Report of the Third Thematic Meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly

By Sonia Jagtiani and Alex Maresca
June 2014

On the 2nd of May 2014, the Ad Hoc Working Group (AHWG) on the revitalization of the General Assembly (GA) held its third thematic meeting of the 68th session. The subject of this meeting was the role and responsibility of the GA on the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General and other executive heads of the United Nations System. This report provides a summary of the meeting, including the key points made by various member states and regional groups.

Opening remarks

Ambassador František Ružička of Slovakia, Co-Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group, opened the session by noting that the recent thematic debates have offered inspiration on how to revitalize the GA. He drew attention to the two previously discussed issues relating to the selection process of the Secretary-General and other executive heads. The first was the possibility of holding hearings with candidates in the GA , allowing Member States to ask questions and develop a better sense of their positions on issues. Secondly, he mentioned the interest in ensuring equitable geographical representation and gender balance in the selection of the Secretary-General while still selecting the best candidate.

As Co-Chair of the AHWG, Ambassador Norachit Sinhaseni emphasized that the role of the Co-Chairs was first and foremost to listen to the Member States. However, he asked to make three points to preface the discussion.

First, he highlighted the importance of reforming the selection process for the Secretary-General (SG) before he or she is appointed in 2016. He added that the current reform process could be objective since no candidate had yet to be formally announced for this position. Second, he noted the value of considering proposals from previous reform efforts that do not require an amendment to the UN Charter. He suggested convening hearings in the GA with candidates and establishing a more precise and specific timeline for the process. Lastly, he pointed out that the Charter should always be respected throughout this process, and that existing mandates on this subject should be implemented. He ended his address by noting that the Co-Chairs would be pleased to receive “any and all” practical proposals on the subject.

Regional groups and Member State remarks

The representative from Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), stated that their discussion was based on existing resolutions on SG selection process, the inventory chart on the status of implementation of those resolutions, and the 2009 Joint Inspection Unit report (JIU).

Recalling the language of the UN Charter, NAM noted that the SG was “appointed” by the GA on the Security Council’s (SC) recommendation. It was suggested that the process would be more credible and transparent if the GA made full use of its power of appointment.

Overall, the NAM believed that the GA should take a more active, effective, and efficient role in the selection process, in accordance with resolutions 60/286, 64/301, 66/294, 67/297 and others. It felt that the SC has taken too large a role in the process due to an interpretation of Article 97 of the Charter based on resolution 1/11. This resolution asks that the SC only submit the name of one candidate to the GA for its approval; however, NAM believed that it was now outdated.

Referring to the suggestions in the 2009 JIU report, NAM encouraged the President of the GA (PGA) to play a more active role in the selection process by consulting Member States in order to identify qualified candidates for Secretary-General and thereupon forward his or her results to the SC. The NAM observed that these consultations have yet to take place. It was added that the PGA could also convene meetings for a formal presentation of candidates so the views of Member States could be expressed per the report’s recommendation.

The NAM stressed that the process should be given due regard to geographical and gender balance, and suggested that for the upcoming selection process, only female candidates be considered.
It also noted that most provisions of the AHWG have not been implemented, as shown in the inventory on the status of implementation of mandates, and emphasized the importance of their full implementation.

In conclusion, NAM highlighted the essentiality of political will from Member States for reform.

Several member states aligned themselves with NAM’s statement but also chose to deliver remarks in their national capacity. These included the Philippines, Pakistan, Belarus, Indonesia, India, Cuba, Sierra Leone and Iran.

Many speakers were concerned about the SC’s role in the SG selection process. Belarus observed that in the current system, five states effectively choose the Secretary-General. Indonesia stated that the P-5 should not use the veto during the Secretary-General selection process. Cuba felt that certain states supported GA reform resolutions, but then worked to undermine them “behind closed doors.” They suggested that the GA should refuse to consider any candidate proposed by the SC until existing resolutions have been implemented.

Sierra Leone believed that there were many valuable proposals on the table for specific qualifications for SG candidates. The Philippines noted that some sort of affirmative action might be necessary in order to make gender balance among candidates a reality. Belarus underscored that the next Secretary-General should be from Eastern Europe.

