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Updated on 29 September 2016


Section 5:   Decisions to recommend appointments of Secretaries-General


Letters from outgoing and incoming GA Presidents on Secretary-General appointment


On 13 September 2016, outgoing General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft addressed a letter to the Security Council President providing a recap of the “historic cooperation” whereby he had worked closely with the Council and the entire GA membership “to advance the process to select and appoint the next Secretary-General” (S/2016/784).  In his letter, Lykketoft also shared “some expectations of the membership of the Organization” as regards the remainder of the process, “as well as ways to further improve future selection and appointment processes.”


Lykketoft’s letter summarizes the innovations introduced during the 2016 process, including the joint letter he sent, together with the Council President, formally soliciting candidates (S/2015/988); the invitation to candidates to provide vision statements; the informal GA dialogues with each candidate; involvement of civil society, including through questions conveyed to the candidates at the informal dialogues; and the global town hall meeting organized by Lykketoft in partnership with Al-Jazeera.  Lykketoft also recalled the monthly “coordination meetings” which he held with successive Council Presidents starting in September 2015, and his briefing to the Council at its open debate on working methods in October 2015 (S/PV.7539).


After setting out what he viewed as the benefits of the “transparent and inclusive process” of 2016, Lykketoft raised the need for further improvements.  The first issue he mentioned was that of “providing adequate lead-in time for proper preparation and handover to the incoming Secretary-General”.  He affirmed that this could be addressed


“through the setting of some form of deadline and a more specific timeline for the overall process.  

For instance, it would seem both desirable and feasible for the membership to commit to concluding

the process on entering the final quarter of the calendar year preceding the beginning of the new Secretary-General’s term.  A commitment to such a timeline would necessarily have implications for

the timing of all steps now established as integral parts of the process.”


While the schedule proposed by Lykketoft is generally compatible with the timeline followed by the Security Council in 2006 and 2016, it is not likely that the Council will commit itself to a fixed timetable in the future.  That is because there is enough divergence as to the ideal timetable among the Council’s permanent members for them to want to retain maximum flexibility in this regard.     


Interestingly, in both 2006 and 2016, the divergence among the P5 was not over completing the process “on entering the final quarter of the calendar year”, but rather over the wish of some permanent members to conclude the process several months earlier. 


Initially, the representative of the United Kingdom proposed an indicative application deadline of December 2015, and for the Council to agree on its recommendation by June 2016.  Similarly, regarding the 2006 appointment process, former United States Ambassador John Bolton (Surrender Is Not an Option, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 279) affirmed that one American objective “was to hold the SG election much earlier than usual, perhaps even in the summer of 2006, in order to give whomever was elected a long transition period before actually assuming office on January 1, 2007.”  In fact, the Council held its first straw poll in 2006 on 25 July, but the next straw poll did not take place until September.  This delay Bolton attributed partly to the position of the new Russian permanent representative, Vitaly Churkin, but also to the other P5 representatives.  Ultimately, the Council recommended Ban Ki-moon to the Assembly on 9 October 2006, and the GA approved Ban’s appointment on 13 October.


This 2006 chronology was referred to by the Russian Federation during a meeting on 30 June 2015.  Questioning the merits of carrying out the 2016 process earlier than in the past, the Russian representative recalled that in 2006, Ban Ki-moon was appointed three months before he was to take office (S/PV.7479).  Thus, although some have suggested that one Russian motive for delaying the 2016 process until the fall has been so that the Council might adopt its recommendation during the Russian Federation’s Council presidency in October, in fact the Russian position on timing during 2016 has been consistent with its position in 2006. 


The second issue which Lykketoft raised as requiring improvement is the need for a “new standard of transparency and inclusivity”.  In particular, Lykketoft charged that “It is neither respectful of the rest of the membership of the United Nations nor fair to the candidates themselves” for the results of the Council’s straw polls “to be communicated through leaks from Council members to the world’s media.”  It has been reported that most Council members support having the Council President officially announce the results of each straw poll, but that the Russian Federation has blocked consensus in this regard.


