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BLUE SMOKE: A monthly column, from PassBlue and UNA–UK, spotlighting senior appointments at the UN

Blue Smoke

A Newsletter Tracking Senior UN Appointments


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin greets Barbara Woodward UK Ambassador to the UN and Nicolas de Rivière, French Ambassador to the UN.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin with Barbara Woodward, UK ambassador to the UN, and Nicolas de Rivière, French ambassador to the UN, in the Security Council on April 24, 2023, for a Russian-led debate on “effective multilateralism” through defense of the UN Charter.  JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

July 18, 2023

P5 Frenemies

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

Blue Smoke has spent the last couple of months following the biennial General Assembly resolution which guides how senior appointments work, including the selection of the UN Secretary-General. The “Ad Hoc Working Group” has now produced what will probably be its final draft, which is expected to be adopted without a vote at the end of the current General Assembly session, in early September.

Despite the principled leadership of numerous states, particularly members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the text is replete with missed opportunities. The resolution will once again reaffirm that it is entirely inappropriate for certain senior positions to be ring-fenced for nationals from certain states, but as our briefing on this issue made clear, such wording is very weak by historical standards. We understand that much stronger language on this matter was thwarted at the last minute by members of the P5.

Regarding the selection of the next Secretary-General, states not only fluffed the chance to set out a clear timetable but did not even manage to set a start date. As in 2021, attempts to table discussions on the idea of multiple candidates being put to the General Assembly and chosen by secret ballot were also nixed. Again, look no further than the P5 — intent to preserve the Council’s historic role and latitude.

However, we’re pleased to see progress was made on three issues that Blue Smoke has raised. First, states broke new ground by addressing the issue of transparency in campaign financing. The Assembly resolution invites future candidates to “voluntarily disclose any funding sources.” Congratulations to ACT leaders, who we understand were at the forefront of this push. This new convention could reveal which candidates are the best funded, where their money’s coming from and if there are conflicts of interest between funding sources and their planned policy programme. Can money buy the next SG’s agenda? Watch this space.

Second, there is a strong call encouraging states to bear in mind the unbroken chain of male Secretaries-General when nominating candidates for the next term, 2027-2031. This call falls short of explicitly asking states to only consider the nomination of women candidates, but it will strengthen the widely accepted view that no state should be putting forward male candidates next time around.

Lastly, states have added a request for a written update “with details on the process for appointing and electing each of the executive heads.” This means that rather than Blue Smoke having to piece together hearsay and rumour, for the first time the Secretary-General may be compelled to explain how the UN leader decides whom to appoint.

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A remarkable hallmark of the negotiations was the surprising shape of the collaboration along the way. In public, Russia and China frequently trade grave allegations with Britain and the United States. Behind closed doors, the P5 caucus appears to be alive and well. Friendly cooperation and shared positions on axing wording that could puncture their privilege are the order of the day. Despite the French being in lockstep with their P4 colleagues on most of this agenda, in the main they conveniently avoided this awkward huddle since the EU negotiate as a bloc on this portfolio.

Elsewhere: High-Level Posts

A flurry of appointments on the UN Executive Board:

• Just in: The International Maritime Organisation chose a new Secretary-General on 18 July. Arsenio Dominguez of Panama was elected following four rounds of voting by the 40-member IMO Council. The 10th consecutive man to hold the post, Dominguez will begin his term on 1 January 2024, subject to approval from the IMO Assembly. The full results, which came broadly as expected, were not made public by the IMO, who told us they consider it “private” — forcing us to rely on third-party reporting to glean the details. There wasn’t much press interest in this election, but the IMO seemed to be discouraging the little coverage there was, making the only two journalists in attendance stand behind a barrier in the hope of keeping the results secret.

• Qu Dongyu was re-elected, unopposed, as Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Directors-General tend to get second terms, but Iraq and Tajikistan had put forward candidates to run against him before both dropped out. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Blue Smoke briefing looking into this election.

• PassBlue previously reported on the contentious election at the International Organisation of Migration, essentially a straight battle between two unfair conventions: the first that the Director General should always be an American, and the second that the Director General should always get a second term. António Vitorino, a Portuguese who took advantage of the controversy of the Trump Presidency to become the first non-American elected to the role in 50 years, was standing against his deputy, the American Amy Pope. Pope won the first round on a 98-67 vote, which was a clear lead but not the two-thirds majority required. But Vitorino dropped out, so Pope was elected.

• The World Meteorological Organisation also held an election, although it is difficult to find out much about it. We know that Celeste Saulo, an Argentine, won the required two-thirds majority on the first round in what was reported as a “landslide“ — becoming the first woman in the role. But we don’t know how many votes she got, or who the other candidates were. At least three others were standing at one stage.

• We still have no official word on the timelines of appointment and potential reappointment of senior Under-Secretary-Generals Rosemary DiCarlo (an American) or Vladimir Voronkov (Russian; see previous Blue Smokes), but we did have an anonymous but credible-seeming tip that DiCarlo had her contract extended at some point in 2022 and it is due to expire in May 2024.

• Eyebrows have been raised following the announcement that George Okoth-Obbo is stepping down from his role as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, effective 7 August 2023. Okoth-Obbo began this notoriously challenging role only in February 2022. We will continue to follow this change. Please get in touch via our tip line if you know what’s going on:

Coming Soon

• Our principles: In the run-up to the General Assembly’s High-Level week, beginning 24 September, Blue Smoke will send an open letter to all member states at the gathering asking them to uphold 10 simple principles in their approach to senior positions at the UN. Dozens of international nongovernmental organisations have already signed this letter, including Civicus, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Service for Human Rights. Do you work for an NGO that might like to join the campaign? Email us at

See You in September

Blue Smoke will take a break in August but, funding allowing, we shall return in September to report on the latest senior appointments prior to the General Assembly’s big week.

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 would love your thoughts. Please comment:

Blue Smoke: P5 Frenemies
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Blue Smoke is a joint project coordinated by the United Nations Association–UK and delivered in media partnership with PassBlue. Visit the Blue Smoke website to find out more.

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The United Nations Association–UK (UNA–UK) is UK’s foremost advocate for action at the UN; the UK’s leading source of analysis on the UN; and a vibrant grassroots movement of 20,000 people from all walks of life.


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