Pakistan believed that it was important to develop consensus when choosing the SG. That way, he or she would have the confidence of all member states. India proposed that the SG selection could require 2/3 of the Assembly approval, instead of a simple majority. in order to prevent the process from becoming divisive. Belarus suggested further that the practice of selecting the Secretary-General by secret ballot should be reinstated. It argued that secret ballots allowed all states to express their views, regardless of size and without fear of violating any “unspoken rules” in the Assembly.

The European Union (EU) stressed greater transparency in the selection process for the Secretary-General, but also stated that reform should be kept in line with the Charter. The EU also seemed to support resolution 1/11.

It was additionally suggested that the PGA could meet with candidates in order to make the process more inclusive. Candidates could also be formally presented to the GA in a timely manner, to ensure that Member states would have time to review their positions on key issues and credentials for the post.

The EU drew attention to the 2011 JIU report on the appointment of senior managers, and indicated that resolution 67/297 could perhaps be extended to senior managers. States were encouraged to look at the report’s second annex, which illustrated the need to improve gender representation among senior managers.

Liechtenstein saw the practice and application of existing procedures as the main problem. It felt that the Security Council, and particularly its permanent members, often confused “confidentiality” with “secrecy,” and insisted that the GA had a rightful role in the selection process within the existing Charter. However, it was also suggested that the proposal to ask the SC to recommend more than one SG candidate to the GA merited consideration by the working group.

Liechtenstein recommended that the GA establish set qualifications for the SG. It noted that there has never been a SG that has been female nor from Eastern Europe. Observing that the qualifications for the position described in a recent resolution were very general, it proposed more specific criteria, which included: integrity, impartiality, moral courage, organizational skills, strong political instincts, ability to provide leadership in the UN system, and ability to use modern media and be a “global communicator.”

Liechtenstein emphasized the value of several existing proposals, such as having the PGA consult with Member States to identify candidates, discuss the results of these consultations with the GA, and then forward the candidates to the SC. It also encouraged the formal presentation of candidates to allow for an exchange of views with Member States.

Liechtenstein noted the importance of leadership from the GA’s next president in the reform process. For instance, the president could hold informal meetings to allow Member States to interact with candidates.
Belgium aligned itself with Liechtenstein’s and the EU’s statement. It agreed with Liechtenstein that it might be valuable to consider asking the SC to recommend more than one candidate for Secretary-General to the Assembly.

The Russian Federation argued against any efforts, which would redistribute power from the Security Council to the General Assembly “in the name of democratization.” It emphasized that the Charter must be strictly followed. However, it was willing to consider reform within existing procedures. Russia suggested that regional groups should be used more to discuss candidates in the Assembly, which would make the selection process more interactive.

Mexico expressed support for gender balance as well as equitable geographic representation. It suggested that the GA should receive extended files on all candidates for the SG position. It also stated that candidates should have diverse experience with, knowledge of, and visions for the UN, and proposed that the post’s candidate names should be published one month in advance.

Brazil suggested that asking the SC to recommend more than one candidate to the GA might help the GA to better fulfill its role in the selection process. Brazil emphasized that the SG should be prepared for a “multi-polar future.” In particular, the SG should speak as many official languages of the UN as possible, rather than only English and French. It suggested that being able to speak more than two UN languages could be a qualification for the position, as well as a familiarity with foreign cultures and traditions.

It is important to note that nearly every speaker brought up the issue of gender balance. The next rotation per regional basis for the Secretary-General should be Eastern Europe, yet only Liechtenstein and Belarus mentioned this topic. It seems that the proposal for the SC to recommend more than one candidate to the GA is one of the most controversial issues with Brazil, Liechtenstein and Belgium suggesting for this to be considered. There additionally seems to be a general consensus in favor of candidates being formally presented to the GA; however, Russia did not mention the issue.

SC – Security Council
NAM – Non-Aligned Movement
GA – General Assembly
PGA – President of the General Assembly
SG – Secretary-General