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ACT lessons learned on the selection and appointment of the ninth UN Secretary-General in 2015/2016


In 2014, ACT[1] started its work to increase the transparency, the inclusiveness, and the accountability of the process for selecting the next UN Secretary-General. The selection process, which had been the norm for the previous 70 years, was viewed by many as outdated and not fit for purpose. Member States, parliamentarians and civil society organizations from across the globe argued that a process conducted in secret by the Security Council was no longer appropriate and would not guarantee selection of the best possible candidate.

ACT believes that the General Assembly has the right, in accordance with the UN Charter, resolutions 69/321 and 70/305 and other relevant decisions to play a more active role in the selection process. In 2015-2016, ACT worked to help empower the General Assembly and its President to engage directly with candidates; we also set expectations on the selection criteria and encouraged the Council towards a more inclusive and transparent approach.

The ACT group played a leading role in the General Assembly revitalization negotiations and the main objectives outlined in ACT position papers from March 2015 and February 2016[2] – from declared candidatures to open hearings – became integral parts of resolutions 69/321 and 70/305.

ACT members are convinced that the standards achieved and the principles set out in the General Assembly revitalization resolutions should be applied and strengthened in all future selection processes.  To this end, the ACT group makes the proposals set out below:

General Assembly and its President

o    The General Assembly through its Member States and its President must continue to play a key role in all future selection processes. ACT recalls that it is the General Assembly, which is – upon the recommendation of the Security Council – responsible for appointing the UN Secretary-General. It is essential that the Secretary-General enjoys the widest possible support among the membership.

o    For the ACT group, it will be crucial to consolidate the role of the General Assembly in the selection process. The role of the President of the General Assembly in the process is also critical; ACT encourages a proactive engagement by the PGA across the entire selection cycle.

o    In ACT´s view, negotiations on outstanding issues with regard to the role of the General Assembly have to be carried through without delay in the Revitalization working group, notwithstanding the actual selection cycle.

Selection Timeline and Nomination of Candidates

o    Providing a structured timeframe for the selection process greatly enhanced the 2015/16 process. ACT believes that a deadline for presentation of candidatures, as well as a timeline for the overall process such as that set out below, should be followed for future processes, while bearing in mind that ultimately the best possible candidate should be appointed.

o    ACT proposes an indicative timeline for appointment of future Secretary-Generals as follows:

●    October of year preceding appointment: joint letter from the President of the General Assembly and the President of Security Council to all UN Member States encouraging nomination of qualified candidates;

●   1 April of the appointment year – deadline for submission of candidatures;

●   End of June of the appointment year  – deadline for completing General Assembly hearings with all candidates;

●  1 October – deadline for Security Council recommendation and GA appointment resolution.

o   ACT encourages early presentation of qualified candidates as late nominations may not allow sufficient time for full evaluation.

o   ACT welcomes the value added by various stakeholders, including civil society, in searching for suitable candidates at their own initiative as an input for Member States consideration.

o   ACT calls on all candidates to participate fully in the overall selection process.

Selection Process, Informal Meetings with the Candidates

o   The General Assembly should play an active role in the selection process, in accordance with the UN Charter, resolutions 69/321 and 70/305, as well as other relevant decisions.

o    For ACT, the informal dialogues and meetings with the candidates are a key part of the selection process. We expect all candidates to take part in these meetings and to circulate a document outlining their policy priorities in advance. The fact that the President of the General Assembly insisted in the latest selection on following the same procedure for all of the candidates prevented any attempts at selecting a candidate from outside the list.

o   ACT sees possibilities to further improve the format of the informal dialogues in making them more interactive, for example by increasing the time available to candidates to provide responses, and by having the President of the General Assembly play an active role as moderator, including by seeking to avoid duplication of questions.

o   ACT calls on for ensuring that civil society can continue to actively participate in the informal dialogues and meetings with the candidates, and also encourages candidates themselves to interact with civil society organizations. Furthermore, ACT encourages civil society to continue working towards improving the selection process of the Secretary-General and its efforts towards ensuring that the best possible candidate will be appointed, e.g. by looking into the practice of existing panels of highly regarded individuals reviewing candidates and their qualifications for similar senior positions, in order to assist Member States in their assessments.

o   ACT encourages consideration on possible ways to assess the level of General Assembly’s support for the candidates throughout the process.


Interaction between the Security Council and the General Assembly

o  ACT notes the collaboration between the General Assembly and the Security Council in launching the process and circulating information on the nominated candidates. ACT also welcomes the holding of monthly meetings between the Presidents of the General Assembly and of the Security Council and values the summaries shared with all member states.

o    Nevertheless, ACT believes that the interaction between the Security Council and the General Assembly needs to be improved to live up to the expectations of the membership and the new standard of openness and transparency.

o    In this regard, ACT encourages the Security Council, to review its working methods building on the discussions held among Council members during the latest selection process. For example, ACT believes that collective discussions within the Council on the merit, skills or experience of individual candidates would enhance Security Council decision making.

o    ACT recalls the collective responsibility of the Council to reach consensus on a recommendation to the General Assembly for appointment as Secretary-General.  In this regard, ACT believes the use of colour-coded ballots during straw polling should be discouraged and the equal rights and role of all Council Members in the process should be upheld.

o    ACT calls for regular public briefings by the Security Council on developments in the nomination process and open communication of straw poll results.


Identification, Appointment and Re-Appointment

o   In identifying the best candidate for appointment, personal qualification is the most important criterion for appointment, while due regard should be given to fair geographical distribution through rotation, and to gender balance.

o     ACT recalls the prerogative of the General Assembly to draft the resolution for the appointment of the Secretary-General and proposes to finalize the draft resolution at the earliest convenience to ensure that the process is not linked to any individual candidate.

o    ACT welcomes the informal meeting of the General Assembly with the Secretary-General-designate convened by the President of the General Assembly in November 2016 with the aim to assist in his preparation for office, and encourages similar meetings in the framework of future processes of appointment of Secretaries-General. 

o    ACT believes that all of the provisions in this document regarding selection and appointment of the Secretary General should apply in the event that an incumbent Secretary-General seeks or is proposed for re-appointment.

o    In line with the Charter provisions and the oath taken by the Secretary-General, ACT believes that the Secretary-General should exercise complete independence in the selection of senior officials with due regard to geographical and gender balance.  Recalling resolution 70/305, the appointment process to the executive heads and the Senior Management Group of the organization should be inclusive and transparent and there should not be a monopoly on senior posts by nationals of any State or group of States. 


o  In this regard, ACT proposes that the principles which should govern the appointment of executive heads and the Senior Management Group of the organization be formally established.

o   ACT believes that the oath of office of the Secretary-General should be updated.


Term in Office

o   ACT would like to continue the discussion and see an informed decision taken in the revitalization working group by all states on the term of office of the Secretary-General, including the proposal to establish a single, non-renewable term for future Secretaries-General.




[1]Accountability, Coherence and Transparency – a cross-regional group of 25 States: Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay

[2] ACT position paper of March 2015

  ACT position paper of February 2016



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