidates and to the public to encourage women candidates to apply to the vacancy." 

UNA-UK applauds this explicit call for civil society input. We are now waiting to see what shape this call will take and what efforts will be made to promote it to a wide audience. One of our campaign objectives is to ensure that NGOs beyond the usual suspects in New York and Geneva are aware of the process.

Advertisement placed on SG's senior appointment vacancies website - GREEN

The advertisement was posted on the Secretary-General's website on 11 June 2018.

Advertisement placed in print and online media in all UN regions - RED

Having monitored, as best we can, the print and online media of major international publications identified by the Executive office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) as likely to feature vacancies for senior UN positions, including The Economist, Jeune Afrique and Le Monde, we were unable to find any evidence that the job advertisement was published during the nominations period (11 June – 11 July 2018).

With the information at our disposal, and while noting that our searches were not exhaustive, our research suggests a lack of promotion through print and online media raising the concern that potential candidates, especially from civil society, may not have been aware of the vacancy. This could result in a weaker field of candidates.  We will update the findings as necessary if more information comes to light.  

Advertised widely on social media in all UN languages - RED

The High Commissioner vacancy does not appear to have been advertised via the UN's most prominent social media channels during the nomination period (11 June – 11 July 2018).

We monitored the UN's principal English language channels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn, including the dedicated careers channels on Twitter and Facebook. We also monitored the Secretary-General's and the Secretary-General's spokesperson's Twitter accounts. None of these channels appear to have carried the job advertisement.

While noting our lack of capacity to search in all UN languages, given the information at our disposal, we are concerned that a failure to spread the word via social media represents a missed opportunity to reach the widest possible audience and, as such, to build the strongest field of candidates. Social media has a particular ability to reach those from different backgrounds and age brackets and so diversify the selection process.  We will update the findings as necessary if more information comes to light. 

Candidate Information

Generic information about candidates released? - TBC

UNA-UK believes that in the interests of transparency and inclusivity, generic information on applications received and shortlisted should be released for all senior UN appointments after the process is completed. The 2011 Joint Investigative Unit report recommends that the nationalities and gender of candidates interviewed (long list) and candidates recommended following the interviews (shortlist) is made public. We also believe that information on other indicators (e.g. disability) should be disclosed, as well as the number of individuals on the long and shortlists.

Women make up at least half of the shortlist - TBC

The Secretary-General has placed welcome and much-needed emphasis on the longstanding UN target to reach gender parity at all levels within the organisation, including through the 2017 system-wide strategy and through appointments that have resulted in a gender-balanced senior management group for the first time in UN history.

The 2011 Joint Investigative Unit report on senior appointments noted the practice at that time, whereby the Secretary-General insisted on shortlists of at least three candidates with at least one being a woman (or, in exceptional circumstances where no female candidate could be found, sufficient assurances that a "proper search effort" was made).

UNA-UK believes that now, in line with the current Secretary-General's commitment and given that there is no shortage of experienced female candidates for this role, women should make up at least half of the shortlist. We will provide updates as information becomes available.

Shortlisted candidates' names, vision statements and CVs are made public - TBC

UNA-UK's default position is to support, and call for, recruitment processes to be as transparent as possible. For the Secretary-General selection process, we campaigned for candidate names to be made public, along with vision statements.

However, we recognise that there are differences between the Secretary-General process, which is led by member states, and that of other senior officials, who are appointed by the Secretary-General (although the High Commissioner appointment requires approval by the GA). We also recognise the position expressed by the Secretary-General's office, that this in an internal recruitment process and candidates could be put off coming forward if they know that their names will become public, whether or not they are successful. And we recognise that there are differing views within civil society on this issue, with some arguing in favour of full transparency being in the public interest, and others cautioning that this could damage candidates who put emphasis on speaking out against human rights abuses.

On balance, and given the short timeframe and in the absence of a framework for facilitating candidate interaction, UNA-UK will not be campaigning for candidate names, vision statements and CVs to be made public during the current appointment process.


Information published on vetting of candidates - GREEN

The 2011 Joint Investigative Unit report establishes the basic guidelines for screening of candidates based on the eligibility criteria by the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) or its equivalent with those that satisfy the criteria passed onto the interview panel for consideration. Once the interview panel has decided on a shortlist, that list should revert to OHRM (or its equivalent) for thorough vetting of the references, performance record and information provided by the candidates. Once completed, OHRM (or its equivalent) should return the shortlist to the interview panel for forwarding to the Secretary-General for selection.

In a letter to UNA-UK and others, the UN Secretary-General's office indicated they are "to follow the established process" and UNA-UK has no reason to believe that this process will not be applied, although given the high-profile and the nature of this role, we recommend that the above is seen as a baseline, rather than a ceiling. We will publish updates as information on the process becomes available.

Disclosure of the terms of reference for the interview panel - ORANGE

The 2011 Joint Investigative Unit report states that terms of reference for the interview panel should be disclosed to the public (through the EOSG's website) and should include: "an explanation of how the interview panel was constituted, how many members served on the interview panel, what were their grades, and whether other agencies/entities and/or external experts were invited to sit on the interview panel and why". 

We will provide updates as information becomes available.

Inclusion of civil society on the interview panel - ORANGE

UNA-UK was pleased that the Chef de Cabinet's reply to our joint letter on 11 June confirmed that shortlisted candidates will be interviewed by "a panel of internal and external experts". We will provide updates when more information becomes available.

Secretary-General's team consults civil society and the wider public - ORANGE

The appointment represents an opportunity to consult widely with all stakeholders with whom the High Commissioner and her/his office interacts, on areas such as improving civil society engagement with UN human rights processes. In the run-up to previous appointments, members of the Secretary-General's team (including the Chef de Cabinet and the Deputy Secretary-General) have consulted with external stakeholders within the human rights community.

UNA-UK believes such engagement is valuable and that efforts should be made to reach out to civil society from all regions. There is currently no information on if, when, where and with whom consultations might take place this time around. UNA-UK will be campaigning on this issue and we will provide updates as more  information becomes available. 


Consideration of appointing the next HCHR for a single, non-renewable term - TBC

UNA-UK's position is that all senior UN appointments should be made for a single term only, to reduce the pressures and politics surrounding re-appointment, and to encourage a results-focussed approach from day one. Longer terms could be considered to facilitate this.

We recognise that the short timeframe for this appointment means that there is not likely to be a GA resolution to this effect. However, we hope that the individual who is appointed will commit voluntarily to serving a single term. We will continue to campaign for single terms for all senior appointments, and will provide updates on developments.


*We work hard to ensure the accuracy of the information contained on this page. Please contact if you believe there is an inaccuracy. We will be keeping the checklist updated as new information becomes available.