Next Secretary General of the UN: human rights NGOs know what they want but candidates still vague

April 19, 2016

Who will be the next secretary-general? The field is still wide open but thanks in part to the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, campaigning for the job is – for the first time in UN history – mostly public, even if the decision is ultimately made by General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. There are strong arguments in favor of a woman (first time ever, see link below) and someone from Eastern Europe (‘their turn’ in the informally agreed regional rotation).  Of the nine candidates currently in the running, UN insiders and others close to the process see UNESCO head Irina Bokova, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, former High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and former Slovenian President Danilo Türk as the frontrunners (if the bookmakers are right).

Last week, for the first time ever, nine candidates presented their visions for the UN to the General Assembly in New York and took questions from governments, civil society and journalists in public events. IRIN has published its assessment of this hearing (see link below) and concluded that all candidates in typical UN speak “waxed lyrical on a long list of topics: peace and security, sustainable development, human rights, humanitarian response, “leaving no one behind”, preventing disasters before they happen, securing the survival and long-term future of refugees, acting on climate change, bringing gender equity and other reforms to the UN, strengthening regional relationships, cracking down on sexual abuse by peacekeepers, and focusing on youth” but most were not very specific in their standpoints on key humanitarian issues.

However, in the statement “A Human Rights Agenda for the next United Nations Secretary-General” (signed by Amnesty International, CIVICUS, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Human Rights Watch, International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy) the 7 international NGOs say that the next Secretary General must overhaul the global approach to aiding refugees and must do everything possible to end atrocities and protect civilians in armed conflicts. They have listed 8 priorities the next SG must pursue to restore the UN’s credibility on human rights damaged by peacekeeper abuse and failure to protect human rights in major crises like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan. “Candidates to lead the United Nations have to stand up for human rights, starting now. They should not fear a backlash for doing so. Member states that seek to penalize a commitment to human rights would be violating the UN Charter and jeopardizing the future of the UN itself,” said Salil Shetty the SG of AI.

  1. Deliver a new deal for refugees and migrants. As a result of conflict and human rights abuses, the number of people forced from their homes today is higher than at any point since the Second World War. In support of the Refugee Convention, the Secretary General should work assiduously towards a new global approach to refugees, based on sustained international co-operation and an equitable sharing of responsibilities for resettlement. They must spearhead a broad review of existing structures for managing international migration, integrating human rights within them.
  2. Prevent and end mass atrocity crimes. The Secretary General should use the powers awarded under the UN Charter to help prevent and end major violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, such as the deliberate targeting of civilians in conflicts.
  3. Defend civil society. Civil society is a vital bulwark against state crackdowns on dissent and protest. The Secretary General must display a clear commitment to civil society, in particular human rights defenders and journalists.
  4. Champion the rights of marginalized people. Discrimination, and the failure to respect human rights, have deepened poverty and inequality across the world. The new Secretary General must champion the rights of marginalized people and seek to end all forms of discrimination.
  5. Ensure gender equality. The Secretary General must do everything within her or his power to advance women’s rights and gender equality, helping to implement key commitments such as the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
  6. Combat impunity. The new leader of the United Nations must be committed to fighting impunity for crimes under international law. They must ensure that the International Criminal Court and other internationalized tribunals receive the political and financial support they need.
  7. End the death penalty. Significant progress has been made towards abolishing the death penalty worldwide. The Secretary General must do everything possible to achieve the goal of total abolition
  8. Strengthen the impact of the United Nations on human rights. Human rights form the third pillar of the UN, along with the maintenance of international peace, and security and development. The new Secretary General must ensure that human rights are given sufficient prominence and resources. They must take bold and transformative steps to improve the respect for human rights worldwide, leaving no-one behind. They must also safeguard the integrity of the organization through making high-quality appointments and ensuring accountability of UN personnel.


IRIN | A humanitarians guide to choosing the next UN chief

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