Reform of U.N. should start with the new secretary-general

Oct. 24 will be United Nations Day, a date chosen in 1948 to mark the anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations

After the end of the Second World War your editor’s father, Dr. C.G. McNeill, set up and administered a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNNRA) refugee camp and hospital for 60,000 Polish displaced persons at Fallingbostel in Germany.

He never spoke much about his experience but it must have been difficult at times.

Fallingbostel is just a few kilometers from the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Following his return to Canada he maintained his interest in the United Nations.

He had several books about the organization and subscribed to the UNESCO Courier magazine for many years.

Oct. 24 will be United Nations Day, a date chosen by the UN general assembly in 1948 to mark the anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations. The day, “… shall be devoted to making known to the peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations and to gaining their support for” its work.

The United Nations is not very popular with some people nowadays but following the Second World War it was seen as essential in helping to clean up the mess created by many years of carnage and chaos.

The most important decision the United Nations will take during 2016 will likely be choosing a new secretary-general to replace Ban Ki-moon, whose term ends at the end of next year.

As the name of the organization, One for 7 Billion, implies, this is an important job – one of the most important, if not the most important in the world.

The secretary-general of the United Nations really does, or should, speak for all 7 billion people on this planet.

However, as the website points out, the selection process used to pick the secretary-general is secretive and outdated.

Although the appointment is supposedly made by the general assembly, in reality the five permanent members of the security council effectively control who does or does not get the job.

Former High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson has described the current selection process as “… weak, opaque and, perhaps, even irrational.”

It wasn’t always so. According to a recent Security Council research report, Appointing the Secretary-General, during its very first session in 1946 the general assembly took the lead in the selection process, including terms and conditions of employment, length of term, possibility of reappointment, and appointment process.

In 1950 the general assembly went ahead and re-appointed Trygve Lie without a recommendation from the security council.

Since then, however, the general assembly has generally taken a more passive role.

That needs to change. The United Nations must become more democratic so that it has the authority it needs to tackle the world’s growing problems.

Reforming how the secretary-general is chosen would be a good first step.


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