Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

How will the next UN Secretary General address cholera?

Secretary General (SG) Ban Ki-moon’s term will be over at the end of this year and a new SG will take his place. While discussions currently center on what country the next SG will come from, whether it will be a woman, and whether she/he will bend to political pressures, questions of UN accountability will be very important as well. The UN is currently facing an accountability crisis due to sexual assault by peacekeepers and UN responsibility (and also impunity) for Haiti’s cholera epidemic.

U.N. Strives for Transparency in Picking New Secretary General

Somini Sengupta, The New York Times

April 4, 2016

UNITED NATIONS — For the first time in the history of the United Nations, those vying to be the next secretary general have to post their résumés, subject themselves to open hearings and declare publicly why they want this plummy — and thankless — job.

Three of the eight men and women seeking the post this year are former presidents or prime ministers. Half are women, reflecting a push by civil rights groups for the organization to be led by a woman for the first time in its 70 years. Four are from countries that were once part of Yugoslavia, and two now serve as chiefs of United Nations agencies, making it incumbent on them to show that they are not exploiting agency resources to run their campaigns.

In the end, the selection will be made by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who will send that person’s name to the 193-member General Assembly for approval. As in the past, the deliberations are likely to be shaped more by diplomatic jockeying between Moscow and Washington than what the candidates say or do in public hearings that start next week. The Russian ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, made this clear to diplomats who asked him about the new pressure for transparency.

All of this only sharpens the fundamental dilemma for the next secretary general: Will she or he be more of a secretary or a general, and how much of each role will the world powers tolerate?

Critics say that the secretary general has become far too beholden to the wishes of the world’s most powerful countries, so much so that it has become customary for the most senior positions in the secretary general’s office to be divvied up among permanent members of the Security Council. The last four peacekeeping department chiefs have been French, the last three humanitarian chiefs have been British, and the United States has commandeered the top job for political affairs for nearly a decade.

As if to underscore the sensitivity of these appointments, Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, who declared her candidacy on Monday evening, demurred. “The last thing I’m going to do is pronounce on appointments now,” she said with nervous laughter, adding in an interview that she had been “fair” in the appointments she made as head of the United Nations Development Program.

Danilo Turk, a former president of Slovenia, emphasized his own impartiality, saying in an email that he would make appointments based on “efficiency, competence and integrity,” not what countries the candidates came from.

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Vesna Pusic, a former foreign minister of Croatia, described herself as a leader who could bring people together and said the protocol could not be changed overnight.

Calls for the Council to submit more than one candidate’s name to the General Assembly seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as have proposals for the next secretary general to stick to one seven-year term, so as not to have to curry favor with the world powers for reappointment to a second, five-year term, as is the case now.

In other words, while the candidates will have to publicly audition for the first time, there is no indication that the veto-wielding P-5, as the permanent members are known, are about to abdicate any power over whom they choose for the job — and hence, how far the next secretary general will bend to the wishes of the world powers.

The current secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is to step down at the end of the year, completing two five-year terms. His successor will have to maneuver through a thicket of difficult global challenges, such as holding countries accountable to the promises they made on climate change, finding new ways to help people displaced by war and resolving conflicts fueled by powerful countries.

The selection process comes at a time when the United Nations is roiled by new crises of confidence. There are widening allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, and countries have been reluctant to hold their soldiers accountable.

The organization has also struggled to repair its reputation in Haiti, where poor sanitation by its peacekeepers has been linked to a calamitous cholera epidemic that has killed more than 9,200 since 2010. The United Nations has not paid compensation, nor taken responsibility.

In interviews in recent days, the candidates were scant on details of what they would do as the world’s top civil servant.

Asked, for instance, about whether Haitian cholera victims should be compensated, Ms. Pusic initially indicated that they should be, but then said the question should be studied further by expert panels; it has been studied for years, and the United Nations has claimed immunity from prosecution.

Ms. Clark declined to take a position on what she called “legal issues.” Mr. Turk said that he hoped the organization would “provide the victims with a fair process and an effective remedy.”

How to handle refugees is an especially sensitive issue. Ms. Clark shied away from saying what she thought of the latest agreement that the European Union struck with Turkey, saying only that she was for “pragmatic solutions.” Ms. Pusic praised the accord, under which European countries have offered to pay Turkey for taking Syrian refugees back, and went so far as to say that perhaps the 1951 convention on the rights of refugees should be revisited. Mr. Turk said there was no need to tweak the convention, calling only for a better “institutional and policy framework” to cope with the refugee crisis.

The two other prominent contenders — António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and, until last year, head of the United Nations refugee agency, and Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian diplomat who heads Unesco — did not respond to emails sent to their offices.

The three other candidates, all relatively unknown, are Natalia Gherman of Moldova; Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia; and Igor Luksic of Montenegro. There is a surfeit of Eastern European names on the list this year because it has become customary for different regions to nominate one of their own for the top job, though nothing in the United Nations Charter requires it.

More names could be floated in the coming months, including a second Bulgarian: Kristalina Georgieva, a former World Bank official who is now a vice president of the European Union.

Then there is Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Her name has been circulating for months, though in recent weeks diplomats have said the prospects are slim. For the head of state of such a powerful country to lead the United Nations would be highly unusual, tipping the scale that Mr. Ban’s successor would be more like a general than a secretary.

Correction: April 5, 2016
An informational box that appeared in an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand. She was the second woman to hold that office, not the first.


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