NGO Open letter to Member States of the General Assembly on the Selection Process of the UN Secretary-General


A letter by 13 NGOs listed in the right column

To: Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Permanent Representatives to the United


The selection of the new Secretary-General in 2016 will be one of the most important decisions the General Assembly will make in the next ten years. The new Secretary-General will have to address a world confronted with increasingly dangerous civil wars, humanitarian and environmental disasters, terrorism, regressive development, economic and financial turmoil, and inequality. The need for global leadership and international cooperation is greater than ever. It is crucial that the best and most highly qualified candidate is selected to become UN Secretary-General.


The importance and complexity of the office has changed radically during the last 69 years, as have the threats and challenges to the entire UN system. The leadership of successive UN Secretaries-General – as chief administrative officers, diplomats, mediators, and representatives of the UN purposes and principles – has been fundamental in shaping the work of the United Nations. They have provided a critical public international voice on key issues of peace and security, development, and human rights.

The procedure the General Assembly adopted in 1946 to select the UN Secretary-General is significantly outdated, and is not compatible with selecting the best possible candidate. It falls far short of modern recruitment practices for high-level international appointments, as well as of the UN’s own standards and ideals. We highlight, for instance, that no woman has ever been selected to become UN Secretary-General, and that few have been seriously considered.

In the last twenty years, many international organisations, including the UN, have made major improvements and reforms in procedural mechanisms to enhance the transparency and accountability of high-level appointments. It is imperative that the selection process for the next UN Secretary-General is changed to meet the higher standards that the UN General Assembly, UN experts and civil society have persistently called for. A more open and inclusive selection process engaging all UN Member States will also help to revitalize the UN and enhance its global authority.

A group of civil society organisations strongly committed to upholding the UN Charter and its values has agreed on a set of principles and made proposals that form the basis for urgent and credible reform. The proposals are realistic and do not require an amendment of the UN Charter. Many of them have already been endorsed by a majority of UN Member States.

They include publication of formal selection criteria, a call for nominations and a clear timetable for the selection process that enables adequate assessment of candidates, including through an official list of candidates and the submission of candidate vision statements.

We believe that all Members States of the General Assembly can and should play a more prominent and meaningful role in the appointment process.

For example, the General Assembly should hold open sessions that enable Member States, and, in accordance with General Assembly procedures, other relevant stakeholders, to meet the nominees and consider their candidacies. The Assembly should request that candidates undertake not to make promises on specific senior appointments in advance of the Assembly decision on the Secretary-General appointment.

Furthermore, the Security Council could be requested to present or recommend more than one candidate to the General Assembly. Another recommendation is for a single term of a non-renewable period of seven years, which would help the Secretary-General to pursue a longer-term agenda without the disruption of re-election campaigning.

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(Click here for the French version of this article or click here for the Spanish version.)

Question(s) related to this article:

What is the United Nations doing for a culture of peace? – See comments below

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The proposals are described in the attached policy platform for a new global campaign: 1 for 7 Billion – find the best UN leader. More organisations and individuals from around the world are joining this campaign every day.

As the United Nations is preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN Charter next year, we hope that Member States of the General Assembly and the Security Council will seize this historic opportunity to initiate a key set of basic reforms, including those outlined in our document, to ensure that the best and most qualified candidate is selected to become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Yours sincerely,

Dinah Musindarwezo, Executive Director
African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

Salil Shetty, Secretary-General
Amnesty International

Ricken Patel, Executive Director

Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Yasmeen Hassan, Global Director
Equality Now

Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director

Jens Martens, Director
Global Policy Forum

John Burroughs, Executive Director
Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Roberto Bissio, Coordinator
Social Watch

Chee Yoke Ling, Director
Third World Network

Eleanor Blomstrom, Program Director
Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)

William R. Pace, Executive Director
World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy

Bonian Golmohammadi, Secretary-General
World Federation of United Nations Associations

One thought on “NGO Open letter to Member States of the General Assembly on the Selection Process of the UN Secretary-General

  1. Re: The Selection of the UN Secretary General desperately needs to be changed!

    The machinations of this process must be changed to an open system that firmly disallows the P5 veto. The one and only global organ deliberately established as the bastion of ‘the freedoms’ does not have a democratic electoral method of finding the individual who will carry the UN banner for at least several years leaving it open to the five countries who hold the power to block any names put forward. This makes a farce of the selection and the least democratic leaders in the world –Canada comes to mind–welcome the opportunity to dismiss the UN as an ineffective body.

    As it is, the General Assembly will put names forward on the recommendation of the Security Council. But, all members should be voting and the P5 should never have the power to thwart this with their historical determination to seek the weakest candidate to do their bidding.

    Of all the institutions in the world the UN must be, and be seen as the epitome of fair democratic practices but, the P5 have robbed the rest of the world of this privilege and taken it as a very effective tool to serve their own purposes. The other members allowed it to happen and the onus is on them to muster the political will to remove all the veto power from the P5 starting with the choice of the SG.

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