Month: April 2016

The Race for the Next UN Secretary General – First Round

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Dr Ion Jinga HeadshotThoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York, in Huffington Post on 21.04.2016

Last week, for the first time in 70 years of UN history, candidates for the post of Secretary General presented their visions and programs during hearings in the UN General Assembly. From 12 to 14 April, mornings and afternoons, Permanent Representatives of 193 Member States have listened and questioned nine candidates, who received a total of 800 questions from ambassadors and civil society. We had the opportunity to (informally) assess the competence of those running for the top and the most difficult diplomatic job in the world.

Organizing these hearings is part of the commitment made last year by the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, to perform his Presidency in the most open and transparent manner possible, including for the process of selecting and appointing the next Secretary General. Public opinion’s interest for this process is huge – the UN website for candidates’ hearings was already accessed by 227,000 people from 209 countries and territories.

The bar is placed high by the actual challenging international context, as well as by the legacy of the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose tenure comes to a close on 31st December 2016. Patient but persistent, determined to accomplish what he set out to do, Mr. Ban described his credo as Secretary General in an interview to Newsweek in 2007: “I believe in the power of relationships. I believe in engagement, dialogue before confrontation. Sometimes this diplomacy will be public; other times it will take place behind the scenes, since that is where the potential for success is often greatest. If there is a unifying theme to my work, a vision if you will, it is this human dimension. We may read, each morning, about human tragedies in our newspapers. But how often do we truly hear such people’s voices, or try with full force and determination to help? This I pledge to do.”

He is very well seconded by Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson and this tandem has put an undeniable mark on the organization’s work. A brilliant diplomat and politician, former Foreign Minister and President of the UN General Assembly, Jan Eliasson is the author of the famous axiom: “There is no peace without development, there is no development without peace and there is neither lasting peace nor sustainable development without respect of human rights and the rule of law.”
Article 97 of the UN Charter provides that “The Secretary General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”, which adopts in a private meeting, with an affirmative vote of nine members, including the votes of permanent members, a resolution setting out its recommendation for the job. The five permanent members can use their veto right. The UN Charter does not prevent the Security Council from recommending more than one candidate, but a General Assembly resolution from 1946 says it is desirable to recommend one person only. Also, the practice of the Council has been to specify the term of office for the recommended candidate (customary, it is five years), and the Assembly acts similarly when adopting its resolution appointing the Secretary General.

From the nine candidates we have listened last week, seven are from the Eastern European Group and two from the Western European and Others Group. It is quite probable that other candidates will enter the race in the following weeks, which would only contribute to the quality of competition, enlarging the reservoir for the selection of the best.

Important positions within the UN, including that of the Secretary General, are allocated through an informal process of regional rotation, although this happens by custom and precedent, rather than by some written rule of the UN Charter. However, article 59 of the General Assembly Resolution 51/241 of 31 July 2007 states that: “In the course of the identification and appointment of the best candidate for the post of Secretary-General, due regard shall continue to be given to regional rotation and shall also be given to gender equality.”

Eastern Europe is the only region that did not produce any of the (until now) eight Secretary Generals and many think the next top diplomat will come from that region. There has also never been a woman Secretary General and the idea of the first female UN chief enjoys substantial support.

The resolution on “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”, adopted on 11 September 2015, establishes a series of recommendations and attributes that the most suitable candidate for Secretary General should possess. Criteria identified for the selection process are related to professional skills, political acceptance, and acceptability to public opinion.

“Professional skills” suggests a person with extensive international relations experience, proven leadership, managerial ability and linguistic ability. “Political acceptance” includes acceptability to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council. “Acceptability to global public opinion” refers to understanding and sensitivity to multicultural issues. Asked whether he had any advice for the candidates ahead hearings, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reportedly said that he always recalls the advice a middle school teacher in South Korea gave him: Keep your feet firmly on the ground and your head in the clouds”.

Candidates we have heard last week articulated their vision for the organization and the global challenges to be tackled under their leadership. We may have seen different personalities, experiences and approaches, but all shown proved commitment and determination to make the UN fit for purpose in the 21st century. From the spread of terrorism, proliferation of civil wars and huge waves of refugees, to the implementation of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, climate change, poverty and inequality, the institutional reform of the UN, less bureaucracy, conflict prevention and mediation, early warning mechanisms and better inter-agencies coordination – all these topics are on the agenda of those aspiring to become the next Secretary General. The issue of whether he or she should rather be “a Secretary” or “a General”, received various answers. I found interesting the formula “a General of the UN Secretariat and a Secretary to the UN Member States”.

Mr. Mogens Lykketoft remarked in a recent interview that public discussions with the candidates are “potentially game-changing, because if a leading candidate emerges and a critical number of countries rally around him or her, it will be very difficult for the Security Council to come up with quite a different person.”

The candidates’ vision is important, but at the end of the day the Secretary General race is not only about vision, administrative ability, language skills, or personal charm. It is a political job. The election of the ninth Secretary-General in 2016 is crucial to the future of the organization, and therefore it will be one of the most important decisions the Security Council and the General Assembly will make in the next couple of years.

The World needs a UN Secretary General able to lead the organization through an extraordinary array of global challenges, in a time when there is no substitute for the United Nations legitimacy. The race has just had its first round.


