posted on Mon 14 Dec 2015 11:55 AM
Appointment of the Next Secretary-General: Joint Letter Under Silence

A draft joint letter from the Security Council and General Assembly presidents, which will mark the start of the process to select and appoint the next Secretary-General, is under silence until noon today (14 December). Following a meeting between Russia, the UK and the President of the General Assembly (PGA) on 9 December to discuss final unresolved areas, a draft was put under silence procedure on 12 December. Sending out this joint letter is in line with General Assembly resolution 69/321 of 11 September, which called for the two presidents to start the Secretary-General appointment process in this way.

A version of the draft letter had been put under silence on 3 December following a discussion at deputy permanent representative level, but Russia broke silence with a number of amendments. Russia had issues with the inclusion of a timeline for different steps in the appointment process, how to specify qualities expected of a UN Secretary-General, references to geographic balance and who can present candidates.

Regarding a timeline for the appointment process, Russia appears to have achieved what it wanted. The letter under silence indicates that early presentation of candidates would help the Council in its deliberations, and that it plans to make its recommendation to the General Assembly in a timely manner to allow sufficient time for the new Secretary-General to prepare for the job. The UK’s earlier drafts had included more specific time periods for the presentation of candidates and the completion of the process. The only reference to a specific date is that informal dialogues or meetings with candidates can take place before the Council begins its selection by the end of July 2016.

On the issue of geographic distribution, in keeping with the view that it is Eastern Europe’s turn to provide the next Secretary-General, it seems that although Russia wanted to refer to a “tradition of geographic rotation̶, it eventually accepted noting the regional diversity in the selection of previous Secretaries-General which is the language from resolution 69/321. In highlighting the interest in having women candidates, Russia was not willing to accept a reference to gender balance but accepted language of General Assembly resolution 69/321 which encourages women, as well as men, to apply.

Another area that needed to be resolved related to the holding of informal dialogues or meetings. Some members wanted to make it clear in the joint letter that these encounters with candidates can be organised not only by the Council and Assembly presidents but also by other Council members. (The UK has said that it would hold Arria-formula meetings with candidates.) It seems that Russia was against this reference. Alternative formulations of this idea apparently could have been interpreted as suggesting that the PGA’s ability to organise meetings with candidates might be subject to approval by the Council, which was not acceptable to the PGA as resolution 69/321 provides him with a clear mandate to hold such meetings. It seems that Russia also argued that procedurally Council members are able to hold meetings such as Arria-formula meetings with candidates without having this spelt out in the joint letter.

Russia also insisted that the joint letter should only invite member states to present candidates, specifying that this would be done in a letter to the two presidents of the Council and the General Assembly. While the invitation in the joint letter is for member states to present candidates, it may still be argued that there is nothing to stop civil society groups from also doing so.

Until early December, Russia, backed by China, was firm on not wanting the letter to be sent out before the full Council membership that would be involved in the appointment process for the next Secretary-General is in place in January 2016. Now that there appears to be agreement on the substance of the joint letter, Council members can begin to prepare for the next phase of the Secretary-General appointment process, which will involve examining the qualifications of the candidates and deciding on the best format for hearing from them.

Postscript (14 December 2015): The draft joint letter passed the silence procedure and is expected to be sent out by both presidents shortly.