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Updated on 31 December 2017

Chapter 3:   THE PEOPLE

Section 10:   Secretary-General and the Secretariat


Security Council once again flags issue of geographic imbalance in appointing SRSGs


On 22 November 2017, Secretary-General António Guterres informed the President of the Security Council (Italy) by letter that “Following the usual consultations”, he intended to appoint Colin Stewart of Canada as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and Head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (S/2017/1003).


As noted in the book (pages 427-428),


“When the Secretary-General wishes to initiate an action relative to an appointment, it is customary that

he will address a letter to the Council President informing the Council members of his intention.  The

Council President, after obtaining the concurrence of the other members, will send a letter of reply.  In

most cases, such replies have simply stated that the members ‘have taken note’ of the Secretary-General’s intention.[1] . . . However, because, under the Charter, it is fully within the competence of the Secretary-

General to make such appointments, the approval of the Security Council is not legally required.  In this

light, the exchange of letters mainly serves as a formality for establishing a working relationship between

the Council members and the Secretary-General’s representative.  Nevertheless, when an affirmative reply

from the Council President to the announced intention of the Secretary-General to make an appointment

is not forthcoming, usually further consultation between the Council members and the Secretary-General

ensues before the Secretary-General implements his proposal.” 


The reply of the Council President (S/2017/1004), dated 30 November, stated that the Council members “take note of the intention” expressed in the Secretary-General’s letter, and that “Furthermore, the members of the Security Council recalled Article 101, paragraph 3, of the Charter of the United Nations.”


Article 101(3) reads as follows:


“The paramount consideration in the employment of the staff and in the determination of the conditions

of service shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity. 

Due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible.”


By including a reference to Article 101(3), the Council President’s letter of 30 November marked the second time that a reply by a President departed from the standard language used in the past for acknowledging such appointments.  The first instance occurred in October 2017, in connection with the appointment of Susan D. Page of the United States as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH). The letter of reply (S/2017/919) to the Secretary-General by the Council President (France) also included a reference to Article 101(3).


Because letters by the Council President are consensus documents (see the book, page 426), it is evident that no Council member opposed the President’s response to the Secretary-General’s announcement of his intention to appoint either Stewart or Page.  Had that not been the case, as noted above, further consultations would have ensued until consensus could be reached on a Council reply.  However, the unprecedented language contained in the President’s October and November letters signals that in each case, at least one Council member had reservations about the appointment.


The UN press release (SG/A/1767) on Page’s designation states that she “brings to this position extensive managerial and leadership experience in diplomacy, international development and rule of law”, and it then lists a succession of relevant assignments both within the UN system and in the United States Government.  Similarly, the press release (SG/A/1774) on Stewart’s appointment states that he “brings to the position demonstrated management and leadership, with more than 25 years of experience in peace and security and international affairs”, and lists appointments in a number of UN field missions, as well as his earlier work for the Carter Center and Canadian Government. 


Given the backgrounds of these two officials, it is not likely that reservations about their appointments centered around the requirements of competence and integrity set out in the first sentence of Article 101(3).  Rather, it would appear that the issue was the second sentence of Article 101(3), that is, the need to give due regard “to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible”. 


Specifically, it is probable that the two letters from the Council reflected concerns that a large number of Special Representatives and other high-level UN envoys are nationals of the countries belonging to the Western Europe and Other States Group (WEOG).  This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that when the Secretary-General wrote on 26 December 2017 conveying his attention to appoint Leila Zerrougui of Algeria as his Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the reply of the Council President (Japan) did not include a reference to Article 101(3).


Posted on the UN website is a list of “Special and Personal Representatives, Envoys and Advisers of the Secretary-General”.  With regard to those representatives serving in the regions of Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, there are evident geographic imbalances.[2] 


The group with the highest representation in this category of appointments is the Western European and Other States Group, to which 28 or 29 UN Member States belong (see table on this website).  Of the approximately 33 representatives serving in regional or country-specific posts, thirteen are filled by WEOG nationals.[3]  Two nationals each from Canada, France and the United States hold such posts.  The other six posts filled by WEOG nationals are held by individuals from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy/Sweden, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom.


