Ad Hoc Working Group Holds Thematic Debate on the Appointment of the Secretary-General

by Alex Maresca, 27 June 2016

The following record has been compiled through informal accounts by participants, as well as through statements made publicly available online. If your government’s position has been inaccurately represented below, please contact us at .

On 22 March, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly (AHWG) held its official debate on the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General. In contrast to February’s “informal brainstorming session,” Member States were encouraged to address any and all issues pertaining to this subject. While some speakers emphasized the two issues featured during the informal meeting—the single term proposal and the recommendation of multiple candidates—others took the opportunity to voice other concerns.

In addition to the appointment of the Secretary-General, this thematic cluster is intended to address the appointment of executive heads. To that end, the meeting began with a briefing on the gender balance and geographic representation in the Secretariat by Hong Sok Kwon, Acting Director for Strategic Planning and the Staffing Division in the Office of Human Resources Management. On the request of Member States, the briefing was also reproduced in writing following the session.

Terms of Appointment
There was considerable interest in the Secretary-General’s terms of appointment, and particularly the possibility of appointment for a single, non-renewable term. Several speakers called for the Secretary-General to be appointed for a single term, including Sweden, Hungary, Thailand, Guatemala, Liechtenstein, and Costa Rica. Guatemala stated that a single term would give the Secretary-General the political space needed to implement her or his vision, and Liechtenstein argued that a single term would promote accountability to all Member States, rather than a powerful few. Hungary emphasized that a single term, if adopted, should become the “general norm” for the appointment of the Secretary-General; it should not be applied on a “case-by-case” basis.

Additionally, a number of speakers indicated their interest in further discussion of the proposal. These included the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) group, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as well as Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, the Czech Republic, Australia, Turkey, Malaysia, and Ecuador.

Along with the United States and United Kingdom, which have previously opposed a single term, the Philippines felt that a single term should not be established at this time.

Significantly, there was also some discussion of how the Secretary-General ought to be appointed, with several speakers noting that the General Assembly would need time to properly negotiate a resolution of appointment. In particular, the Non-Aligned Movement requested that the President of the General Assembly ensure that action is taken by the Assembly on the appointment resolution; in NAM’s view, the resolution should be tabled, consultations should be held, and a vote by secret ballot should be taken. The appointment resolution was described by some speakers—including ACT— as a way to further consider the single term proposal.

Number of Candidates Recommended by the Security Council
Several speakers called for the recommendation of more than one candidate to the General Assembly, including representatives of NAM and CELAC as well as Sweden, Indonesia, South Africa, the Philippines, and Argentina. Egypt, Malaysia, and the Czech Republic noted that they would consider the proposal. While CELAC emphasized that considering more than one candidate in the Assembly would make the process more democratic and inclusive, Sweden suggested that recommending both female and male candidates to the General Assembly would help to ensure that women candidates are seriously considered.

The United Kingdom expressed concern that appointment by election, instead of acclamation, could weaken the position of the next Secretary-General. In response, NAM and Mexico took the floor a second time, criticizing the idea that an election would delegitimize a leader.

Senior Appointments and the UN Secretary-General
In contrast to the 69th session, there was growing concern about the appointment of executive heads. While some states broadly called for greater gender and geographic representation in the Secretariat, others condemned what they described as the dominance of some Member States over certain senior posts.

In his opening remarks, co-chair Ambassador Drobnjak (Croatia) noted that he had received several questions ahead of the session regarding General Assembly resolution 46/232, paragraph 3E. The paragraph states that, “no national of a Member State should succeed a national of that State in a senior post and there should be no monopoly on senior posts by nationals of any State or group of States.”

Brazil emphasized that no State has a monopoly on any particular post in the Secretariat, and Costa Rica suggested that the permanent five members of the Security Council had been able to use their privileges to maintain a monopoly over certain Under-Secretary-General positions. The ACT group encouraged the Secretary-General to exercise independence when appointing high-level officials. Some speakers also linked this issue to the single term proposal, suggesting that a single term could help to remove any undue pressure on the Secretary-General when she or he appoints high-level officials.

Gender and Geographic Balance
Throughout the debate, most speakers felt that both gender and geographic balance should play a role in identifying the Secretary-General. Given that no woman has served as Secretary-General, there was considerable interest in promoting gender balance in the appointment process. On behalf of the Group of Friends for a Woman Secretary-General, Colombia welcomed that several women had already been nominated, and encouraged Member States to present additional female candidates. Sweden stated that priority should be given to highly qualified women, and that all candidates for the post should be committed to gender equality.

The issue of geographic balance, and the question of whether there should be a regional rotation scheme for the post, also arose during the debate. Speaking for the Eastern European group, Azerbaijan emphasized that the “time had come” for a Secretary-General to be appointed from that region, as there had never been an Eastern European Secretary-General. Azerbaijan welcomed that an “absolute majority” of the candidates nominated were from Eastern Europe. However, the United States encouraged candidates from all regions to come forward, stating that they would not exclude any candidate on the basis of her or his region of origin.

Informal Dialogues with Candidates
As a result of last year’s negotiations in the Ad Hoc Working Group, “informal dialogues” with all official candidates for Secretary-General to date have been convened in the General Assembly. The modalities for these dialogues were elaborated in a paper by the President of the General Assembly.

In light of the informal dialogues, Mexico wanted to consider the way in which these sessions would feed into the rest of the appointment process. Hungary called on the Security Council to take the outcome of these dialogues into consideration when recommending a candidate to the GA. Other states remarked on the format of the dialogues themselves. For instance, France, Sweden, and Uruguay expressed support for civil society participation in the informal dialogues. NAM, however, cautioned that civil society participation should be in line with previous General Assembly resolutions on the subject.

The United States noted that, as agreed during the previous sessions, the participation of candidates in the informal dialogues was not mandatory. However, the US welcomed the President of the General Assembly’s request that candidates submit vision statements ahead of the dialogues. Russia remained unconvinced of the value of holding informal dialogues with candidates, and argued that candidates should not be penalized for choosing not to participate.

Latest Developments
Since this debate was held in March, informal consultations on a draft resolution have begun in the Ad Hoc Working Group. Although the language regarding the appointment of the Secretary-General mostly reflected that of last year’s resolution, A/RES/69/321, the draft did include a new reference to resolution 46/232; this resolution addresses the issue of senior appointments made by Secretaries-General, stating that “there should be no monopoly on senior posts by nationals of any State of group of States.”

Notably, the zero draft also omitted any language related to paragraph 44 of resolution 69/321, which states that the General Assembly, “affirms its readiness to continue discussing all the issues relating to the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General in all their aspects within the Ad Hoc Working Group during its seventieth session, including those contained in the report of the Ad Hoc Working Group.” This paragraph was cited as the basis for the informal session held earlier this year on the issues of the term of appointment and the recommendation of more than one candidate to the General Assembly. It remains to be seen whether further proposals related to the selection of the Secretary-General will be added before the resolution is adopted in the fall.