The job of the United Nations secretary–general is up for grabs again, but so far there’s only one officially qualified candidate for the job — the current secretary-general — despite a number of others looking to shake things up at Turtle Bay.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who took the post in 2017, looks like a shoo-in for a second five-year term starting next January, unless someone who meets the U.N.’s criteria for the job comes in at the last moment.
Guterres on Wednesday put out a vision statement for his next five years in charge, calling for the U.N. to “act as a catalyst and a platform for more inclusive, networked and effective forms of multilateralism.”
“Our direction of travel is clear on peace and security, climate action, sustainable development, human rights and the humanitarian imperative,” he said in the statement.
One person looking to qualify as a candidate and shake up the U.N. system is Emma Reilly — a human rights lawyer who works for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Switzerland.
Reilly blew the whistle on her bosses for what she said was their handing over of names of Chinese dissidents coming to speak at the UN Human Rights Council at the request of communist China.
For her efforts, Reilly says she has faced retribution from her bosses for being a whistleblower and continues to hang on by a thread to her job for exposing the practice. Reilly told Fox News that her decision to challenge for the position is to get the world body to end nepotism and corruption so it can fulfill its mandate.
She hopes that standing for secretary-general will mean that she will get a hearing and be able to run in the race — but that’s only if she can get a nomination. So far, Reilly and six other candidates have yet to be endorsed by a member state.
The process to qualify as a candidate is complicated, and it is divided between the president of the Security Council and president of the General Assembly (PGA).
“Concerning the difference between a candidate and an applicant, that is the question we’re facing now,” Volkan Bozkir, the PGA president, told reporters. “I think it is only when the president of the General Assembly and the president of the Security Council sign a joint letter that an applicant can become a candidate.”
He added that there are still gray areas and noted that he thought the Security Council viewed the rules as being that only candidates or applicants “supported by a country will be considered by the Security Council.”
While Reilly credited Guterres for ordering her protection as a whistleblower three years ago, she said he was simply ignored by senior staff. That, to her, renders him a lame-duck candidate.
But she is hoping that a nomination would allow her to grill the U.N. chief about a range of issues — including the U.N’s relationship with China, which has come under closer scrutiny and criticism amid the coronavirus pandemic last year.
“If I can get a country to nominate me, I can ensure that Guterres is asked about corruption, waste, the abject failures to address sexual exploitation and abuse or endangerment of human rights activists, and the increasing breach of rules to please particular member states, most notably China,” Reilly said.
Apart from Reilly, a U.N. employee from Canada and a former president of Ecuador are among those running, but as of now all remain applicants — and not candidates as described by the president of the UN General Assembly.
But, even if another hopeful can get on the list, Guterres would still be the favorite. He can cite his running of the U.N. during COVID-19, as well as keeping the body together under withering criticism from the U.S. during the Trump administration.
Even former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, who served under Trump, had kind words for the former Portuguese prime minister.
“Antonio Guterres is a man of substance. He is a good man, a solid man, with very strong moral convictions. He is also a deeply empathetic person,” Craft told Fox News.
She also said it wasn’t surprising that other member states hadn’t requested their own candidates, calling it a “testament of Secretary-General Guterres’ standing globally.”
She cited not only his leadership in recent years as SG but also as director of the U.N.’s Refugee Agency before that.
“His work as the director of UNHCR clearly showed this passion and concern in action,” she said. “And he has taken this focus on humanity to the role as secretary-general. His call for a global ceasefire during the pandemic reflects the leadership and sincerity of his commitment to improving the lives of those most in need.“
Craft also says he took the administration’s criticism of the body and the need for reform seriously.
“The secretary-general rightly looked at criticism of the UN as a useful way to force the institution to take its mandates seriously. He is keenly aware that the United States is the biggest contributor to the UN, as [he] understands that American taxpayers, and global taxpayers, need the premiere international organization to be reliable stewards of their money,” she said.
But the former ambassador also spoke positively about whistleblowers like Reilly.
“Whistleblowers stick their necks out to fight for good governance and to expose corruption and other misdeeds. The United Nations, like most bureaucracies, is susceptible to such abuses,” she said. “I know that Secretary-General Guterres takes whistleblower protection seriously, and he is aware of Ms. Reilly’s situation. The UN bureaucracy is profound, leaving room for systemic failures and unscrupulous individuals to pray upon whistleblowers. From top down, the institution needs to ensure the absolutely strongest whistleblower protection possible.”
The first interaction with candidates for the job of secretary-general and UN member states will be on May 7 when Guterres will lay out his vision for a second term in front of the General Assembly.
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