What reformers want: A transparent selection process for the next UN secretary-general

On Oct. 13, 2016, the General Assembly appointed a secretary-general who, for the first time since the UN’s inception, was not the first choice of the US and Russia: Antonio Guterres. (AFP/File Photo)
On Oct. 13, 2016, the General Assembly appointed a secretary-general who, for the first time since the UN’s inception, was not the first choice of the US and Russia: Antonio Guterres. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 29 December 2020

What reformers want: A transparent selection process for the next UN secretary-general

On Oct. 13, 2016, the General Assembly appointed a secretary-general who, for the first time since the UN’s inception, was not the first choice of the US and Russia: Antonio Guterres. (AFP/File Photo)
  • For decades, the UN secretary-general was effectively handpicked by the five Permanent Members of the Security Council
  • Campaigners are concerned the COVID-19 upheaval will hamper reforms to the selection process for the next secretary-general

NEW YORK CITY: From the day it was founded, the role and responsibilities of the United Nations’ secretary-general have been somewhat ambiguous. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the ambivalence of the victorious Allied powers towards the post, once dubbed “the most impossible job on this earth,” was evident from the very first meeting 75 years ago.

When the discussion turned to the appointment of the first secretary-general, the Allies — Britain, France, China, the US and the Soviet Union — took a firm stand against a secretary-general directly elected by the General Assembly and defended the veto power they later came to possess over the appointment process as Permanent Members of the Security Council.

It also became evident from the outset that the choice of a secretary-general would not be based on any qualifications, stature and leadership qualities, but would be determined simply by what the US and the Soviet Union could agree on.




Empty grounds at the United Nations September 22, 2020 during the the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations which was mostly virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. (AFP/File Photo)

So although Article 97 of the UN Charter grants the responsibility of selecting a UN chief to the General Assembly, “acting on the recommendation of the Security Council,” the assembly’s role for the first 70 years was limited to rubber-stamping the decision of the five Permanent Members of the council (known as the P5) who “recommended” just one candidate for the assembly to appoint.

Candidates were forced to engage in backroom deals to secure the P5’s support in exchange for promising high-level UN posts for their nationals. For instance, in 1996, France vetoed Kofi Annan until he agreed to name a French national to head UN peacekeeping operations.

The opaque selection process has resulted in a credibility crisis that has dogged the global body for decades.

However, five years ago, this began to change.

On Oct. 13, 2016, the General Assembly appointed a secretary-general who, for the first time since the UN’s inception, was not the first choice of the US and Russia: Antonio Guterres.

Guterres’s selection crowned years of intense lobbying by civil society groups and some members of the General Assembly for a more open and inclusive selection process. The campaign, conducted in New York and other major capitals, culminated in the adoption by the General Assembly of the landmark Resolution 69/321 in September 2015, which calls for a broad timeline for the selection process and puts forth criteria for a candidate who embodies the highest standards of competence and integrity.




Incumbent secretary-general Antonio Guterres was appointed to the position by the General Assemby on On Oct. 13, 2016. (AFP/File Photo)

The General Assembly agreed to publish the names of all candidates, along with their CVs and mission statements, and invited states to put forward female contenders. Later, Resolution 70/305 opposed a monopoly on senior UN posts by any state or group of states.

“It doesn’t sound groundbreaking, but it really was — to actually have the names of the candidates in the public domain,” said Ben Donaldson, co-founder of 1 for 7 Billion: Find the Best UN Leader, a civil society group that launched a campaign to reform the process in 2014 and has since been joined by 750 NGOs and their affiliates worldwide.

“To us and many others in civil society, it seemed outrageous that there were no qualifications necessary, no application process, no shortlisting, nothing in the public domain about how the successful candidate is found.

“It seemed crazy that, for a position that is at the forefront of responding to global challenges like climate change and humanitarian catastrophes, there was so little scrutiny and transparency.”

On Dec. 15, 2015, a year before the end of Ban Ki-moon’s term as secretary-general, the president of the Security Council, US Ambassador Samantha Power, and the president of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, sent a joint letter launching the selection process.




Former secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon attending a conference during the One Planet Summit on December 12, 2017 in Paris. (AFP/File Photo)

Lykketoft, the proactive president of the 70th General Assembly who has made a priority of “creating more transparency and openness when selecting the next secretary-general,” set up a website that listed the candidates and their vision statements.

Parleys were held and streamed online and member states were permitted to grill the 13 candidates — 7 women and 6 men — about their record and vision for the future. Questions were fielded from all over the world as thousands of citizens took part in the meetings.

“So that was the revolution really: as soon as there were candidates, visions and CVs in the public domain, suddenly that unlocked a whole swathe of openness, as well as expansive debates in the GA hall about the future of the UN: What sort of organization should we be? And how can we transform to a healthier, more open organization in order to deal with catastrophes facing humanity?” Donaldson told Arab News.

