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Reforming the selection process of the UN Secretary-General

As part of Atlas' campaign to elect the next United Nations Secretary-General, we partnered with HEC Public Law Clinic to develop a proposal on how to reform the UN Secretary-General Selection Process.

Kostia Malanyuk-Lelan and Ludovic Sol developed this proposal after exploring feasible, fair, and inclusive solutions to reform the selection process of the UN Secretary-General within the current framework. The aim is to enhance the UN Secretary-General's legitimacy, power, and effectiveness in carrying out their duties.


Context by Atlas of the UN Secretary-General selection process

The next United Nations Secretary-General will not be elected but selected. Every five years, a few world powers choose the Chief of the United Nations behind closed doors and without any public involvement, resulting in a man being selected to preserve the status quo.

That’s obviously an oversimplification, but it’s the gist of it. 

  • The UN website explains that the General Assembly—which represents all countries—appoints this person on the recommendation of the Security Council.
  • Here’s the thing: the Security Council always recommends just one candidate, which means they decide. In addition, its Permanent Members—the US, UK, France, China, and Russia—have a right to veto. They alone choose who will become the next leader of the UN, as they can block anyone else. 
  • It results in the person that will upset the least/appease the most those hyper-polarized powers being selected instead of someone with a vision of how to get out of the perma-crises we are in.

Every few years, this process is superficially improved. Civil society is given a chance to speak with candidates. Countries can nominate candidates. However, the core issue remains: no public involvement exists, and five countries decide who leads the world. Thus, this person lacks legitimacy, credibility and the ability to rally the world behind much-needed action.

The reform

The reform envisions a process divided into three phases (opening phase, campaign phase, and voting phase). 

1. The opening phase (from May of the year N-1 to March 31st). 

The opening phase is further divided into two subsequent phases: the preliminary phase and the submission of the application period. 

  • The preliminary phase starts with establishing an ad hoc committee to counterbalance the Security Council's powers and oversee the selection process. The first mission of said committee will be to draft an ethics chart which will underline the fundamental principles of the process as well as establish guidelines for the Security Council to respect (for example, parity in the candidates recommended, number of candidates that can be recommended by non-member states). The last mission of the period would be to launch an information campaign to advertise the opening of the application period to the public.
  • The application submission period (from October 1st N-1 until the end of the opening phase) opens with a letter from the General Assembly and Security Council presidents addressed to member states and published a statement inviting candidates to submit their applications.
    • The applications would be submitted to a dedicated platform with candidates' resumes and vision statements.
      • The different ways for a candidate to submit their application :
        • with the backing up of a member state
        • with the backing up of an association
        • with a relevant number of signatures from the people
    • The ad hoc committee will ensure communication with Member States and the general public to make the process completely transparent.

2. The campaign phase (from April 1st to September 15th) 

While the first phase aims to include citizens’ involvement and alternative candidates in the process, the second phase’s goal is information, transparency, and allowing actors to express themselves. 

  • The Ad Hoc Committee then organises speeches and debates, allowing candidates to talk in front of the Security Council and General Assembly. The committee must also ensure that associations can participate in those forums.
  • It also gives associations the possibility of addressing the committee their concerns/opinions of the candidates and how the process is being conducted (for example, the GA or SC not allowing some candidates to express themselves as much as others). 
  • Finally, the Security Council recommends 7 candidates to the General Assembly for the position
    • The recommendations must respect the guidelines previously put forth by the committee (several regions represented, gender parity, backup entity/person).
    • If the Security Council does not respect the ethics chart established by the Committee during the first phase of the election process, the Committee can render the recommendation moot and prompt the Security Council to establish a new list. Delays would then have to be accounted for in the timeline, depending on how much time is needed for a new list to be established or if those who did not have the opportunity to present themselves in the UN forums do so. 

For now, two weeks between the last day of the campaign and the beginning of the voting phase seems adequate, but this can be adjusted. 

3. The voting phase (October 1st - October 14th )

The reform now needs a voting phase to go from a selection process to an election process.

  • Following the Security Council recommendations, the General Assembly must elect the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • A General Assembly meeting is held for a two-round election system.
    • In the future, for more proportionality, a voting system with proportionality can be envisioned. 

If you have questions or feedback, don't hesitate to contact [email protected]


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