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UN: World Begins Search For Next Secretary-General

  • Nikola Krastev --> Who will replace Kofi Annan? (CTK) Last week, the Security Council began discussions on the selection of the next United Nations leader. The term of the current secretary-general, Kofi Annan of Ghana, expires at the end of the year. Annan has led the world body for almost a decade, and in accordance with the UN Charter, is not eligible for a third term.

UNITED NATIONS, 21 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, says the election of the next secretary-general may be the organization's most important decision of 2006.

But speaking last week, Bolton said it's still too early in the talks to name any names.

"We had a general discussion about the subject of the next secretary-general, which is part of our ongoing consultations among the five permanent members," Bolton said. "But that's all really I can say."

Permanent Security Council Members Need Not Apply

Under the UN Charter, the secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

And there is an unwritten agreement that the secretary-general will not be a national of any of the five veto-holding permanent members of the council -- China, France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States.

"We believe that with more than 2 billion people, definitely Asia can provide the best qualified candidates for the UN." -- China's ambassador

So far, this informal rule has held. And some UN diplomats express regret behind the scenes that because of it, former U.S. President Bill Clinton probably is not eligible to head the world body.

Other names, however, are being mention, including former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden, South Korean Foreign Minster Ban Ki-moon, and former UN disarmament chief Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka.

Geographic Rotation

During the UN's 61-year history, another informal rule has established itself -- that is, for a geographic rotation of the secretaries-general. However, Bolton has said the talks will look not for a candidate from a particular region, but for the most qualified candidate.

But despite Washington's reiterated opposition to the geographic principle rotation, a block of African-Asian member states has formed at the UN that intends to support a candidate from Asia.

The last UN secretary-general from Asia, U-Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), served from 1962 to 1971.

Latvian President Vike-Freiberga has been proposed as a candidate (CTK)

Beijing's UN envoy, Wang Guangua, recently reiterated that China will push for an Asian candidate, and that it has the support of more than half of the UN member states.

"Our position to support the Asian candidates is a clear one, so therefore it is a firm one," Wang said. "Because we believe that with more than 2 billion people, definitely Asia can provide the best qualified candidates for the UN."

The process for selecting the next secretary-general will intensify at the end of the current General Assembly session in June, and resume in September, when the assembly gathers for the start of its new session.

The new secretary-general will need at least two to three months to get acquainted with the position. With the exception of the current UN leader, who was elected from within the ranks of the organization, all previous secretaries had been outsiders.

Options On The Table

Andrey Denisov, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said Moscow's position for now is "wait and see," and that all options are on the table.

"We don't have any categorical position, any red lines, or any strong principles in that problem," Denisov said. "Well, it is a matter for discussion, and that is first and foremost. As far as Asian [candidate], well it is tradition and nothing else. But it doesn't mean that there is a strict adherence [to that]. It is a matter for discussion."

Pragati Pascale, a spokeswoman for UN General Assembly President Eliasson, said that despite press reports, Eliasson is not interested in running.

"He wants to emphasize that he is the president of the General Assembly, he's very busy doing that, he's obviously completely focused on the very demanding negotiations for the reform of the UN, that he has been mandated to undertake coming out of the World Summit, and he is not a candidate for secretary-general," Pascale said.

The UN has never had a female secretary-general. But Equality Now, an international group promoting gender equality, has undertaken a campaign for a woman to be elected as the next UN secretary-general.

Among the 18 distinguished candidates Equality Now proposes are Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour; and Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a prominent dissident and prime minister-elect of Myanmar (Burma).

The Next UN Secretary-General?

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid (courtesy photo)

The women's rights group Equality Now has noted that no woman has held the position of secretary-general of the United Nations in its 60-year history. While geographic regions take "turns" in nominating candidates, women have never had their "turn," despite many qualified candidates. Below -- in no particular order -- is a selection of some of the women that Equality Now has put forth as possible candidates for secretary-general.

SADAKO OGATA served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 1991 to 2000. Before her career as UNHCR, she was the independent expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar in 1990. In 1982-85, she was also representative of Japan on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Ogata has also been a prominent academic figure, serving as dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1989 until 1991. Prior to that she was director of the Institute of International Relations at the same university.

TARJA KAARINA HALONEN is the current and first female president of Finland. She is currently running for a second term. Halonen has a master of law degree from the University of Helsinki. She is a very popular politician and she was Finland's foreign minister from 1995 until 2000.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI is the 1991 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a pro-democracy campaigner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD), she has spent most of the past 16 years in some form of detention under Burma's military regime. Born on 19 June 1945 to Burma's independence hero, Aung San, Suu Kyi was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom. Her father was assassinated when she was 2 years old.

THORAYA AHMED OBAID is the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Obaid was appointed head of UNFPA on 1 January 2001 with the rank of undersecretary-general of the United Nations. She is the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations agency. Before joining UNFPA, Obaid was deputy executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from 1993-98. In 1975, Obaid established the first women's development program in Western Asia.

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND served three terms as prime minister of Norway in the 1980s and 1990s and was director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998–2003. In the 1980s, she gained international recognition by championing the principle of sustainable development as the chairwoman of the World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission).

(Compiled by RFE/RL; to see the complete list, click here.)