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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

18 April 2006

The last time Member States chose a Secretary-General, they achieved a good result from a bad process that made the selection of the Pope look democratic, civil society groups said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Participating in the press conference, sponsored by the Canadian Mission, were: William R. Pace, Executive Director, World Federalist Movement, Institute for Global Policy; Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International; Vicente Garcia-Delgado, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Tania Bien-Aimé, Executive Director, Equality Now; and James A. Paul, Executive Director, Global Policy Forum.

In opening remarks, Mr. Pace explained that the above and other organizations had joined his in an open letter to the Security Council calling for improved transparency in the process in which the Council and the General Assembly select the Secretary-General. This year was the last year of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s term, and Governments had already begun a process of selecting a new Secretary-General.

The groups were calling for the application of minimum criteria and procedures used by international organizations and others, including Governments, the private sector and the non-profit sector -– indeed, everyone but the Security Council -– in the selection of a chief executive or other high officials. The groups began the process last year in the course of discussing the huge array of United Nations reform issues and the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit.

The organizations that had endorsed the open letter came from all regions of the world, and were involved in such areas as development, the environment, human rights and women’s rights, United Nations reform, international democracy, peace and disarmament, and international finance, he said. Civil society had a huge stake in the United Nations’ leadership and had a deep desire to see that the Secretary-General was a highly qualified individual.

He said he understood that the United States and Argentina, during their presidencies of the Security Council, had already conducted informal consultations on the issue of the Secretary-General’s selection, and he expected that process would continue. Tomorrow, the General Assembly’s ad hoc working group on its revitalization would hold a meeting on that issue, at which several Governments, including the Canadian Government, would deliver important statements. A related meeting on Security Council reform was scheduled for Thursday, he added.

Ms. Terlingen of Amnesty International said that candidates for Secretary-General must have a comprehensive understanding of the three pillars of the United Nations system, namely peace and security, development, and human rights. It was very important for civil society organizations working in the human rights field that candidates had a demonstrated commitment to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, which included international law and human rights, as well as multilateralism. Any candidate must have a vision of the United Nations and its future role of addressing global challenges in a multilateral context.

She added that the Secretary-General must also have experience managing complex organizations, and must have a proven record of being open to working with civil society. Lastly, for organizations such as Amnesty International, the selection process must be guided by principles of gender equality.

Speaking for CIVICUS, which represented more than 1,000 civil society members worldwide and was dedicated to enhancing citizen participation at all levels of governance, Mr. Garcia-Delgado said he strongly supported the present campaign, led by the World Federalist Movement and Institute for Globalist Policy and encouraged others to support it. A more transparent, accountable and democratic process for the selection of Secretary-General was an essential step in the trend towards progressive transformation of all international institutions and was fully aligned with the reform process under way at the United Nations.

He said that, while reforming the selection process for the Secretary-General would take time, democracy without full and meaningful civil society participation was always at risk of lapsing. There was a need, therefore, to gradually involve civil society and other stakeholders in the selection process. That could be done initially through the governmental panels introduced by Canada and the question-and-answer periods, but at later periods civil society’s role in the process should go beyond that initial phase. Nationally and regionally, CIVICUS expected Member States to provide civil society with ample access and the opportunity to participate fully and meaningfully in the selection debates.

Equality Now’s Executive Director, Ms. Bien-Aimé, recalled that, in December 2005, her organization called on the Security Council to consider qualified women candidates as the next Secretary-General. In the 60 years since the United Nations’ founding, the Secretaries-General had included three Europeans, two Africans, one Latin American, one Asian -- all of them men, and not a single woman. Equality Now had listed the names of 18 highly qualified women from around the world, in a symbolic representation of the “considerable pool of talented women with relevant experience” for the post.

She said that the women were not contacted prior to her group’s campaign regarding the mention of their names, nor had they indicated whether or not they wished to be considered for the position. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action had set the target for gender equality at the United Nations, particularly at the professional level and above, by the year 2000. Yet, 11 years later, the United Nations “is nowhere near this established goal”. Every year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on improving women’s status in the Secretariat, lamenting the lack of progress and calling for the achievement of gender balance in the staff.

Yet, women remained underrepresented in the ranks of the Organization, as well as at the top, she said. The numbers were “embarrassing”. As at June 2005, women occupied only 37 per cent of professional and higher positions, and only 16 per cent of the Under-Secretaries-General were women. Of the roughly 60 Special Representatives and Deputy Special Representatives personally appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to oversee political and humanitarian crises worldwide, only four were women. The upcoming selection of a new Secretary-General was yet another opportunity for the United Nations to implement “true reform” within its system and for the Security Council to give “real meaning” to the commitment voiced time and again to gender equality.