A third issue raised by Lykketoft is the possibility of the Assembly conducting its own informal straw polls before the Council starts its consideration of the candidates.  Lykketoft stated that “While I find merit in the proposal, it is also clear that no such mandate currently exists.”  Yet, he observed, that it might be “worth considering how to establish such an exercise or exploring other ways to ensure that the membership’s assessment of the candidates can feed into the selection process of the Council.”  Nothing in Article 97 of the Charter, which provides that the Secretary-General “shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”, explicitly prohibits straw polls in the Assembly, which would be advisory only, and not binding upon the Council.  However, some Member States argue that such a practice would have the practical effect of encroaching upon the Council’s role under Article 97.


Under the heading “The remainder of the current selection and appointment process”, Lykketoft stated that


“a large portion of the General Assembly has called for the appointment of co-facilitators,

preferably before the Security Council reaches a decision on its recommendation, to draft the

Assembly resolution appointing the next Secretary-General.  While I understand that such a

demand is not popular with some Council members, in my view it is entirely consistent with the

spirit of transparency and inclusivity with which the process has been imbued to date.”


Lykketoft added that “the purpose of appointing co-facilitators must be to reach a consensus appointment resolution.”  He thus seemed to suggest that if the Assembly’s resolution was drafted by co-facilitators, thereby giving the Assembly a voice in the resolution’s contents, this would improve the possibility of reaching consensus.  In a handover letter of the same date to his successor, Peter Thomson, Lykketoft elaborated on this point when he stated that appointing co-facilitators would underline “the importance of the General Assembly to draft its own decisions in line with the renewed assertion of its role in the process.”


In terms of past practice, the book (on page 415) records that in 2011, when the Council recommended Ban Ki-moon for a second term, the co-sponsorship of the resolution adopted by the Assembly on 21 June 2011 was unprecedented.  For previous appointments, the draft resolution had been co-sponsored either by all fifteen Council members in their national capacities or, less frequently, by the countries chairing each of the UN regional groups.  In 2011, the Assembly resolution was co-sponsored both by all fifteen Council members and by countries representing each regional group (A/65/L.80).  However, despite the broader co-sponsorship in 2011, the contents of the GA resolution was prepared according to the established pattern, directly mirroring the provisions of the Council’s resolution of recommendation, and thus there was no real input from those Assembly members which co-sponsored the resolution as chairs of each UN regional group.


There is a possibility that in 2016, more so than in previous years, some Assembly members may seek to impede a draft resolution if they feel it has been imposed on the Assembly by the Council.  The issue for some will be one primarily of “ownership”, but other Assembly members may, at least initially, resist acting upon a recommendation from the Council which does not include more than one candidate, thereby leaving the final selection to the Assembly.  Similarly, some GA members might withhold support from an Assembly resolution which would agree to the Council’s recommendation that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a five-year, potentially renewable term, rather than a single seven-year fixed term. 


How effective co-facilitators might be in bridging divisions among Member States as to the contents of the Assembly’s draft resolution is unclear.  If in the end, the co-facilitators prove unable to draft an Assembly resolution that does more than merely mirror the provisions of the Council’s recommendation, there will be no substantive added value to their appointment, although it may still be of symbolic importance.


While expressing his own support for the appointment of co-facilitators, Lykketoft recognized, in his handover letter to Thomson, that there were “two main positions among the membership” on the proposal.  And he seemed to caution that the issue of whether or not to designate co-facilitators should not be allowed to become divisive when he asserted in his letter to the Council President that “it is critically important that all Member States commit to ensuring that the next Secretary-General will not be prevented from receiving adequate preparation time before taking office, as a result of wrangling among Member States (italics added)”. 


As a next step, Thomson, after taking office as Assembly President, sent a letter on 23 September informing all UN Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers that he had decided to task two Special Advisers from his office


“to engage in consultations with Member States and all interested groups with a view to advising

me in the best way forward towards a judicious and consensual outcome in the General Assembly

in line with GA resolution 70/305 [on Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly] – one that,

in the best interests of the Organization, will also allow the new Secretary-General sufficient time to prepare before taking up office.”


It is telling, however, that Thomson speaks of the consultations to be carried out by his Special Advisers as taking place “in the coming weeks”, suggesting that he does not see agreement on a way forward as being easily reached.


(This update supplements pages 404-415 of the book.)




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