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Blue Smoke

A Newsletter Tracking Senior UN Appointments

Blue Smoke: Unmerited: Where Does It Stop?


Rafael Grossi, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at UN Headquarters on September 21, 2022
Press briefing by Rafael Mariano Grossi, an Argentine who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, Sept. 21, 2022. He is being reappointed for a second term based on his work trying to keep the Ukrainian nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhya, secure, despite Russia’s occupation of it. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Unmerited: Where Does It stop?

Welcome to the April issue of Blue Smoke, a new monthly newsletter shining a spotlight on senior appointments at the United Nations.

We all know that top UN jobs are frequently awarded as political favours. It’s a sorry state of affairs which undermines the UN’s effectiveness and credibility. Our aim is to report on these dynamics and push for fair, open, inclusive appointments geared towards finding the best person for the job.

But as this edition went to press we were passed a video which, if verified, shows that the rot doesn’t stop there: jobs all the way through the Directorial and Professional grades seem to be awarded sometimes on state influence, not merit. It is alleged that gender-parity rules may have been abandoned to get men with the right nationality appointed, in the video we saw. It may not be surprising to UN watchers that this is happening, but it should be shocking.

We will be attempting to corroborate this information and put it to the UN in due course, but what is needed is a root-and-branch reform of the UN’s employment practices to weed out the inappropriate influence of powerful member states and ensure that international civil servants are appointed fairly and on merit.

Coming soon

Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization: The IMO were kind enough to confirm who had been formally nominated for the post, and have also publicly published the following list of candidates:

  • Moin Uddin Ahmed of Bangladesh (it had been previously reported that Bangladesh was running a candidate but not who they were)
  • Ambassador Suat Hayri Aka of Türkiye, reportedly also backed by Greece as part of a deal whereby Türkiye backs Greece’s bid to be elected to the UN Security Council
  • Arsenio Dominguez Velasco of Panama (as previously reported)
  • Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry of Dominica – who had made their candidacy public
  • Nancy Karigithu of Kenya (as previously reported)
  • Minna Kivimäki of Finland who had seemingly not made their candidacy public
  • Zhang Xiaojie of China who had seemingly not made their candidacy public

A potential bid from Vassilios Demetriades of Cyprus did not come to fruition.

Except for the Greece/Türkiye dynamic, it is not yet clear which countries and groups are backing which candidates. It should become clearer over the next few weeks. Please get in touch with us if you have any information!

The decision will be made by a vote of the 40 members of the IMO Council at their July session and rubber-stamped with a vote of the full membership. While the Convention of the IMO does not specify how the council is to make their choice, common practice has been that multiple rounds of voting are held with the weakest candidate eliminated after every round until only one remains.


UN Office of Counter Terrorism: Much as we reported previously with other top peace-and-security related roles, the UN has not revealed any information regarding the length of appointment for its fairly new post of Under-Secretary-General for the Office of Counter Terrorism — the UN’s top official in the fight against terrorism. However, simple math indicates that the incumbent, Vladimir Voronkov, a Russian, is due to have his contract expire on 21 June of this year, and two sources with knowledge of the matter have confirmed this.

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The complicating factor is Voronkov is Russian, and that it is widely understood that Russia regards the post as ring-fenced for one of their nationals. With Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine ongoing, and still receiving widespread condemnation from the vast majority of  UN member states, appointing another Russian would be controversial, to say the least. But Russia, who are allegedly also influencing lower-level appointments in the OCT, would not take kindly to losing the post, and so far the Secretary-General has not shown interest in going against the wishes of any UN Permanent Member in appointment matters. A difficult situation, which the UN may look to duck by quietly extending Voronkov’s contract.


President of the World Bank: It would still take an unprecedented event to stop Ajay Banga of the USA winning the presidency when the election is held, probably in June — but Russia may run a candidate anyway. Given Russia’s isolation on the international stage, their candidate would stand zero chance of winning, but as one of the Executive Directors of the World Bank is elected on behalf of Russia and Syria (on a slate to which Russia contributes almost 80,000 of the 83,000 shares) they would be guaranteed one vote, worth 3% of the total. This would be enough to ensure that, for only the second time in history, Banga’s election was not unanimous.

Blue Smoke does not take positions on individual candidates but notes that if there is an election — no matter how uncompetitive — that would present a prime opportunity for the World Bank to show a greater degree of transparency than it has previously by making the results of both informal and formal votes public.

What you’ve missed

IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina has served one term as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and it is not up for renewal until December. But, perhaps in light of his exceptional work attempting to secure the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, member states decided to get his reappointment out of the way, and we hear that the IAEA Board of Governors unanimously recommended his reappointment for a second term lasting until December 2027. The IAEA General Conference will need to approve this decision, but this is a formality.

UNOPS: A permanent appointment has finally been made! And it’s Jorge Moreira da Silva. He’s a former politician from Portugal. Hey, what a coincidence: so is the person who appointed him! (A sad knock-on effect of the endemic politicking for top posts is that speculation becomes inevitable, although in this case perhaps it should be noted that Guterres and Moreira da Silva were political rivals in the late 1990s.)

IOM: We noted in our first edition that the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino, from Portugal, is up for re-election in June. Traditionally, incumbent DGs are given a clear path to a second term should they want it. Not on this occasion. Instead his deputy, Amy Pope, an American, has decided to challenge him. PassBlue have published an exclusive report taking a closer look at the move that is raising some eyebrows amongst observers.

We’ve added more info on the Blue Smoke website!

Check it out at New sections include a page on the World Bank and a page on General Assembly elections. The latter is the only place on the internet where you can find the results of every single round of the ongoing elections to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) — even the UN itself seems to have lost track of some of those! The race to an Eastern European seat between Russia and North Macedonia still continues, with the seat currently vacant.

Tip line

Do you know something more about the appointments we mentioned or another upcoming appointment? Reach out to us in total confidence at Any information you give us will only be used on the terms you set.


We welcome your comments on this article..  What are your thoughts?

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Blue Smoke: Unmerited: Where Does It Stop?
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Danielle Choucair
Danielle Choucair
11 months ago

Another important appointment is being made for the head of the biodiversity convention based in Montreal, Canada. This is a key environmental agreement after climate change and has just launched a major global agreement to conserve nature under the presidency of China. The SG will appoint based on the recommendation of the UNEP Executive Director. Previous four heads have come from Africa region, two from Latin America and Caribbean and one from East Europe.

Heike Deggim
Heike Deggim
1 year ago

Re. IMO elections. You are not correct in saying there are no specifications for voting. The IMO Council has Rules of Procedure which specify voting procedures in great detail.

The Blue Smoke newsletter is a joint project coordinated by the Blue Smoke project and delivered in media partnership with PassBlue. Blue Smoke is a working group of NGOs committed to ensuring that appointments to senior, political, and public roles at the UN are inclusive, democratic, merit-based, transparent, and subject to scrutiny.

Visit the Blue Smoke website to find out more.

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