Two groups in the General Assembly became the strongest advocates for an open and inclusive process and soon joined efforts with 1 for 7 Billion — the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) group of 25 states, of which Jordan and Saudi Arabia are members, and the 120 states that form the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), coordinated by Algeria.




United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pays his respect after laying a wreath on the grave of Dag Hammarskjold, who served as UN Secretary-General from 1953 until his death in Uppsala, Sweden, on April 22, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

For years they had been calling for a stronger General Assembly role in the selection, and for more transparency and inclusivity.

“But reforms only went so far,” Donaldson said. “Because after the period of inclusivity and transparency during the 2016 race, the process returned to the Security Council where the decision as to who was to become the next secretary-general happened behind closed doors where the Permanent Members hold a veto. The Security Council then recommended a single candidate for the General Assembly to appoint.

“So, the reforms stayed true to the UN Charter but, crucially, the will of the General Assembly was able to mitigate the will of the P5 and that represents a huge success. At 1 for 7, we are delighted that we were able to chip away at some of the power and privilege that P5 has been able to cling on to for years.”




United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) meets with Swedish Crown Princess Victoria at the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden, on April 22, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

With Guterres’ first term ending just a year from now, Donaldson has urged the president of the 75th General Assembly to work with his counterpart in the Security Council to kickstart the selection process by outlining a well-structured plan for the appointment of the next secretary-general.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, General Assembly meetings intended to refine the selection process — particularly important this time around, as it could involve an incumbent standing for a second term — did not take place.

“Due to this upheaval, we could find ourselves inadvertently missing an opportunity to consolidate the fantastic reforms which took place in 2015-16,” Donaldson said. “By extension, the UN could be missing out on the chance to bolster its legitimacy by running a transparent, inclusive process to appoint its next leader.”

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Twitter: @EphremKossaify


After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
Updated 27 September 2021

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
  • Olaf Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy

BERLIN: The party that narrowly beat outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc pushed Monday for a quick agreement on a coalition government amid concerns that Europe’s biggest economy could be in for weeks of uncertainty after an election that failed to set a clear direction.

Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the center-left Social Democrats, called for Merkel’s center-right Union bloc to go into opposition after it saw its worst-ever result in a national election. Both finished with well under 30 percent  of the vote, and that appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties — raising questions over the stability of a future government.

During her 16 years in office, Merkel was seen abroad not just as Germany’s leader but in many ways as the leader of Europe, helping steer the European Union through a series of financial and political crises.

The unclear result combined with an upcoming French presidential election in April creates uncertainty — at least for now — in the two economic and political powers at the center of the EU, just as the bloc faces a resurgent Russia and increasing questions about its future from populist leaders in eastern countries.

Both outgoing finance minister and Vice Chancellor Scholz and Armin Laschet, the Union’s candidate and governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, staked a claim to leading the new government on Sunday night. Scholz, who pulled his party out of a long poll slump, sounded confident on Monday.

But the kingmakers are likely to be two prospective junior partners in any coalition, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way on Sunday night.

“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Scholz said Monday. “They strengthened three parties — the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats — so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: These three parties should lead the next government.”

The only other option that would have a parliamentary majority is a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats. That is the combination that has run Germany for 12 years of Merkel’s 16-year tenure, though this time it would be under Scholz’s leadership with Merkel’s bloc as junior partner. But that coalition has often been marred by squabbling, and there is little appetite for it.

Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy.

“My idea is that we will be very fast in getting a result for this government, and it should be before Christmas if possible,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “Germany always has coalition governments and it was always stable.”

Scholz, an experienced and pragmatic politician whose calm, no-frills style is in some ways reminiscent of Merkel’s, pointed to continuity in foreign policy. He said a priority will be “to form a stronger and more sovereign European Union.”

“But doing so means also to work very hard on the good relationship between ... the European Union and the United States,” he added. “The trans-Atlantic partnership is of (the) essence for us in Germany ... and so you can rely on continuity in this question.”

The Greens made significant gains in the election to finish third but fell far short of their original aim of taking the chancellery, while the Free Democrats improved slightly on a good result from 2017.

Merkel’s outgoing government will remain in office until a successor is sworn in, a process that can take weeks or even months. Merkel announced in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term.

Scholz was clear that her party should bow out of government. He said the Union “received the message from citizens that they should no longer be in government, but go into opposition.”

Amid concern about rising nationalism and populism, the Europeans will be reassured that mainstream parties will form the next government. Sunday’s election saw weaker results for the far-right Alternative for Germany and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Left Party. The strong showing by the Greens could also help ease passage of the EU’s landmark “Fit for 55” climate change package aimed at making the 27-nation bloc carbon neutral within 30 years.


Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
Updated 27 September 2021

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
  • Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18

LONDON:  The families of Afghans studying in the UK are being threatened by the Taliban, a British politician has claimed.

Five students evacuated from Afghanistan when the group recently regained control the country, and who are due to start at the University of Sussex on Chevening scholarships, had not been allowed to bring their families with them to the UK, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said.

Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18, the Guardian reported.

The students told Lucas that they had received WhatsApp messages from the Taliban threatening the lives of their elderly dependents and dependent siblings still in Afghanistan.

Lucas said: “(The five students) are absolutely desperate about their families’ safety with their anguish heightened by the knowledge that their families are at risk precisely because of their decision to take up their Chevening placements – placements which mark them out as collaborators with the UK.”

She added that the fathers of two of the students had been murdered by the Taliban two years ago, and one claimed to have heard reports that the group had put pressure on a relative of school age.

The former Green Party leader said she had raised the issue with the Foreign Office, Home Office, and the Chevening secretariat but had received only “a deafening silence” in response.

She has accused the British government of failing to offer any clear assurances to people attempting to leave Afghanistan, after it pledged to take 5,000 refugees in the first 12 months and up to 20,000 over a five-year period. The scheme is yet to start.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Lucas said the government had told Parliament that individuals needed to wait for the scheme to open but had given no indication of when that would be.

And she pointed out that given the number of British nationals from Afghanistan living in her constituency who were seeking help, the scheme would be oversubscribed.

Her letter added: “My estimate based on my caseload is that there could be more than 33,000 family members alone that meet the scheme’s criteria, let alone those in the specified at-risk groups, so even 20,000 places over five years falls shamefully short.

“The government does not appear to know how many of the 5,000 places on the scheme will need to be allocated in the first instance to eligible Afghans already in the UK, such as 500 who were evacuated on Operation Pitting (UK military initiative to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover) flights but did not qualify for Arap (the Afghan relocations and assistance policy), or to those that have crossed the border and are in refugee camps.

“The government is also directing people toward a visa process that, by its own admission, is impossible to fulfil and, when it does get up and running, will incur all the usual charges and minimum income criteria,” she said.

Lucas also highlighted the difficulty for Afghans to provide the required biometrics for a visa, which are not available in Afghanistan, and demanded a waiver of visa requirements for family members of British nationals still stuck in the country.

The British Home Office said: “There will be many more people seeking to come to the UK under the scheme than there are places.” It added that it was taking a “considered approach, working with international partners and non-governmental organizations to identify those most eligible.”


Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
Updated 27 September 2021

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
  • Jordan Peterson was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019

LONDON: Jordan Peterson, a controversial academic who has been accused of Islamophobia, has said he will attend a series of seminars at the University of Cambridge in November, The Times reported on Monday.

The Canadian psychology professor was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019.

His proposed visiting fellowship offer was canceled by administrators after he was photographed with a man wearing an Islamophobic T-shirt.

When the photographs went viral, Prof. Stephen Toope, the university’s vice chancellor, said Peterson’s “casual endorsement” through association was “antithetical” to the efforts of the divinity faculty.

Peterson has faced opposition for his writing and talks on gender, politics, religion in general and Islam in particular.

His latest invitation to Cambridge was sent out by Dr. James Orr, also from the divinity faculty, who said Peterson will be spending between 10 days and two weeks at the university, where he will attend seminars, talks and other engagements.


South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
Updated 27 September 2021

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
  • South Korea scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose

SEOUL: South Korea said on Monday it would begin inoculations next month for children aged 12 to 17 and offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to those 75 years and above as the country starts to transition to normalcy by the end of October.
South Korea, which has been battling a fourth wave of infections since early July, scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in cases. Infections topped 3,000 for the first time fueled by last week’s public holidays.
The vaccination advisory committee of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has ruled that the benefits outweigh the risks in vaccinating children. However, parents who have healthy children, such as those who do not have underlying conditions, are advised to weigh the relative benefits in making their decision, KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a news conference on Monday.
While approving vaccinations for 12 to 17 year-olds, who will be given Pfizer shots, the panel and the government had not mandated that all children should take the shot.
The United States had by August vaccinated 50 percent of 12-17 year-olds and some European and Asian countries, including Germany and the Philippines have also been recommending vaccines for the age group.
Jeong said the initial booster doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna will go to those with weakened immune systems or deemed to be at high risk — the elderly, nursing home patients and staff.
The country aims to boost vaccination and fully immunize 90 percent of those aged 60 and older, and 80 percent of 18 to 59 years-old by the end of October.
Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose, and vaccinations are under way for those 18 and above, 86.3 percent of whom have already had the first shot.
South Korea has reported 2,383 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, bringing total infections to 303,553, with 2,456 deaths.
Despite the high daily case numbers, the country has kept its mortality rate and severe COVID-19 cases relatively low and steady at 0.81 percent and 319, respectively, as of Sunday.
Some 74.2 percent of its 52 million population have had at least one dose of a vaccine through Sunday, and more than 45 percent are fully vaccinated.


