In 2022 a working group was formed by UNA-UK and Strategy for Humanity to shine a light on elections and appointments to senior positions within the United Nations. We have established this website – and the associated monthly newsletter published in partnership with Passblue – to serve as a resource for anyone interested in the timeline and dynamics of UN appointments and elections.
We support multilateralism. We see the UN, for all its flaws, as the most legitimate body humanity has at present to bring states, civil society and other stakeholders together under the principles of the Organisation to stand up for human rights, sustainable development and peace.
Our goal is that appointments to senior, political, and public roles at the UN are inclusive, merit-based and transparent. This is essential not only for the credibility – and therefore effectiveness – of the mandate-holder and the UN, but to help find the world’s most qualified leaders irrespective of nationality or background. Given the challenges humanity is facing, the UN cannot afford anything less.
At the moment such appointments are dangerously opaque, and information about them is only available in incomplete fragments. We don’t wish to further politicize appointments: UN officials should be independent civil servants, not subject to political pressure from member states – a principle enshrined in Article 100(2) of the UN Charter. However, the current lack of public scrutiny over how the UN’s top jobs are appointed does not mean the absence of political pressure, rather, that this pressure goes unchecked.
The UN’s senior leaders are international civil servants but they are also political appointees and public figures. This is why the very first thing the UN does, when introducing a new appointee, is state their country of affiliation. This is why member states are consulted on senior appointments even when they are not subject to any vote (as some are). This is why certain positions are informally ring-fenced for certain states (in direct contradiction of GA resolution 46/232). In fact, the idea that top UN jobs are given out based on politics not (solely) on merit is so well established that senior UN officials on the 38th floor have observed as much.
Despite the UN’s official mantra of meritocracy, accountability and fairness, the reality is intense jockeying by member states for their chosen candidates in pursuit of national status and influence – a reality so normalised as to have become invisible in plain sight. For senior public facing roles within the Organisation, there is legitimate public interest in knowing how those people came to hold those posts; heighted transparency, scrutiny, and accountability of UN senior appointments is both justified and imperative.
The organisations involved
UNA-UK is a British charity and a leading source of analysis on the UN. It aims to build support for the UN amongst policymakers, opinion-formers and the public. As one of founders of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign which was instrumental in transforming the Secretary-General selection process, UNA-UK has a strong track record in using advocacy to strengthen UN processes.
Strategy for Humanity works with mission-driven organizations and those who fund them to develop effective strategies, conduct smart advocacy and analysis, and achieve meaningful results. A woman-, minority-, LGBTQI+-, person-with-disabilities-, and survivor-owned consultancy, it has been making a difference since 2009.
We are grateful to the Open Society Foundations for supporting the work of this group.
About this website and the newsletter
At present, it is hard to bring up a list of upcoming senior appointments to leadership positions at the UN. When impending appointments by the Secretary-General are advertised, information tends to be thin on the ground and not available in a timely manner on the UN’s website. Information regarding posts which are elected – while more readily available – is difficult to find and often incomplete, inconsistent, and unconsolidated.
The newsletter and this website bring together publicly available information to paint a picture of upcoming senior appointment processes. It will assess the gaps in public information as well as political dynamics and consider what this means for vetting, transparency, inclusivity, and effectiveness at the UN with a specific focus on gender and global north/south balance. The newsletter will also include substantiated information relevant to the appointments, including credible reports on individual candidates from other sources and the opinions of civil society and other stakeholders; balancing the need to share the live issues around a particular appointment with editorial standards and accuracy.
Our working group is interested in process, transparency and accountability. We do not take positions on individual candidates, internally or otherwise.
We are grateful to Passblue for our media partnership.
Read the February newsletter here.
“Blue Smoke” alludes to the fact that pre-2016 the UN Secretary-General selection process was so secretive that it was frequently compared unfavourably to the papal conclave. The smoke-filled rooms and smoke signals that UN appointment systems can evoke must make way for transparency, inclusivity and fairness in UN senior appointments.
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Know something we don’t about anything we’ve mentioned or another upcoming appointment? Reach out to us in total confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org