May 2006


PUTRAJAYA: Sri Lanka’s candidate for the UN Secretary General post, Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, is seeking the support of developing nations at this week’s meeting of the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement. (NAM).

"Clearly the Non-Aligned Movement is a very influential grouping, and therefore their decision would be of great importance," he told AFP in an interview ahead of the ministerial talks which begin today.

"I come from a small country which has always had moderate policies in international affairs and has been successful in achieving consensus building," said the career diplomat who has held senior UN posts and now serves as an adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Current UN chief Kofi Annan who steps down at the end of this year has said he should be replaced by an Asian in line with the convention for regional rotation of the top job.

Asia has not had a UN chief since Myanmar’s U Thant finished his second term in 1971.

Dhanapala is one of three candidates from the region including South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon and Thai Deputy Premier Surakiart Sathirathai.

The United States has said that the best candidate should get the job regardless of where they come from.

Dhanapala said he was confident in his pitch as a candidate with both a wealth of experience within the UN and a commitment to reform.

"I’ve been encouraged by responses of the countries I’ve spoken to," he said.

Dhanapala said that all organisations were at some stage faced with the challenge of reform and renovation to remain relevant in the modern world, and the United Nations was no exception.

"I have seen the UN from the outside, and from within. That combination of being an outsider and an insider, equips me with the capability of implementing the reform more successfully," he said.

"One may step on landmines and find that reforms may backfire unless they understand the UN is a complex inter-governmental body with diverse cultures and diverse ethnic groups. You have to proceed with firmness but also tact."

However, he was tight-lipped when asked how much support he could count on from NAM, whose membership represents two-thirds of the United Nations.

"We’re not keeping a scorecard of who’s for us and who is against us," he said.

"International diplomacy doesn’t operate in that crude manner, we pay the highest respect to governments whom we canvass, we place our credentials and allow them the courtesy of taking decisions at their own time, without pressing to let us know what their views are."

Dhanapala has served as his country’s ambassador to the US and as UN Under-Secretary-General in re-establishing the Department of Disarmament.

Malaysia Sunday, AFP

Source: The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

TOKYO, May 18, 2006 (AFP) – UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday that most nations believe his successor should come from Asia, as campaigning for his replacement intensifies.

"I can say that most of the member states believe that it is a turn for Asia," Annan told a news conference in Tokyo.

"It is a practice that we have rotated it over the years from one region to the other," the Ghanaian said.

The United States, however, has resisted the regional power-sharing arrangement, saying it would support the best candidate regardless of his or her region.

Several Asian countries are putting forward successors to Annan, whose second five-year term expires at the end of the year. The world’s largest region has not had a UN chief since U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) finished his second term in 1971.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, whom Annan met earlier this week on his regional tour, has announced his candidacy.

Other Asians who have expressed interest include Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Sri Lanka’s Jayantha Dhanapala, an adviser to President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Japan has not put forward a candidate and Annan said Asia’s largest economy would have slim chances if it did.

But "countries that are very powerful should not seek to get additional power by seeking positions of that kind, traditionally," he said. – Island

UNITED NATIONS: With growing new support for an Asian as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, there is a possibility of new candidates joining the race – perhaps from India, Indonesia, East Timor and maybe even Japan.

The 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest single political coalition at the United Nations, has joined the 54-member Asian Group and the 53-member African Group in declaring its public support for an Asian as the new chief administrative officer of the world body, come January 2007.

In a letter to NAM members, the current chair, Ambassador Hamidon Ali of Malaysia, said last week that "the Non-Aligned Movement at its meeting at the ambassadorial level has decided that the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, who will succeed Kofi Annan of Ghana, shall be selected from a state member of the Organisation (NAM) from the Asian region." The three declared Asian candidates so far are: former 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.

Even though South Korea is part of the Asian Group at the United Nations, the NAM decision rules out support for the South Korean candidate because Seoul is not a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. Meanwhile, the election of the new Secretary-General may also be indirectly linked to an even more frantic race for another coveted prize at the United Nations: a permanent seat on the 15-member Security Council.

Currently, four countries – India, Japan, Germany and Brazil, known as the Group of Four – have been relentlessly knocking at the Security Council door for new permanent seats, five of which are now held by the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia.

But those four new seats seem so elusive – primarily because of the sharp division among the 191 member states – that the proposal for an expansion of the Security Council has hit a virtual dead-end.

What do you do when that prized permanent seat in the Security Council remains outside one’s grasp?

The two Asian contenders for that seat – namely India and Japan – may be looking for a seat elsewhere: a seat now held by the outgoing Secretary-General.

Publicly, the Japanese have said they are not interested in the job despite the fact that Asia’s regional claim to the job has been endorsed by three powerful groups at the United Nations.

Unless the veto-powered U.S. keeps pushing for an Eastern European, the next Secretary-General should be from Asia, a claim also endorsed by the veto-wielding Chinese.

"The Japanese are still focused on a permanent seat in the Security Council and are hopeful they can pull it off -if not in the company of India, Germany and Brazil, at least on their own political steam," says a longtime Asian diplomat.

But if they do eventually give up hopes for a Security Council seat before the end of the year, will they decide to stake their claims for the job of Secretary-General?

