U.N. Secretary-General
Starting in 1946, the United Nations assigned its first Secretary-General while still in its infancy as an organization. His name was Trygve Lie from Norway, and there have been eight successors since; Antonio Guterres currently serving as U.N. Secretary-General.


The Role of a Secretary-General

The U.N. Charter, the foundational treaty of the U.N., describes the Secretary-General as “chief administrative officer” of the Organization, “who shall act in that capacity and perform ‘such other functions as are entrusted’ to him or her by the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and other United Nations organs.”

Overall, the U.N. Secretary-General is someone who is supposed to symbolize humanitarian ideals of equality and hold an interest for obtaining peace among nations.

On a day-to-day basis, the Secretary-General attends U.N. meetings, consults with world leaders and other state officials and must remain up-to-date on important international and national relations.

In times of crisis, the U.N. Secretary-General should take it upon his/herself to speak in front of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and rally support for action. This role requires the utmost responsibility to maintain international peace and security — if there are any conflicts occurring within or between borders that goes against human rights and international security, the Secretary-General must be aware and ready to rally support.


The Seventh Secretary-General

One man who truly upheld and set an example in his role as U.N. Secretary-General was Kofi Annan. Annan, born in Ghana, worked for many years with the U.N. before becoming Secretary-General in 1997.

Human dignity was central to Annan’s mission with the U.N. — he sought to advance human dignity in three predominant ways:

  1. He promoted human rights standards and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
  2. He worked through the U.N. institutions themselves to reform their machinery and ability to act (specifically by starting the Human Rights Council)
  3. He focused on zones of conflict to build U.N. operational efforts in needed locations

In the early 1990s, and prior to Annan’s entrance as a Secretary-General, the Cold War left the international field in a state of tension. In zones of conflict, such as during the Rwandan genocide, U.N. was seen in a negative light. Due to a lack of resources and a clear mandate for peacekeeping units to use force, the Rwandan genocide became known for its mass atrocities.


The Revolutionizing Ability of the Secretary-General

Annan had been Undersecretary-General at the time, and vowed to make positive changes starting in 1997; specifically, he wanted to make human rights a concept known and promoted for every member state. While the idea of protecting human rights was casually thrown around in the mid-late 20th Century, it was never fully given the attention it deserved.

During the World Summit in September 2005, all governments in attendance recognized the R2P and even gave it the nickname of being the “Annan doctrine” due to the intense lobbying the Secretary-General did during his years in office for human rights. The R2P meant that all governments within the U.N. clearly accepted their collective responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Never before had a Secretary-General put so much effort into humanitarian causes and the protection of birth right; but during Annan’s 10 years in office, U.N. peacekeeping grew both in terms of scale and efficacy. The governing body also increased the annual budget for U.N. peacekeeping from $1 billion in 1997 to $5 billion in 2006. Annan transformed not only the role of the U.N. and its member states, but positively impacted the lives of thousands (if not millions) of people.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

UN Secretary General

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s term comes to an end in 2016, the selection procedure for the next leader has been underway since January. The position is indeed invested with the prestige and heavy responsibilities as old as the organization itself – but the promises of candidates and the unprecedented public stage the selection process is taking this year indicate the body is adapting to new currents as well.

The UN General Assembly website lists nine official candidates for UN Secretary General:

  1. Dr. Srgjan Kerim, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  2. Prof. Vesna Pusic, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia
  3. Dr. Igor Lukšic, former Prime Minister and current Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro
  4. Dr. Danilo Türk, former president of Slovenia and Slovenian Ambassador to the United Nations
  5. Ms. Irina Bokova, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and current Director-General of UNESCO
  6. Ms. Natalia Gherman, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova and Acting Prime Minister of Moldova
  7. Mr. António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and UN High Commissioner of Refugees
  8. Ms. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program
  9. Vuk Jeremić, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and President of the UN General Assembly

The disclosed Vision Statements of these candidates address a variety of policies, but many focus on the issue of structurally reforming the UN body, especially the Security Council. Their approach on reform ranges from Natalia Gherman’s “zero tolerance policy on mismanagement, fraud, abuse, corruption and unethical behavior” to Vuk Jeremic’s promise for utilizing social media to communicate with youth and ensure transparency. Economic empowerment of women worldwide and consistent effort for Sustainable Development Goals were also recurring topics.

The selection procedure is expected to be the most transparent in the UN’s 70 years of history, as the UN General Assembly will organize public debates in London and New York. Not only will diplomats of all 193 member’s states attend, but the event will be open to social organizations and individuals as well. A video of the event will be released on the UN website – the first round of informal dialogues and Q&A sessions with the civil society board has already been uploaded. Compared to how all debates and hearings were held behind closed doors until Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s election, this constitutes a big step in guaranteeing the equity in deciding the leadership of the world’s largest coalition of nations.

Following the principle of regional rotation, the next Secretary General is most likely to be selected from Eastern Europe. But many organizations, such as Equality Now, are also arguing for a fair gender representation. The first female UN Secretary General would not only be a symbolic empowerment for female politicians worldwide but would also increase the body’s knowledge in women’s issues. “A woman as secretary general would send a strong signal of progress,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women.

Haena Chu

Photo: Flickr


Ending Global Poverty

The race for the position of “top diplomat” is on. The role of the United Nations Secretary-General involves spearheading initiatives toward ending global poverty, presiding over thousands of staffers and agencies and establishing world peace.

For the first time ever, the candidates presented their vision of the U.N. to the General Assembly in New York. They took questions from the public, governments and journalists in a townhall format, breaking free from tradition.

A common theme at the General Assembly among candidates was finding political solutions to conflict and ending global poverty. Irina Bokova, head of UNESCO, said enhancing the prevention of conflict and violence through political solutions and diplomacy should be the core task of the U.N.

Vensa Pusic, former Foreign Minister of Croatia, also mentioned the inequality over scarce resources as drivers of conflict. “For all the progress that has been made, too many people have been left behind,” Pusic said, according to IRIN News. “This is morally wrong, but it is also a threat to peace and security.”

The candidates also discussed taking a U.N. approach that recognizes the links between sustainable development, peace and security, human rights and humanitarian relief.

Former Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman said that there needs to be enhanced coordination between humanitarian and development communities. Similarly, former U.N. Refugees Leader Antonio Guterres noted that the U.N. needs to “strengthen the nexus between peace and security, sustainable development and human rights policies,” IRIN news reports.

The impact of climate change was another theme among candidates. Macedonian economist Srgjan Kerim said the U.N. should be the driving force in addressing global warming. He also said developing countries are the most exposed to climate change impacts and that their special needs must be high on the Secretary-General’s agenda.

In addition, the question of funding setbacks for humanitarian assistance was addressed. Vuk Jeremic, former President of the U.N. General Assembly offered a solution. He called for a special envoy to mobilize resources to address shortfalls, with emphasis on Middle Eastern and African refugee crisis and disaster relief. Jeremic noted that this would improve coordination of humanitarian relief, support and assistance to refugees.

The U.N. Security Council will make a recommendation for the top position in the U.N. and commence informal straw polls in closed meetings. The winner will be selected in September, declared in October and begin their term January 1, 2017.

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr