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Blue Smoke

A Newsletter Tracking Senior UN Appointments

There’ll Be a Woman . . . Soon


Vitaly Churkin briefs the UN press corps at the UN in 2016
On Oct. 6, 2016, the United Nations Security Council in a closed meeting unanimously adopted a resolution recommending to the General Assembly the selection of António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and UN high commissioner for refugees, as the next secretary-general. Vitaly Churkin (at lectern), ambassador of Russia and president of the Council that month (now deceased), briefed journalists on the decision. A civil society campaign pushing for a woman secretary-general in the next term, starting in 2027, has begun. UN PHOTO/Eskinder Debebe

That the next Secretary-General of the United Nations must be a woman should be indisputable — after almost 80 years of men occupying the UN’s top job without interruption, it’s long overdue. Encouragingly, political momentum behind the idea that it must be a woman seems near the tipping point beyond which male candidates — and the states who might support them — may hesitate to enter the fray, based on their limited chances and whether putting themselves forward raises questions about their judgement.

But there is no room for complacency, so it is vital that civil society raise their voices against this unbroken male monopoly. This is why, as the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women was just ending (March 22), Blue Smoke was pleased to join 54 NGOs, think tanks and funders signing up to a 1 for 8 Billion open letter calling on states to nominate only women candidates when the vacancy is next contested. That is expected to be in 2025/26. If there is a vacancy before then, it is likely that Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed would take over the role on an ad interim or acting basis. Blue Smoke explored that scenario in this report.

As the appointment draws near, we will be monitoring which states explicitly pledge to support only women candidates, and we’ll be sharing information on possible contenders as rumours circulate.

What’s up?

●  As we’ve mentioned before, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security (DSS) is a unique post in the UN system: It is the only USG Secretariat position exclusively appointed by the Secretary-General, and the length of term is well defined. Whereas the tenure for most other USGs is a baffling secret, the resolution establishing the post of DSS specified that they “shall serve for one non-renewable term not exceeding five years.”

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In 2019, Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Gilles Michaud of Canada for a term ending 30 June 2024.

But this is a pivotal moment for a pivotal role: As attacks on UN officials and institutions grow more lethal, the post-holder must oversee protection of UN premises and senior officials while also providing expertise and leadership to the wider UN Security Management System (UNSMS), which is responsible for the safety of staff across all UN agencies. Guterres therefore aims to extend Michaud’s term by two years, ending in June 2026.

To do so, he needs the approval of the General Assembly. It was discussed at the 60th plenary meeting on 5 March, but Russia raised an objection, saying the process was being rushed. The office of the President of the General Assembly therefore postponed deciding until further consultations could be held.

It’s not clear if Russia is intent on firmly opposing the reappointment. Their objection was preceded by effusive praise for Mr. Michaud, suggesting that it is perhaps just a procedural matter. But this cannot be assumed.

●  The Secretary-General has appointed an Independent Review Group to assess the neutrality of the UN Relief and Works Agency after allegations were made but not yet substantiated by Israel that 12 members of UNRWA participated in the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Catherine Colonna, a former foreign affairs minister of France, is leading the review with the support of three Scandinavian research institutes: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund, Sweden; the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway; and the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen. The interim report was recently finished, and the final report is due to be made public on 20 April.

●  The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) reappointed Juan Carlos Salazar of Colombia as Secretary-General for a second three-year term. Only one Secretary-General in the organisation’s history has served one term, so Salazar’s reappointment was scarcely surprising.

●  The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is appointed by a complex process similar to that of the World Bank — which Blue Smoke has covered in depth. The largest shareholders at the World Bank and IMF have an informal agreement that the head of the Bank will always be American and the head of the IMF, European. Their votes are then sufficient to all but guarantee that this control continues. Therefore, the announcement from EU shareholders that they will support incumbent Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva (of Bulgaria) getting a second term when her current one expires in October, makes this fairly certain. Action Aid have described this arrangement as “a slap in the face of efforts to make the institution more representative” and have called for a transparent, merit-based process involving lower-income economies.

●  Two vacancies we previously reported have been filled: Mô Bleeker (of Switzerland) becomes Special Adviser on Responsibility to Protect, a role which had been vacant for more than seven months; and Najla Nassif Palma (of Brazil) becomes Victims’ Rights Advocate.

●  The UN is also recruiting junior staff to work in its new Anti Racism Office which will be “located in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy, and Compliance (DMSPC . . . under the oversight of Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, and the substantive leadership of Mojankunyane Gumbi, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on addressing racism in the workplace.” Gumbi is South African.

●  The Security Council controls the appointment of panels of experts who oversee the implementation of Council sanctions. One panel has hit the news recently, after Russia apparently threatened to veto its renewal: the panel of experts charged with monitoring North Korea sanctions. The vote has been postponed until next week.

●  Just as we were going to press, the Commission on the Status of Women was deciding its next Chair. Since Saudi Arabia was the only candidate, it is expected to be appointed without a vote, although human rights organisations are calling for states to step up and block the plan. When Saudi Arabia became a member of the Commission in 2017, Blue Smoke partner UNA-UK wrote a briefing describing the strengths and weaknesses of the regional rotation system that enables this process to happen.

What else are we doing?

Plataforma CIPÓ have just authored a paper: Strengthening Citizen Participation in Global Governance, in coordination with the UN Foundation, Iswe, Southern Voice and Blue Smoke. Amidst several suggestions on how to strengthen the voice of citizens at the UN, the paper stresses the need for “inclusive, merit-based and transparent process for appointing the Secretary-General and other senior UN leaders” as the starting point.

As the paper points out: “Civil society can assist the UN by shedding light on the reasons behind recruitment decisions and the nature of the competing interests of states and other stakeholders who seek to influence appointments at the expense of the UN’s independence.” And here we are!


Do you know something more about who is in the running for any of these posts? Or information about 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.


●  Do you work for an NGO that might like to endorse the Blue Smoke principles? Email us at

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There’ll Be a Woman . . . Soon
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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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