April 2006

Thalif Deen

UN: When Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden was elected the second secretary-general of the United Nations on the first day of April in 1953, he was neither a declared candidate nor did he lobby for the then-coveted job. As former UN Under-Secretary-General Brian Urquhart of Britain recounts the story, Hammarskjold thought perhaps "it was an April Fool’s joke".

Nearly 28 years later, when Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru was elected the world body’s fifth secretary-general in December 1981, he was also a total outsider – and not even a rumoured candidate for the job. Perez de Cuellar was vacationing in a remote beach house somewhere in Latin America the day the former UN under-secretary-general was elected chief administrative officer of the United Nations.

When one of his colleagues at the UN Secretariat called him to convey the good news, recalls former Assistant Secretary-General Samir Sanbar, Perez de Cuellar thought it was "a joke".

But the election of a secretary-general is now a more politically-serious issue – at least judging by the growing intensity of the current election campaign that will culminate in the appointment of a new U.N. chief before December, when the present incumbent Kofi Annan completes his second five-year term.

Since Asia says it has a regional claim to the job, the only three declared candidates so far are former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka; Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai; and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

According to the UN charter, "the secretary-general shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council". And the 15-member Security Council plays a key role because it has traditionally nominated only a single candidate, with perhaps one exception when the first secretary-general, Trygve Lie of Norway, was re-elected by the General Assembly, without a recommendation by the Security Council.

The most decisive role, however, is played by the five permanent members (P-5) – namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – who can exercise their vetoes to eliminate candidates, with the General Assembly (currently with 191 member states) acting only as a "rubber stamp" to approve the final candidate.

As part of the reform of the U.N. system, there is a cry for more transparency in the election process and for a more positive role for the General Assembly, the highest policy-making body at the United Nations.

Ambassador Allan Rock, Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, told delegates Wednesday that the process by which member states select the person to fill that singular role has always been "ill-defined and has usually been opaque".

"No list of qualifications is agreed. No formal screening takes place," he said. Moreover, the General Assembly is asked to declare itself on the nominated candidate without the benefit of relevant information or even informal consultations.

"The candidate’s vision for the U.N.’s future remains unexamined, and there is no established way for member states to develop a sense of the candidate’s skills in key areas like communication and political leadership," Rock said.

And the General Assembly does little more than politely ratify a decision effectively made by the Security Council, leaving little scope for a considered decision about whether or not the candidate should be appointed, he pointed out.

As one of the countries leading a campaign for a procedural change in the election of the secretary-general, Canada has made several proposals, including a widest possible search for the "most attractive and best qualified candidate"; regional distribution and gender equality; and a single five- or seven-year term, thereby ruling out a second term for the U.N. chief.

"By ruling out a second term, member states would remove any basis for suggestion that the secretary-general’s conduct was influenced by expectations of re-appointment," Rock argued.

"Canada understands that it would be difficult if not impossible to implement this year all of the changes we have proposed. But we believe it is very important that we make a start. Past discussions about changes in the process have produced very little progress," he added.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 14 national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has sent a letter to all 15 members of the Security Council calling for procedural changes in the selection of the secretary-general.

"In the past years, international organizations, including the United Nations, have developed basic procedural mechanisms to enhance the transparency and accountability of international high-level appointments," the letter said.

In light of these developments, civil society groups have become increasingly concerned with the lack of progress in adopting similar standards for the selection of the U.N.’s top official, the NGOs said. "We note that many governments share this concern."

The coalition – which includes the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, Equality Now, Third World Network, Amnesty International, Social Watch, Women’s Environment and Development Organization and Global Policy Forum – is asking the United Nations to establish a formal set of candidate qualifications to guide member states in putting forward candidates.

Some of the qualifications for the secretary-general include: a comprehensive understanding of and demonstrated commitment to the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, including, but not limited to, international law and multilateralism; and also a comprehensive understanding of and demonstrated commitment to the three pillars of the U.N. system: peace and security, development and human rights.

Additionally, candidates should also have extensive experience with the U.N. system or other complex international organizations; diplomatic skills and demonstrated vision and leadership; multicultural understanding and gender sensitivity; and proven openness to working with civil society and other relevant stakeholders.

At a press conference Monday, James A. Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, said that in a choice as important as the election of the U.N. secretary-general, there had to be standards and procedures.

"It must be an open and accountable process," he told reporters. Paul said that selection in the past was very much in the hands of the permanent Security Council members, the P-5.

"We want them to stand aside and allow a more open and accountable process. It was time for the P-5 to stop their monopoly on the process," Paul said.

