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What would a transparent and democratic selection process for the Secretary-General look like?

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At an event on Wednesday in New York, Mary Robinson and two others debated before the UN community on the best way to choose the next Secretary-General.

"In today’s world, it is morally inexcusable to allow the Secretary-General selection process to remain as it stands.” Mary Robinson

From left to right: William Pace, Mary Robinson, Olivier Zehnder from the Swiss mission to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, and Margus Kolga from the Estonian mission the UN

Yesterday, Mary Robinson, member of The Elders and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, and William Pace, representing the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, all agreed that the process for selecting the next UN Secretary-General needs to change.

Speaking at an event at UN headquarters in New York, Mary Robinson stated that it is “morally inexcusable” to allow the Secretary-General selection process to remain as it stands.

The event was organised by ACT (Accountability, Coherence and Transparency), a group of 27 member states aiming to reform the Security Council. It took place before a packed UN audience, live-streamed on UN Web TV.

On behalf of The Elders, Mrs Robinson advocated four ways to strengthen the legitimacy of the Secretary-General and his or her ability to respond to world issues.

To make the selection more transparent, Mary Robinson proposed that within a formal timetable, candidates should publicly declare their platforms, subsequently holding hearings with both the General Assembly and the Security Council and giving civil society an opportunity to be included in the process.

Ambassador Rycroft agreed, calling for an Arria-Formula meeting for formal candidates with civil society involvement and “clear deadlines” and a “clear date by which time the selection should happen.”

However, Mary Robinson’s proposal that the Security Council submits more than one candidate to the General Assembly, which was supported by William Pace, did not meet with the agreement of Matthew Rycroft, who said “I think the moment for greater transparency is earlier than that.”

1 for 7 Billion’s William Pace focussed on ways to make the Secretary-General more independent, to champion the Responsibility to Protect, show “great leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals” and be a “supporter of human rights.” To this end, he agreed with Mary Robinson’s proposal to limit the Secretary-General to a single, non-renewable term.

Mrs Robinson also argued that this single term would free the Secretary-General from electoral concerns and support William Pace’s requirement for the role to “serve all member states and not just the interests of the most powerful states.”

Lastly, all three panellists expressed their wish that the selection process allow for the best person for the role, encouraging female candidates and possibly, as Ambassador Rycroft suggested, diminishing the importance of promoting regional rotation to instead allow for the biggest pool of candidates.

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