"It is the search for someone out of seven billion who can really ensure that the whole UN is fit for purpose"

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the ACT meeting on next Secretary-General

UN Charter

Thank you very much Olivier. It’s a great honour and privilege to be sharing this panel with Mary Robinson representing the Elders and my other colleagues here. I was very struck in the preparation time I had before starting this job a couple of months ago by the ideas that the Elders put forward and those of others including the ACT group, the ‘1 for 7 billion’ campaign, UN Association and so on.

So I want to pay tribute first of all to the work that you have all done. I think that the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group is definitely onto something. All three of those words in its title are good things. And we need more of all three of them around here.

I think that in what I say I hope to set out how much agreement there is on the panel. We don’t agree on everything that those other groups propose. But we do stand for reform and for a process that will maximise our chances of getting the best possible Secretary-General in exactly 18 months time.

So let me set out the process that we would like to see followed. We’ve got three proposals - transparency, structure and inclusion - to create the best possible climate to get the best possible Secretary-General. And on my first day, in fact, in this job I launched a British initiative in the General Assembly to initiate this reform process.

We all of us, I think, want a Secretary-General who can take on the challenges of the 21st century, who can unite members behind the pressing issues of the day. Who can bring resilience and efficiency, transparency and energy to the way the UN conducts its business across the world. And before going through the detail of our proposal and what we want to see happen next, I want to begin by paying tribute to the current UN Secretary-General who still has 18 months to go, still has a lot that I know he wants to achieve.

Ban Ki-moon has really spoken on behalf of the world on difficult issues, like Syria, on Sri Lanka in 2009, where he was brave enough to make sure that we learnt the lessons where we had collectively failed. And he’s put human rights up front which is exactly where they belong. Before his time is up, we very much hope that he will be able to cajole the whole world into an ambitious sustainable development agenda and an ambitious global climate agreement.

But precisely because of his achievements and the level of responsibilities in the role and the challenges that the role faces, we need to make sure that we have the best possible candidate to succeed him. It is such a big job. It really is the search for someone out of seven billion who can really ensure that the whole UN is fit for purpose.

And ever since my distant predecessor Gladwyn Jebb served as Acting Secretary-General in 1945, the UK has tried to be front and centre in strengthening the multilateral system with the UN at its heart. So even though of course we’re a P5 country, I hope you won’t be surprised that we favour reform rather than the status quo.

So let me set out and update where we are on the three strands of our proposal.

The first principle is equality. I said in April that it’s high time for a woman to lead the UN. And I’ve often been asked since, does that mean that you would use your veto to block any man coming to this role? Of course it doesn’t. What it means is that it’s high time for a woman and that other things being equal we would favour a woman doing this role. And that in order to get the best possible candidate for this job we need to maximise the number of women in the field. Maximise the number of credible applications from wherever they may come. If we are to exclude half of all humanity from this role, we are not going to be improving the chances of getting the best possible person.

So we want to encourage, particularly, female applications from wherever they may be. I’m going to be back in London next week for the annual conference of British Ambassadors from around world and I’ll be using that to encourage my colleagues to encourage their host governments and others around the world to look for, and to express a willingness to see, more applications from credible female candidates. We’re open to other ways of those names coming out and very interested in some of the ideas from the ACT and others.

So that’s the first thing; equality. We’ll be making sure that we get the best possible field, in order to maximise the chances of getting the best candidate.

The second principle is predictability. If this was a search for a CEO of a global multinational there would be clear criteria, a deadline for applications, a process for interviews or equivalent, and a date by which a decision was taken. And we just need to import some of that good practice into this process given the size and importance of the role.

So we want a clear deadline for candidates to declare themselves, and a clear date by which time the selection should happen. And we have suggested December 2015 for the first and June ‘16 for the second, but that was just to get a debate going. We’re open to other peoples’ views and would be interested in views from the room.

Whatever the dates, what matters is that there is a regular, predictable timetable that will improve the structure of the process. And it will give real time for proper consideration of the merits of the different candidates. And crucially, it will allow the successful candidate to have time to prepare for office.

So I’ll be seeking support in the Security Council for an expression of the Security Council’s view that there should be a clear timetable and that we should be able to communicate that to the wider membership as part of providing this predictability.

The third principle is transparency. So, equality, predictability. transparency. And on transparency, there’s been a lot criticism that I’ve heard over how it has been done previously. And I do think that it is time to open things up. We want to give candidates the opportunity to present their vision for the role of Secretary-General, to demonstrate their credentials, to be questioned on how suitable they are for the job. And we want them to do that in front of an audience that goes well beyond the United Nations Headquarters.

Civil society has a significant interest in who will be the next Secretary-General and should be involved in that process. So that they too can help scrutinise the names and qualifications and criteria of the candidates being put forward.

We’re planning to arrange an open Arria formula meeting for leading candidates to have that opportunity to set out to, not just to the Security Council, but to the wider membership and others where they stand on key issues, what they stand for, why they want the job and how they will do it.

We hope this type of interaction between candidates and Member States and others will become over time a part of the process that is recognised and valued.

There’s one part of the previous process which I wanted to say a few words on, and that’s the principle of regional rotation. We don’t accept it. We don’t think that that is likely to increase the chances of the getting the best possible candidate. But I do know how important it is for the countries of Eastern Europe that there should be this principle established. So I think the onus is on them to come up with the best possible candidate, or candidates, that they can. And then those who do believe in this principle will be able to have a good choice. But I don’t think that we should limit ourselves to candidates from any one region.

On the balance between the Security Council and the General Assembly, I just want to say there’s been very good work that’s been going on, that continues to go on, in preparation for the annual resolution on the Revitalisation of the Work of the General Assembly. It’s being discussed as we speak. The draft resolution tries to bring more clarity and definition to the process of selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General.

It’s an important step forward and we support the idea of greater transparency as I said. We do, of course, need to take full account of everything that is written in the Charter. We’re not proposing to change the Charter for this and we do need to make sure, for instance, that when it talks about the recommendation coming from the Security Council, that we stick with that. So actually one part of the Elders’ proposal that we don’t agree with is the idea that there should be more than one name put forward from the Security Council to the General Assembly. I think the moment for greater transparency is earlier than that in any case.

So let me conclude by just underlining the importance of getting the right Secretary-General to lead this organisation. We place great demands on the job holder, and to quote Article 101 of the Charter, we expect the “highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity”. There are times when the Secretary-General is expected to speak on behalf of us all. And that requires someone with outstanding leadership skills who we look to for their counsel. And we trust them to bring, for instance, to the attention of the Security Council any matter which may threaten international peace and security.

So we want to broaden things out. We don’t want to limit ourselves. We don’t want to find that the process somehow or other has reduced the possibility of getting the best possible person for this job. And that’s the approach that we will continue to bring to this discussion.

Published 30 June 2015