He also pointed out that the problems of the selection of the secretary-general itself mirrored the wider problems of the selection of senior staff and leaders of United Nations agencies and programmes.-Inter Press Service


Peter Apps

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s candidate for UN Secretary General said yesterday he believed his expertise on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction made him the best person to succeed Kofi Annan and deal with Iran.

Jayantha Dhanapala, former head of the Government’s peace process with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is one of three Asian candidates hoping to take over the top UN job at the end of the year.

"Weapons of mass destruction and disarmament have been one of my areas of work," he told Reuters in an interview at the Foreign Ministry. "With the Iran issue now coming up, I think you would have to have someone with the knowledge of the issues to work towards a peaceful solution."

Dhanapala, a former diplomat who also spent 10 years with the United Nations, five as undersecretary general, said his experience as a native of a developing country that had experienced a conflict was also important.

"You need to have somebody who has been in a country like Sri Lanka, which has experienced terrorism and conflict, to draw from lessons learnt," he said.

Achieving the millennium development goals, which set targets for reductions in poverty and child mortality, was key for the world in the next decade, he said.

"It remains a strong indictment of the international community that we have over a billion people who live on under a dollar a day," he said."If the living standards of these people can be improved … we will have a diminution of many other connected problems … whether it is on issues of human rights, environmental issues or other issues that worry the world."

While not all countries agree, Dhanapala said he believed it was Asia’s turn to take the secretary generalship, and that with Africa sharing the same opinion, at least 107 countries out of 191 favoured taking someone from Asia.

"It is not laid down in the charter," he said. "But practices are important … and finding a qualified Asian is not exactly a needle in a haystack operation."

The five permanent members of the Security Council, Britain, the United States, China, France and Russia, could veto any candidate but Dhanapala said he did not believe there would be a reason to do so against him.

"By and large the secretary general, if he follows the resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly, is on safe ground," he said. "If he wants to take initiatives, then it will have to be those that are proposed by the membership."

For whoever takes over from Annan, reform of the United Nations will be top of the agenda. The UN agency system is seen by some as needing an overhaul, and most countries say that, in principle, the security council also needs to be altered.

"It is widely accepted that the SC does not represent the power realities of today," he said. "Asia represents 60 per cent of the global population. We have only one member of the continent, China, as a permanent member. "I think Europe is over-represented and there clearly has to be a greater balance and an increase in members from other parts of the world." -Reuters

UNITED STATES: Sri Lanka’s candidate to lead the United Nations said yesterday that as secretary-general, he would push ahead with reforms to the world organisation and take a more proactive stance towards "what is evil and wrong with the world."

Jayantha Dhanapala told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that whoever replaces Secretary-General Kofi Annan next year would have to address the scandals that have weakened the United Nations’ credibility.

"It is very clear that management is an imperative – we need to have a strong management hand," said Dhanapala, who served as the UN undersecretary for disarmament from 1998 to 2003.

Annan’s term expires December 31, and three candidates have taken their campaigns on the road, visiting New York and the capitals of the five permanent Security Council members. The council must agree on a name before the 191-member General Assembly votes on the nominee.

Under an informal rotation system, it is Asia’s turn to lead the world body.

But U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton has said the next secretary-general should be chosen for his or her administrative skills, not the location of his or her home country.

Beijing, meanwhile, is pressing hard for the job to go to a candidate from one of the 54 members of the U.N. Asian Group.

"China strongly believes that Asia can provide the next secretary-general," Ambassador Wang Guangya told The Washington Times yesterday in New York.

Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, the only Eastern European voice on the Security Council besides Russia, said "the majority opinion" in the United Nations favours an Asian. "But we feel that the concept of geographical rotation should be secondary to the qualifications."

Mr. Dhanapala was in Washington meeting with State Department officials, members of Congress and think tanks to convince them of his reformist agenda and bridge-building style.

Although he declined to criticise Mr. Annan’s record since he became Secretary-General in 1997, Mr. Dhanapala said that the Iraq oil-for-food scandal had "sapped the morale" of the organization and that divisions over the Iraq war had affected Mr. Annan’s stewardship of the United Nations and its roughly 56,600 employees worldwide.

In an indication of how he would lead, the Sri Lankan candidate noted that Article 99 of the U.N. Charter gives the secretary-general the authority to bring to the attention of the world body any issue that is likely to be a threat to peace and security.

"I think this article needs to be used much more," Mr. Dhanapala said. "We cannot allow sections of humanity to be preyed upon."

Balancing the interests of the United States against those of other nations "does not mean turning a [blind] eye to what is wrong and evil in the world," he said.

Thailand and South Korea also have named candidates – Surakiart Sathirathai and Ban Ki-moon respectively – and several other names have been mentioned, including two candidates from Singapore and Poland’s former president Aleksander Kwasniewski. Island by Sharon Behn, The Washington Times