Guest blog: Significant General Assembly resolution adopted incorporating 1 for 7 billion priorities
Today, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/75/325) which makes significant progress on institutionalising crucial gains to the UN Secretary-General selection process achieved in 2015/16, as well as some headway on outstanding issues identified by 1 for 7 Billion.
This year we saw the key elements of the reformed process applied to the novel scenario of an incumbent Secretary-General seeking re-appointment. While the circumstances of the “one horse race” drew some criticism, the 2015-16 process was followed and 193 states had the opportunity to put forward a candidate who would be given a hearing in the General Assembly. That 192 states chose not to do so indicates a level of contentment with incumbent Mr Guterres, who has since been appointed for a second term from 2022-2026.
Confusion around the admissibility of a number of self-nominated civil society applicants attracted some negative media coverage. This year’s resolution makes important progress on this front by clarifying that nominations must have state backing alongside a crucial call that 1 for 7 Billion fought hard to advocate: that states should work with civil society further upstream to identify qualified candidates and bring them into the race:
“[The General Assembly] Recommends that the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council, in future joint letters on the Secretary-General selection process, encourage Member States to publicize the call for nominations, including with civil society and other stakeholders with the aim of identifying potential candidates;”
The resolution also addresses the spurious perception that there is a convention requiring a candidate to be nominated by a single country of which they are a citizen. The Resolution states that a candidate’s nomination must simply be backed by “at least one state”, making it clear that it is indeed possible for multiple states to nominate a candidate, including countries of which the candidate is not a citizen.
1 for 7 Billion is delighted with these important developments, all of which we have strongly advocated throughout 2021 and which were the subject of our Unsettled Elements advocacy paper released earlier this year.
Today’s resolution also makes history as the first ever General Assembly resolution to note that there has never been a female Secretary-General while asking states to take this into consideration when nominating candidates. As we understand, more strident language on gender which asked for the prioritisation of female candidates in tie-breaker situations, was blocked by states - including some on the Security Council likely in order to preserve their maneuverability.
Nonetheless, the presence of a paragraph on this issue is a significant achievement and testament to diplomats leading the charge on this issue, including members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group: Costa Rica and Denmark.
Consolidation and unfinished business
In addition, the resolution institutionalises positive reforms, including by explicitly asking for the continuation of candidate vision statements and candidate hearings with the inclusion of civil society.
The unfortunate practice of states extracting promises from candidates in return for the appointment of their nationals to top UN roles is also addressed, albeit implicitly. The resolution reiterates the need to “follow best practices in all senior appointments” and:
“Reaffirms that no post should be considered the exclusive preserve of any Member State or group of States and the Secretary-General should ensure that this principle is applied faithfully in accordance with the principle of equitable geographical distribution;”
Two 1 for 7 Billion priorities did not make the cut: the proposal to appoint future Secretary-General’s for a single, longer term of office and for the Security Council to recommend multiple candidates for the General Assembly to choose between. As recognised by the co-facilitators: El Salvador’s Ambassador López and Slovakia’s Ambassador Mlynár in their accompanying report, both these proposals were raised during the AHWG’s deliberations but, as we understand, were blocked by a small minority of Security Council states.
1 for 7 Billion research shows that in both cases (see here, and here), over two thirds of the UN’s membership support the reform or want to discuss it. P5 members appear to be the only ones actively blocking discussions on the reforms from taking place.
1 for 7 Billion proposals on transparent straw polls in the Security Council and a more detailed timeline for the process were also raised during the negotiations but ultimately were not reflected in the outcome.
We urge states to make progress on these outstanding issues during the next AHWG discussion on this subject, which will be during the 77th session. 1 for 7 Billion stands ready to work with its members and partners, as well as with supportive states, to continue to improve the selection process for the world’s foremost diplomat.