The Head of the Global Policy Forum, Mr. Paul, said that in a choice as important as the United Nations Secretary-General, there had to be standards and procedures; it must be an open and accountable process. He also knew from his study of the selection in the past that it was very much in the hands of the permanent Security Council members, the “P-5”. So, he called on them to “stand aside and allow a more open and accountable process”. It was time for the P-5 to stop their monopoly on the process. In December 1996, the last time such a serious election took place, the process had been “extremely un-transparent”. However, it had produced a good result.

He added that the problems of the selection of the Secretary-General was itself mirrored in the wider problems of the selection of senior staff and leaders of United Nations agencies and programmes. There was no good history in that, and even much of the talk of reform stayed “interestingly silent” on those matters. He was glad for the opportunity to be speaking out on that.

Asked for the groups’ position on regional rotation, Mr. Pace said that, as a group, no position had been taken on rotation per se, but the general feeling was that, presuming highly qualified candidates could be found, it was important over time to ensure consideration across regions and that one or two regions should not dominate. While there should be “representivity”, the highest qualified candidates should receive the most favourable consideration. The idea that only one or two regions possessed those candidates was ridiculous.

Was the panel detecting any countries, apart from Canada, getting any braver in terms of changing the P-5’s monopoly over the selection process? another correspondent asked.

Mr. Paul said events would begin to unfold tomorrow. He referred the correspondent to a research report by Erskine Childers released in February documenting the Secretary-General selection process back to 1946. There were other Governments out there, and he hoped the correspondent would see those tomorrow.

Mr. Paul added that there were not a lot of countries presently insisting on change; however, he also got a sense from the discourse on this that the permanent members felt a certain amount of pressure. So it was subtle, not a very open campaign, but a sense that there was broad dissatisfaction about this and that some concessions had to be made.

It was not absolutely given in the Charter that that should be a use of the veto, he replied to another follow-up question. The permanent members had insisted on exercising their veto rights in that area, but that was definitely something that could be abandoned if the permanent members were to choose to behave in a slightly different way. It was definitely not given in the Charter.

If the correspondent looked at the way the veto was used –- the way the meetings took place behind closed doors, but there were actually votes, and the fact that there were coloured ballots used at various times and so forth -– a very elaborate process had been used that brought the veto even beyond the final decision down into the sort of decision about debates about the various candidates. So, the P-5 could step away from that, if not in whole, then at least in part, and that could be a small, but important, improvement in the way the whole process moved forward.

When scholars and the United Nations Secretariat refer to the use of the veto, they did not count those vetoes, and yet in those private meetings, a veto was sometimes cast 20 or 30 times, so there were certain anomalies here about the role of the veto, he added.

Replying to a question about a reluctance to endorse specific candidates, Mr. Pace said the press conference was aimed at launching the campaign. The Global Policy Forum had a lot of information about candidates on its website and links to comments from other civil society groups. He hoped there would be a proper vetting of the candidates during the course of the process. In the present campaign, the groups were not going to endorse or oppose individual candidates, but press for procedures that would allow for a much greater debate and analysis of the candidates.

Pressed further for some endorsements, Ms. Bien-Aimé said that Equality Now was not in a position today to lobby for any particular candidate, but the group’s website had prepared a list of qualified women from around the world.

Asked to name them, she read them out, as follows: Louise Arbour (Canada), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Michelle Bachelet Jeria (Chile), former Minister of Defence, Former Minister of Health; Carolina Barco Isakson (Colombia), former Prime Minister; Silvia Cartwright (New Zealand), Governor General; Helen Clark (New Zealand), Prime Minister; Tarja Halonen (Finland), President; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), President; and Thoraya Obaid (Saudia Arabia), Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Also: Elizabeth Odio Benito (Costa Rica), ICC Vice-President; Sadako Ogata (Japan), former UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Navanethem Pillay (South Africa), ICC Judge; Nafis Sadik (Pakistan), former Executive Director, UNFPA; Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar), Prime Minister-elect; Leticia Shahani (Philippines), former Senate President; Mervat Tallawy (Egypt), Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Anna Tibaijuka (United Republic of Tanzania), Executive Director, UN-Habitat; and Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), President.

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For information media • not an official record

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