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Blue Smoke

A Newsletter Tracking Senior UN Appointments

Blue Smoke: The Colour Line


Conference staff hold up ballot boxes in the UN General Assembly Hall on June 6, 2023, demonstrating to the delegates that the boxes are empty.
Elections were held by the General Assembly on June 6, 2023, to elect five new Security Council members for the 2024-2025 term. Algeria, Guyana, South Korea, and Sierra Leone ran uncontested. Slovenia easily defeated Belarus for the Eastern European seat. UN staff, above, hold up ballot boxes for delegates, demonstrating that they are empty. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

The Colour Line

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

Spend too long staring into the abyss that is the United Nations’ senior appointment system and one can easily become jaded: states and international civil servants trading political favours, basic information being inaccessible to the general public: none of this will surprise our regular readers.

But even our editors felt the need for a sharp intake after we were informed that the shortlist for the role of UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues would consist solely of two white Western European men, one of whom has been chosen to replace the incumbent: a white North American man. No individual from the global South has ever held the role, with a citizen of Hungary being the only non-WEOG candidate ever appointed. This appointment was one of four announced on 5 June, with three of the four going to individuals from the Western Europe and Other States (WEOG) bloc.

Why is the UN so poor at finding and selecting strong candidates from minority communities, particularly in the global South, even when relevant personal experience would seem so integral to the role? As ever, process matters. Sushil Raj, a former member of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, summed it up: “An extremely problematic process and decision where diversity, equity, and inclusion principles were disregarded as highly qualified candidates from other regions were overlooked.”

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Commenting in more detail, Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, a former UN Special Rapporteur for Minorities, told us:

“The ‘Consultative Group’ — the all-male interview panel (and, if I may add, all white with one Arabic member) overlooked many qualified candidates who were not even given a chance for an interview. Indeed, reportedly, 4 out of 5 interviewees came from the WEOG group. An Asian Muslim minority woman with an impressive list of publications and many years of field work did not make the shortlist, [nor did] several former OHCHR minority fellows (like I was myself).

“My concern is that while we have diplomats interviewing candidates without knowing active and recognized experts and advocates, and without being committed to the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, the system is doomed to fail again and again. One solution would be a diverse and rotating civil society panel to be attached to the Consultative Group members. Another option is to provide a consultative status to the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures mandate holders so they could ensure that various important aspects are taken into consideration”

For information on how Special Rapporteurs are appointed, as well as further analysis on the lack of diversity surrounding these appointments, see the International Service for Human Rights’ (ISHR) briefing.


Negotiations are in full swing in the General Assembly on a new resolution for appointing executive heads. Blue Smoke has obtained a draft that shows P5 members seeking to evade scrutiny of their own overrepresentation in top UN jobs. China, the UK and the US are trying to block the following language: “As a general rule, no national of a Member State should succeed a national of that State in a senior post and there should be no monopoly on senior posts by national of any State or group of States.” It’s not hard to find a motive: since 2007 an unbroken chain of Chinese, British and US nationals has held onto specific core roles within the UN system. Will most member states who want to see this practice discontinued be able to resist opposition from P5 members? Check out our recent briefing for a deep dive into this issue. And why not share our fun social media graphics?

When it comes to selecting the next Secretary-General, it’s P5 Groundhog Day. Just as in 2021, P5 members are trying to block even any discussion regarding popular reform suggestions such as requesting the Security Council to recommend multiple candidates for the General Assembly to decide on, or the idea that future SGs could stand for a longer nonrenewable term. (Current terms are five years.) 1 for 8 Billion has just released recommendations on how to use these negotiations to strengthen future SG selection processes.

It’s election season! On 1 June the leadership team for the next UN General Assembly were elected; on 6 June members of the 2024 UN Security Council were voted in; and on 8 June members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) were chosen. The UN itself has released patchy information, often only declaring the winners and not who else ran or how many votes they got, and their statements failed to mention that another round occurred on the continuing duel between Russia and North Macedonia to fill the still-open Eastern European ECOSOC seat from last year. But Blue Smoke sat through the entire livestream of all three days of voting to record every single ballot into our comprehensive database.

With Russia and North Macedonia’s election punted into the long grass once again, most of the other elections were fairly straightforward. Only two were meaningfully contested. Nepal, Pakistan and Japan’s election as the three Asia-Pacific group representatives of ECOSOC was reasonably clear (third-place Japan beat fourth-place Tajikistan by 30 votes), but they all barely escaped having to face a second round, with Japan winning only three votes to meet the two-thirds majority of present and voting threshold and Pakistan garnering only five.

Meanwhile, the contest for the Eastern European bloc seat for the Security Council saw Slovenia take on Belarus. It was expected that Slovenia would win, given Belarus’s support for Russia’s deeply unpopular invasion of Ukraine. But Belarus had announced its candidacy for the 2024-25 seat over sixteen years ago and has been publicly campaigning for the role ever since, so it could have been a close race, potentially taking a couple of rounds of voting to decide. Not so, as Slovenia romped home with 153 votes to Belarus’s chastening 38.

Coming Soon

PassBlue’s recent report confirms our suspicions that the contract of Vladimir Voronkov as the UN’s counterterrorism boss is probably up, and that the Secretary-General is likely to reappoint him. Our sources suggest this needs to be done by 21 June. It’s absurd, of course, that there has been no definitive public statement to explain what is happening.

Does that mean our similar suspicions about Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN’s Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, were also correct? Is she leaving? Inevitably, rumours fill the gap left by the UN’s refusal to give any answer. One whisper is that while DiCarlo might have had her contract secretly renewed for another year, there may be a reshuffle with Michele Sison’s name having been mentioned as a potential successor. Sison is another American and career civil servant who has held posts in the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. Currently, she heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs and helped Amy Pope’s successful campaign running for director-general of the International Organization for Migration. Does anyone know what’s really going on? Get in touch if you do!

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


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Blue Smoke: The Colour Line
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Frank Makumbi
Frank Makumbi
1 year ago

The article highlights the appointment of two white Western European men, raising questions about the exclusion of candidates from the global South. The article also briefly mentions negotiations for a new resolution on appointing executive heads and the recent elections for UN leadership positions. However, it lacks in-depth analysis of the underlying reasons for the lack of diversity and the potential implications of these appointments and elections. It briefly mentions rumors about changes in senior positions without exploring the details or implications. Overall, while it raises important concerns, the article could provide more comprehensive information and analysis on these issues.

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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