The New Secretary-General, and the Next: Reforming International Appointments


Sanjay Reddy over at his website:

The announcement that the new Secretary-General of the United Nations will be Antonio Guterres of Portugal brings to an end a process of making this important appointment which has been more transparent than ever (as it included such innovations as a public debate between declared candidates). However, despite the credentials of the new Secretary-General and his laudable intentions for the organisation, the process has highlighted the continued deficiencies in the selection process, including but not confined to lack of full transparency, in particular on the basis of the final decision.

The widespread anticipation that the next Secretary-General would be the first woman in the position has been disappointed, as has been the supposition that the candidate should come from Eastern Europe, the one officially recognized regional grouping from which a Secretary-General has not come before. However, it is less surprising that these expectations were disappointed than at first might be thought. UN insiders, including both member states and activists engaged with the organisation, informally imposed both a regional and gender criterion, creating a gradient against which potential candidates who did not satisfy the requirements had to climb – inevitably limiting the range of strong candidates, including women candidates, who were willing to enter the race. (While two of the five finally declared women candidates were from outside Eastern Europe many others had been discouraged previously, and both of those who did run were decided insiders whose actions during their UN tenure were viewed by many either adversely or as unremarkable). Although there were numerous candidates, the preponderance of those from Eastern Europe was relatively weak, and on the whole without much experience of the United Nations system or with a checkered record. Strong candidates from elsewhere, with a few exceptions, may inevitably have been discouraged by the idea that the candidate must if possible be both a woman and from Eastern Europe, even as the process remained opaque and dependent on state sponsorship and power-broking. [The regional groupings are also highly unequal in terms of number of countries and their share of the world’s population — more than half of the world’s population and more than a quarter of countries are in the Asia-Pacific, while twelve percent of member states and less than five percent of the world ‘s population lives in Eastern Europe].

If the expectation had been that the candidate selected would have been a woman, without imposing a regional criterion additionally, this would surely have increased the quantity and quality of the women candidates who made themselves available globally, especially if the process had also been made more transparent to all individual candidates.

More here.