According to a time-honoured tradition – but not reflected in the U.N. charter – the job of Secretary-General should not be held by any of the world’s major political or economic powers, thereby ruling out countries such as the United States, Japan, China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain.

As a result, former incumbents have come from Norway (Trygve Lie), Sweden (Dag Hammarskjold), Burma (U. Thant), Austria (Kurt Waldheim), Peru (Javier Perez de Cuellar), Egypt (Boutros Boutros-Ghali) and Ghana (Annan).

But that tradition can be broken because it is not cast in stone. Japan, which is the second largest contributor to the U.N.’s regular budget, accounting for about 20 percent of the funds, has been exceptionally aggressive in demanding high-level jobs in a donor-driven world body.

But the Japanese are also conscious of the fact that if China has plans to veto Japan’s permanent membership in the Security Council, the Chinese can also wield that same veto against a Japanese becoming secretary-general. If Japan is ruled out, what of India?

The first shot was fired last month by a former Indian diplomat who has served both in New York and Washington. In an article in an Indian newspaper, ex-Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan laid out a possible scenario, perhaps reflecting the unannounced views of the upper echelons of the Indian foreign service.

In flying a political balloon, he singled out current under-secretary-general for Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, the highest-ranking Indian in the Secretariat, as a possible candidate.

So far, India has not publicly committed itself to any of the three declared Asian candidates.

"The dilemma for India is not about finding a suitable candidate to put forward," writes Sreenivasan.

"It is about the incompatibility between seeking a candidature and aspiring to become a permanent member."

In its quest for a permanent seat in the Security Council, India’s major problem is to secure a two-thirds majority in the 191-member General Assembly.

"But since that does not seem to be in the realm of possibility," argues Sreenivasan, "we should not give up the option of putting up a candidate for the post of Secretary-General."

Since India has been cozying up to the U.S. with its nuclear deal – and more importantly, with its open criticism of Iran’s nuclear ambitions – "the U.S. is not likely to veto an Indian," predicts Sreenivasan.

But the unknown factor is the Chinese veto.

Although China has continuously re-affirmed its support for an Asian as the next U.N. chief, it may have second thoughts about an Indian Secretary-General, particularly at a time when Washington is strengthening its relationship with India as a political and military counterweight to China.

Ramesh Thakur, a senior vice-rector of the Tokyo-based U.N. University, points out that there is no guarantee that the post of Secretary-General will go to an Asian, although the general sentiment in U.N. circles is in favour of an Asian.

"China has indicated strong support for the idea, and of course may veto any non-Asian candidate," said Thakur in a newspaper article last month. But this will not suffice if Asians cannot unite behind one candidate, or at least agree on a common strategy, he said.

One such strategy could be to seek general agreement in advance that the choice will be limited to Asian candidates, but as many candidates as desired may be nominated.

Last week, East Timor’s Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, also a 1996 Nobel Peace laureate, said he is yet to decide whether he will run for the job.

"One hesitation is a personal one," he said. "Do I really want to commit five years to a seven-day-week, 24-hour job?"

Ramos-Horta also said he has "personal obligations" to his home country where he played a leading role in the two decades old fight for independence from neighbouring Indonesia.

Since there is no love lost between East Timor and its former colonial master Indonesia, there is speculation at the United Nations that Indonesian Foreign Minister Noer Hassan Wirajuda may throw his hat in the ring – if and when Ramos-Horta decides to run.

"This could be a purely tactical move to undermine Ramos-Horta’s candidacy," says a Southeast Asian diplomat.

Thakur points out that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has already given group support to the Thai candidate. And there is no Northeast Asian counterpart that could campaign for the South Korean.

But why hasn’t the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation joined forces to provide collective support to Dhanapala, the candidate from its own region, especially as South Asia has never had a Secretary-General? he asked.

"Are South Asians really so jealous of each other that they would like all internal candidates to fail and someone else succeed, perhaps even a non-Asian? Outsiders will surely respect South Asia more for mounting a united campaign, even if this does not lead to success."

IPS-Thalif Deen

The Association of Former International Civil Servants (AFICS) — which unites a unique group of Sri Lankans, who have served in the UN, UN specialised agencies and Bretton Woods institutions – has passed a resolution supporting Jayantha Dhanapala to the post of UN Secretary-General.

The resolution, adopted at AFICS annual general meeting last month, will be communicated to the association’s branches worldwide and to all Sri Lankans working in the UN, UN affiliated agencies, the Bretton Woods institutions and the Commonwealth.

"Jayantha Dhanapala… is an active member of our association and, in our opinion, eminently suitable for this prestigious post," a press release from AFICS said yesterday.

The association also elected its office bearers for 2006. Dr Nihal Abeyesundere (WHO) was voted to the post of president; Dr Vernon Mendis (UNESCO) and Dr Douglas Nethsinghe (IAEA) to the posts of vice presidents; Dr Adrian Senadhira (WHO) to the post of secretary-general; and Vincent Kumarapeli (UNV/UNDP) to the slot of treasurer and editor. Committee members are Earle Samarasinghe (UNESCO), Lalit Godamunne (WFP), Vijita de Silva (APD/APDC), Ranjith Seneviratne (FAO), Dr Neville Edirisinghe (WFP) and Dr Panduka Wijeyaratne (WHO/UNEP).