India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws

India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws
Updated 27 September 2021

India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws

India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws
  • Farmers to continue resistance until year-old legislations repealed; govt cries ‘vested interests’

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of thousands of farmers gathered across India on Monday as part of a nationwide strike to press Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to repeal three controversial agricultural laws introduced a year ago.

The government says that the new measures introduced last September will help farmers to fetch better prices for their produce as they will be able to sell directly to private buyers, outside government-regulated wholesale markets.

But farmers say that the legislation will leave the sector, which employs more than 50 percent of the country’s population, with little bargaining power and at the mercy of private industrial players.

The tussle has prompted nearly ten months of farmer protests against the government, leading to the third nationwide strike on Monday, paralysing traffic and daily life in different parts of the country of 1.36 billion people.

“Through the all-India strike, I want to tell the government that not only farmers but all sections of society are with us,” Jagmohan Singh, leader of the Indian Farmers Union based in the northern state of Punjab, told Arab News.

“The government is hell-bent on selling this nation to the corporate sector, and we are not going to let this happen,” he said.

Thousands of protesters spilled onto the streets of the capital New Delhi on Monday, occupying roads and causing massive traffic jams with vehicles stuck for hours on the outskirts of the city as police officers kept guard on streets leading to the protest sites.

Neighbouring Rajasthan, too, saw life come to a standstill, with several farmers’ representatives saying that they would not back down until the laws were repealed.

“We want to tell the government — be it farmers, traders or common people — everyone is not happy with the government,” Himmat Singh Gurjar, leader of the Kisan Morcha (Farmers’ Front), told Arab News.

“We want to tell Prime Minister Modi that the whole nation is with us, and the attempt to divide farmers is not going to succeed,” he said.

Farmers fear that the laws will usher in the privatization of traditional agricultural markets, leading to market-driven pricing of products and the elimination of minimum support prices, which the government sets for certain produce every year.

“We want to tell an authoritarian government that this is not only a farmers’ agitation but a movement where common people are the stakeholders,” Suresh Koth, who heads the Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Union (Indian Farmers and Workers Union) in the northern state of Haryana, told Arab News.

He added that farm unions would “continue to campaign” against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government in the upcoming regional polls.

Key elections will be held in the five crucial states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Gujarat and Goa next year. Protesters said that their rallies were a warning to Modi, whose BJP governs all states except Punjab.

“The government cannot rent out the fate of the masses to corporate houses who will enslave common people. That’s why we have called for a nationwide protest,” Koth said.

Meanwhile, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, a conglomeration of at least 40 farm unions leading the nationwide protests, said in a statement on Monday that a “complete shutdown” had been reported in several places with “extensive support” from other states in India.

“This response nails the lie of the government’s propaganda and shows how solidly the people of India stand with the farmers in their historic struggle,” it said.

The BJP, however, said that “vested interests” were at play in leading the protests.

“The agitation is being carried on by vested interests, and by weaving false narratives and creating fear they are able to garner some support,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News. “The government is not taking away anything from farmers but giving them an alternative route.”

Meanwhile, leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said on Monday that the “farmers’ nonviolent resistance is still resolute, but the exploitative government does not like this, and that is why an India shutdown has been called.”

The government has held ten rounds of talks with farmers and offered to postpone the implementation of the new laws for 15 months to reach an agreement. However, the protesters have rejected the offer and continued to demand that the laws be revoked.

On Sunday, the authorities reiterated their willingness to talk with farmers, asking them “not to protest.”

“I urge farmers to adopt the path of discussion by leaving the path of protests,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the media on Sunday.

“Central government is ready to discuss any issues raised by farmers,” he said.

Political experts said that while the farmers’ agitation was initially launched to repeal the agricultural laws, it had, in turn, unified people.

“I think this is the first mass movement of farmers since India’s independence in 1947 . . . which is the longest and sustained,” Urmilesh Singh, a Delhi-based senior journalist and political analyst, told Arab News.

“The rallies are uniting people and bringing them on a single platform, thereby parting religious faultlines that the BJP tried to accentuate through its politics,” he said.

The BJP government has often been accused of causing a rise in polarization across the country by introducing discriminatory laws for non-Hindus, mainly Muslims, since assuming power in 2014.

Singh said that the farmers’ protests could impact the BJP in the upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh, which is electorally and politically crucial for its survival, sending 80 out of 543  lawmakers to the lower house of parliament.

“I cannot say with certainty, but the agitation might impact the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh, the hub of the farmers’ movement,” Singh said.