Eleven of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs) and other envoys are from Africa, which appears more proportionate, especially given the preponderance of African issues on the agenda of the Security Council, as well as the size of the Africa Group, to which 54 UN Member States belong.  Three SRSGs or the equivalent are South African, and the other African incumbents are from Algeria, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. 


Only five SRSGs or the equivalent come from the Asia-Pacific Group, to which 54 UN Member States belong.  Two are nationals of Afghanistan, and the others are from Japan, Lebanon, and Tonga.  From the Eastern Europe Group of 23 Member States come three SRSGs, who are nationals of Bulgaria, Moldova, and Slovakia.  From the 33 members of the Latin American and Caribbean States Group (GRULAC) there is only one SRSG, from Mexico.


The geographic disproportionality becomes even more pronounced when the category of “Other high-level appointments” is taken into account.  While bearing in mind that not all of the incumbents in these posts serve on a full-time basis, the appointments overall are heavily slanted in favour of WEOG nationals.  Remarkably, United States nationals hold seven of these positions, while two Australian and two United Kingdom nationals also serve in such posts.  In addition, one each of these appointees comes from Austria, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal.  A Mauritian national and a Senegalese national are the only Africans to hold any of these portfolios.  From the Asia-Pacific Group, two serve from Qatar, and one each from Fiji, the Republic of Korea, and Sri Lanka.  Two Argentinians are the only incumbents from GRULAC, while no Eastern Europeans hold such posts.


In instances where Deputy SRSGs (DSRSGs) are also appointed, WEOG nationals again significantly outweigh incumbents from other regions.  Five deputies are from the United States, while two each are nationals of Australia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.  Other DSRSGs from WEOG countries come from Portugal and Switzerland.  From Africa, nationals of Benin, Egypt, Guinea, Morocco, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, and Zimbabwe serve as deputies.  From GRULAC, only one Brazilian holds the post of DSRSG.


The geographic imbalances discernable from a review of the list of “Special and Personal Representatives, Envoys and Advisers of the Secretary-General” appear to justify the attention brought by the Council President’s letters of 30 November and 31 October 2017 to the requirements of Article 101(3).  As discussed in another article on this website, a letter dated 5 October 2017 from Switzerland on behalf of the 25 members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group states that


“In line with the provisions of the Charter and the oath taken by the Secretary- General, the ACT Group believes that the Secretary-General should exercise complete independence in the selection of senior officials, with due regard to geographical and gender balance.  Recalling General Assembly resolution 70/305, the appointment process of the executive heads and the Senior Management Group of the Organization should be inclusive and transparent and there should not be a monopoly on senior posts by nationals of any State or group of States.” (S/2017/846)


While the position taken by ACT is with specific reference to the appointment of executive heads and the Senior Management Group, the principle at issue nonetheless is also relevant to Special and Personal Representatives, Envoys and Advisers of the Secretary-General.


It remains to be seen whether future appointments in these categories will create greater geographic diversity, and also whether the Council will repeat its reference to Article 101(3) in subsequent letters taking note of appointments proposed by the Secretary-General. 


(This update supplements pages 122, 171-174, and 427-428 of the book.)


[1] This is despite a 2001 advisory opinion to the General Assembly by the UN Legal Counsel which concluded that “taking note” of a proposed course of action “did not express either approval or disapproval” and therefore did not constitute sufficient authorization for a course of action, especially one with financial implications (A/C.5/55/42 of 5 April 2001).  

[2] It should be noted in this connection, however, that the majority of postings at this level carry over from decisions of the previous Secretary-General.  Since taking office on 1 January 2017, Guterres has appointed Special Representatives or their equivalent from Algeria, Canada, Denmark, France, Guinea, Lebanon, Mexico, Moldova, Norway, South Africa, the United States, and Tonga. 

[3] This includes a Danish national appointed as Acting Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  The position of Jeffrey Feltman (United States) as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 has not been counted, owing to the fact that he fills this position while principally serving as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at UN Headquarters.  Also not reflected in these totals is the post of Personal Envoy for the Greece-FYROM talks, filled by an American national, owing to the unique parameters of that post.



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