Leadership for “Our Common Humanity”: Why RtoP Advocates Should Support a Better Selection Process for the UNSG

The following is a co-authored blog written by Matthew Redding, ICRtoP Blog and Social Media Coordinator, and Alexandra Maresca, Program Associate at the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP). WFM-IGP is a Steering Committee member of the 1 for 7 Billion Campaign launched in November 2014 to reform the outdated process of selecting the United Nations Secretary-General.  Read on to discover why supporting this campaign is in the best of interest of RtoP advocates and all those committed to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. 

 

From the earliest stages of inception, the role of the UN’s Secretary-General (UNSG) in formulating and advancing what would become known as the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) was crucial. It was former Secretary-General Kofi Annan who set in motion a momentous process of redefining sovereignty to include a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing when he asked:

“… if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?”

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UNSG Kofi Annan addressing the 2005 World Summit. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

At Annan’s request, the historic International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was formed in 2001 to debate this matter, and RtoP subsequently emerged as the answer to this quandary. Annan used the moral authority and legitimacy of the Secretary-General’s position to champion the norm and ensure it became a serious consideration among UN member states. His report In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All confirmed his support and presented RtoP for adoption by the UN General Assembly at the World Summit in 2005.

It is now well known that 150 member states endorsed RtoP in paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document, formally recognizing that sovereignty indeed entails an obligation to protect populations from the worst atrocity crimes. However, it soon became clear that certain states, including some permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council, began to feel what Gareth Evans described as “buyer’s remorse” over lingering concerns about the potential for its abuse.

Enter Ban Ki-moon, who made no secret of his intention to make RtoP a priority during his tenure. Famously referring to RtoP as “…an idea whose time has come,”  and stating that he would “…spare no effort to operationalize the responsibility to protect,” the new Secretary-General made significant progress in clarifying misconceptions and focusing the norm, including by articulating the three-pillar approach in his 2009 report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.

These efforts were greatly assisted by his newly created Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect – a position filled by Edward Luck, who played a distinct but complementary role to the existing Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng. Ban has since released annual reports on a thematic issue related to RtoP every year, eliciting important contributions from civil society actors, and used the informal interactive dialogues at the General Assembly to openly discuss the documents.

Aside from broadening normative consensus through rhetorical commitments and raising awareness within the UN system, both Secretaries-General have also played a critical role in implementing RtoP. For example, they have made use of their good offices to mediate crises that had the potential to escalate to mass atrocities, either personally or through their Special Representatives, in Kenya, Guinea and Kyrgyzstan, and have spurred member states to take action to halt imminent or ongoing crimes in Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic. Ban Ki-moon has taken further steps to deliver on his commitment to “promise less and deliver more” through new initiatives such as the “Rights Up Front” action plan and the launch of the Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes.

General Assembly: Informal interactive dialogue on the report of the Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect

Ban Ki-moon providing remarks at the Informal Interactive General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP in September, 2014. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Given the significance of having a Secretary-General that is a firm ally of the norm, it is now more important than ever that Ban Ki-moon’s replacement is equally supportive. Ten years after RtoP’s adoption, civil society advocates and supportive UN member states are pushing for a tangible shift from words towards deeds. Initiatives aimed at removing challenges to the norm’s implementation and expanding the global consensus around the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities will require the next Secretary-General’s steadfast support and unwavering commitment to this core UN responsibility.

 

An Outdated Selection Process in Need of Reform

Unfortunately, the current process for selecting the Secretary-General leaves much to be desired in regards to choosing a candidate most qualified to see this vision through. The UN Charter states that the General Assembly appoints the Secretary-General upon the recommendation of the Security Council.  In practice, however, the Council’s permanent members have had the final say in who gets appointed to the post.  The veto power of each of the permanent five members, coupled with a 1946 resolution requesting that the Council recommend only one candidate for Secretary-General, has turned the General Assembly into a rubber stamp for the Security Council’s decision.

Because there is no public shortlist of candidates and no set timeline for the process, member states and other stakeholders struggle to identify which candidates are being considered by the Council at any given time. Worse, with no formal selection criteria for the position and no opportunity for member states or the general public to interact with candidates, it is all but impossible to assess the Council’s chosen candidate and his or her commitment to RtoP and other international norms, as well as their continued willingness to work with civil society for advancement.

The shortcomings of the current process are an open secret, and dissatisfaction with the status quo has only grown over time.  Sir Brian Urquhart, a respected UN expert who worked for the organization for forty years, offered a set of proposals for reform as early as in 1990. The General Assembly first suggested improvements to the process in a resolution passed in 1997, and the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group (AHWG) on the Revitalization of the General Assembly has adopted a resolution on the issue by consensus every year since 2008. Yet the failure to implement these resolutions, as well as the reluctance of Security Council members to make the process more transparent, has left the selection process adopted seventy years ago largely intact.

 

1 for 7 Billion: A Growing Movement for Change

While the international community has been lucky enough to have two successive Secretaries-General that showed strong leadership on RtoP, this luck may run out, and the result could be a major setback for the norm. The 1 for 7 Billion Campaign, however, has shown that there are those unwilling to leave such an important outcome to the mercy of luck and power politics.

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The ‘1 for 7 Billion’ Campaign.

Launched in November 2014, 1 for 7 Billion is a group of more than fifty NGOs and concerned individuals around the world, which calls for the adoption of a more open, inclusive, and merit-based process before the next Secretary-General is chosen in 2016. Rather than endorse individual candidates, the campaign argues that a strong process will produce a strong Secretary-General.

Its supporters believe the process should be rooted in seven common-sense principles, such as transparency, inclusiveness, and a focus on appointing the most qualified candidate.  Based on these principles, the campaign suggests ten reforms designed to make these ideals a reality.   Public hearings with candidates, for example, would make it possible for all stakeholders—including member states, civil society, and the general public— to assess the values and priorities of prospective candidates.  Formal selection criteria would help to identify candidates with the skills and experience needed to implement the UN’s complex agenda.  More controversially, 1 for 7 Billion suggests that the Council recommend more than one candidate to the General Assembly for it to debate, allowing all member states to weigh in on the next Secretary-General.  Significantly, none of these proposals would require an amendment to the UN Charter.  Some, including the recommendation of more than one candidate by the Security Council, have even been advanced by Kofi Annan himself.

As the Ad Hoc Working Group’s debates begin this week, it is important to remember that the UN does not just represent the interests of states.  It also has a responsibility to individuals, to “We the Peoples of the United Nations”.  With the 70th anniversary of the UN converging with the 10th anniversary of the World Summit Outcome, it is time for a selection process that reflects the values and concerns of everyone represented by the UN – not least populations who continue to suffer the tragic effects of mass atrocity crimes.

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Filed under General Assembly, Guest Post, Informal Interactive Dialogue, Security Council, UN

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