The following article was first published on UNA-UK website.
On the 5 February 2021 the British Ambassador to the UN, Barbara Woodward, acting in her capacity as President of the Security Council for the month of February circulated a joint letter with the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, formally launching the process of appointing a Secretary-General for the term 2022-2027.
In 2016 the 1 for 7 Billion campaign – co-founded by UNA-UK – successfully pushed for reforms to the process of selecting the UN Secretary-General, leading to the most open and transparent appointment in the Organisation’s history. Despite this successful campaign it had been unclear whether the progress made five years ago would be consolidated, or if the presence of an incumbent Secretary-General seeking reappointment would see a return to a closed process without the potential for multiple candidates.
We are therefore pleased to see the joint letter consolidate major reforms adopted in 2016, and in some respects build further upon them. 1 for 7 Billion campaigned to ensure an open, fair and inclusive process for selecting the Secretary-General. Informal dialogues between candidates and the General Assembly were established, but it was made clear that these dialogues would be voluntary and candidates that choose to not participate would remain eligible. The 2021 joint letter drops the line “without prejudice to those who do not participate”, rightly creating the expectation that serious candidates will participate in interactive dialogues.
Importantly, the letter makes it clear that the recruitment process should be open and competitive – a key demand of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign who strongly made the case that even in the circumstances of an incumbent Secretary-General being reappointed, they must face competition for the role to establish the legitimacy of their second term (a longstanding ask of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign is that Secretaries-General serve a single longer term). The letter encourages Member States who intend to present candidates to do so by May, when the Security Council may begin its deliberations on the issue. Candidates will be listed on the President of the General Assembly’s website.
Regrettably one sentence from the letter launching the 2016 process encouraging female candidates was omitted. With no woman having served as Secretary-General in the UN’s first 75 years, it is important that the process encourage qualified female candidates to come forward. The ACT Group – a coalition of 25 small and medium sized states that were instrumental in the 2015-16 reforms – has encouraged the early presentation of highly qualified female candidates, while Honduras has unilaterally written to its fellow member states encouraging suitable female candidates to challenge Secretary-General Guterres, and will presumably formally nominate any that do come forward.
UNA-UK welcomes the leadership from the President of the General Assembly, Security Council President the UK, and Council members, to consolidate many of the recommendations of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign. Whilst the process for selection of the world’s most important diplomat is still far from perfect – around half of 1 for 7 billion’s ten vital reforms have been achieved – it is much stronger as a result of this intervention.