posted on Mon 7 Dec 2015 5:21 PM
Joint Letter on the Secretary-General Appointment Process

The UK has indicated interest in a discussion this week under “any other business” (AOB) on 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. Following several weeks of discussion, a version of the joint letter was put under silence procedure on 3 December. However, Russia broke silence with substantial proposed revisions.

Following the adoption of General Assembly resolution 69/321 on 11 September, which called for the two presidents to start the Secretary-General appointment process through a joint letter, a number of Council members have been keen to finalise such a letter before the end of the year. Russia, on the other hand, argued that the selection process should only start next year, when the full Council membership that would be involved in the appointment process for the next Secretary-General is in place. Members saw Russia’s willingness to engage in the negotiations by providing its own draft based on the initial UK draft early last week as a possible sign that it was now more open to moving on the letter before the end of the year. However, they may now be less optimistic following Russia’s proposed revisions.

The first substantive discussion on the UK’s draft joint letter took place under “any other business” (AOB) on 19 November. During that meeting some members, especially Russia and China, made clear that they were not comfortable with elements that went beyond General Assembly resolution 69/321. As a result, the first revision to the draft text included amendments that followed more closely the wording of the resolution. A revised text was circulated, after which Russia proposed amendments, and a third revised text incorporated some of the Russian changes. A discussion took place on 3 December at deputy permanent representative level, following which a revised draft was put under silence till the following day, when Russia broke silence.

Among the most controversial areas have been 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.

Both Russia and China have made clear their view that the process for the next Secretary-General should follow a similar timeline to the 2006 appointment process. In 2006, the Council conducted its first straw poll at the end of July, and made its decision on the appointment of the Secretary-General in October. Russia has thus suggested that the joint letter not include any specific details for the timing of the presentation of candidates or when the process for the appointment of the Secretary-General should be concluded. It seems open to a reference to the Council beginning the selection process by the end of July, which would follow the same timeline as 2006. For other members, this would be considered a late start to a process that many would like to see concluded at least three or four months before the new Secretary-General takes office on 1 January 2017.

One of the issues that emerged during the negotiations on the draft joint letter was how to refer to geographic balance. It seems that Russia wanted to refer to a “tradition of geographic rotation” rather than use the language from resolution 69/321 on the need to have geographical balance as this was a reference to the appointment of the executive heads of the UN, not just the Secretary-General. It seems that an acceptable compromise might be noting the regional diversity in the selection of previous Secretaries-General. Language on gender balance appears to have been less controversial with Russia being comfortable with including reference to women candidates being encouraged to apply.

There has been no agreement yet on the language on who should present the candidates. The draft that was put under silence was vague in this respect, but Russia has indicated that it wants the letter to state clearly that member states would nominate the candidates.

Another area that needs to be resolved relates to the holding of informal dialogues or meetings. Some members would like to make it clear in the joint letter that these encounters with candidates can be organised by not just the Council and Assembly presidents but also by other Council members. It seems that Russia is not open to this idea.

Overall, it seems that Russia would like to see a joint letter that provides a bare minimum to start the selection and appointment process, with no specific timelines or details about the process such as the circulation of candidates’ names. It also appears to be against reflecting the language in resolution 69/321 on the criteria for the position of UN Secretary-General as well as the importance of having the best possible candidate for the position. A number of elected members, as well as the Office of the President of the General Assembly, which has provided inputs throughout the negotiating process, appear satisfied with the draft text that was put under silence late last week. It is unclear how a Council discussion under AOB will resolve the differences over the draft joint letter, but it may provide a forum for members to show support for having the joint letter go out sooner rather than later.