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Russia: 'We Support An Eastern European Woman For Secretary-General'

05/10/2016 16:57
Dynamic Graphics via Getty Images

Oh dear. This sentence, first uttered over a year ago by Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, represents a huge blow to meritocracy and could damage the prospects of securing an effective UN leader. Yesterday, Mr Churkin repeated this preference, raising concerns that Russia, with its power to veto any candidate not fitting this description, could get its way as the race enters its final phase.

The assertion has its roots in an informal practice where the region that the Secretary-General is selected from is decided on the basis of geographic rotation, with the Eastern European Group at the UN now staking its claim. Following this practice would do a huge disservice to the UN by encouraging the exclusion of excellent candidates from outside that region (Russia's predisposition discounts 97.68% of the world's population in one fell swoop).

For over two years I've worked for 1 for 7 Billion, helping coordinate the campaign to get the best possible Secretary-General, irrespective of region, gender or background. Our philosophy is simple: the defining problems of our time - climate change, conflict, terrorism, pandemics - are issues which transcend borders. We need global solutions, and, whilst imperfect, the UN is our best chance of getting them.

To rise to the challenge, the world's seven billion constituents need a global organisation led by a highly-qualified individual equipped to deal with the world's crises. For these reasons, we cannot afford to appoint the UN's leader on any principle other than meritocracy.

Of course it is entirely possible that the best candidate is a female, Eastern European, but if this is the case, then the arguments in favour of appointing her should be made on merit. But insisting on non-merit-based criteria does a disservice to female candidates, and those from Eastern Europe, by denying them the opportunity to demonstrate their superiority and prove themselves in an open race.

This has knock-on effects for their future legitimacy and in turn, their mandate and independence to get things done once in post.

But it goes even deeper than that. A single, veto-wielding country insisting on these narrow criteria undermines the broad participation of UN member states and civil society, who, for the first time in the UN's 70-year history, have been much more involved in the selection process, including by scrutinising candidates.

Given the snub that would be felt by the UN's wider membership and civil society, the eschewing of the principles of fairness embodied by the UN Charter and the reputational damage which could hamper the UN's work, Russia (and other permanent members of the Security Council) should think hard about the cost of any decision to veto a candidate on a criterion other than merit.

The 1 for 7 Billion campaign will continue to campaign for a fair, open process that will boost the legitimacy and mandate of the UN's Secretary-General, leading to, we hope, an improvement in the Organisation's vital role in delivering life-saving work across the globe.

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