Nations call for gender balance in choosing U.N. chief

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2015 5:03 PM

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The 193 member states of the United Nations on Friday called for greater transparency and gender balance in the selection of the next U.N. secretary-general.

The unanimously approved resolution, which says members will receive the resumes of candidates for the top U.N. post and have a chance to question them, comes as many Western nations say it is time a woman took over at the helm of the United Nations.

The current U.N. chief, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, will remain in office until Dec. 31, 2016. His replacement takes over on Jan. 1, 2017. The campaign for the post is expected to heat up early next year.

The process of selecting a secretary-general has traditionally been secretive, involving what diplomats and U.N. officials describe as "wheeling and dealing" among member states interested in having their country take over what is arguably the highest-profile diplomatic job in the world.

The U.N. charter is vague on the selection process. It says "the secretary-general shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council."

In practice, that has come to mean that the U.N. chief is chosen by the permanent Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - and rubber-stamped by the other 10 council members and the General Assembly.

As a result, U.N. diplomats from many countries have long complained that they have no chance to get involved in the selection process.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft welcomed the resolution.

"The United Kingdom wants to see a process that is open to all member states, but also to observers, and to civil society," he told the assembly. "That is why we are open to organizing an Arria-formula (informal) meeting with candidates that really is open to all."

Echoing something that many Western states have said in recent months, he added that it was "high time for a woman to lead the United Nations."

There are a number of women whose names come up as possible candidates for the post. They include two women from Bulgaria, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and European Union commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

U.N. diplomats say it is Eastern Europe's turn to provide a secretary-general. Russia has made clear it wants the next U.N. boss to come from Eastern Europe.

All eight secretaries-general over the past 70 years have been men.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Christian Plumb)