Fighting Terrorism: Looking Back With Anger, Looking Ahead With Hope

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Dr Ion Jinga HeadshotThoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York, in Huffington Post on 30.03.2016

Brussels is special to me. It is a place where I lived for many years and I have many friends there. On March 21st 2016 at 8.00 a.m., I entered Brussels International Airport accompanied by my daughter, to embark for New York. The day after, same hour and same place, a blast killed or injured dozens of persons. It was one of the multiple explosions in Brussels that day, a striking reminder of how vulnerable we are in face of terrorism. ISIS claimed responsibility.
The evening before departure from Brussels, we were to a small restaurant in Grand Place to eat famous Belgian mussels. The owner, a Tunisian who I know for 20 years, told us that following the terrorist attacks in Paris last November the number of tourists declined dramatically, so he plans to close the business. For me, Grand Place without him will not be the same.
But after the morning of March 22nd, when innocent people lost their lives in multiple horrific blasts, the whole of Belgium is not the same. The lives of those who survived and all of their families will be forever changed. Our lives too, because Brussels after Paris is a warning that Europe as a whole is under threat. Europe, which has been able to recover from the ashes of two devastating World Wars and to develop a peaceful and prosperous society model based on the respect of human rights and the rule of law, faces now another war. As President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, remarked: “Europe is under terrorist attack. Today is a black day for the civilized world.” Terrorism strikes not only in Europe. Last Sunday, more than 350 people were killed or wounded in a suicide attack in Lahore, Pakistan. Not long ago, similar horrific news came from Istanbul and Beirut. Killing innocent people based on ideology is not just an attack on Brussels, Paris, Lahore, Ankara or Beirut, or on any other place where people live, but an attack on all of humanity. No country or region is immune from its impacts. Therefore, beyond national politics and economics on which we may have different perspectives, the international community must stay united and not allow the threat of terrorism to be part of our daily lives. We must refuse to accept that it is a kind of “new normal”.
Terrorism threatens the core sovereignty of a country. It constitutes a direct violation of the UN Charter and the Universal declaration of Human Rights, and is a great obstacle to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The issue of countering terrorism and violent extremism brought the whole of the UN together, and more than half of the UN Security Council resolutions adopted over the past year focused on this topic. Still, terrorists continue to spread fear in many parts of the world.
Counter-terrorism must be part of the response. Network analyses, cutting the financing, de-radicalization, and special operations strikes are all necessary. But in the case of ISIS counter-terrorism is not enough, because it has access to bigger resources, better intelligence and wider networks than other groups. The effect is multiplied by an aggressive social media campaign for recruitment and logistical connections. Even though some countries have integrated measures into their counter-terrorism responses to monitor the spread of violent extremism via the Internet, preventing use of the Internet for terrorist purposes remains a major challenge for most States.What we need is a broader integrated strategy that considers the full range of activities, from military operations to humanitarian assistance. Equally important, we must not allow terrorists to exploit the refugee situation and to manipulate the public opinion to polarize against the migrants who are fleeing themselves territory occupied by ISIS, in order to save their lives.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since June 2014 and until mid-March 2016, ISIS committed at least 3967 extra judiciary executions in Syria. 2142 victims were civilians, including 78 children and 121 women. Terrorism and violent extremism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.
As the Global Survey of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) on counter-terrorism measures, released on 16 January 2016, underlines: “The terrorist threat is evolving rapidly. It has become more diverse, challenging and complex, partly because of the considerable financial resources flowing to certain terrorist organizations from the proceeds of transnational organized crime. Terrorism and violent extremism continue to destabilize volatile regions. Addressing the threat requires addressing the underlying conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, including through measures to prevent radicalization to terrorism, suppress recruitment, prevent foreign terrorist fighter travel, disrupt financial support for them, counter violent extremism, counter incitement to terrorism, promote political and religious tolerance, economic development, social cohesion and inclusiveness.”
Over the last decade, the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy put emphasis on measures to combat terrorism. On 12 February 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus the resolution 70/254 on the Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which underlines that: “Violent extremism, which can be conducive to terrorism”, requires collective efforts, “including preventing radicalization, recruitment and mobilization of individuals into terrorist groups”.
Not least important, the transnational nature of terrorism and the spread of information technology have largely increased the need for international judicial cooperation. Governments’ responses to these trends have not kept pace with the need. Five years ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur put forward a “model definition” of terrorism that linked it with physical violence, the terms of international counter-terrorism instruments, and the intention of “provoking a State of terror in the general public or a segment of it”. Still, the question of the legal definition of terrorist acts continues to remain a major matter of concern, affecting the international cooperation to hunting down the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
Reason must prevail, as we need a global commitment to fighting terrorism and addressing its root causes. An additional step forward could be the Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism, which will take place on 7-8 April 2016 in Geneva. Its agenda includes dialogue and conflict prevention, good governance, human rights and the rule of law, engaging communities and civil society, enhancing young people’s participation in preventing violent extremism and integrating them into decision-making processes, empowering women as a critical force for sustainable peace, education and employment facilitation, and strategic communications through the Internet and social media. After looking back with anger, it is high time to look ahead with hope.