Criticism of UN rights chief search process ‘absurd’: Secretary-General spokesperson
Criticism of UN rights chief search process ‘absurd’: Secretary-General spokesperson

[JURIST] A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] Tuesday defended [UN press brief] the UN's process for choosing a new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The current Commissioner, Louise Arbour [official profile], announced [JURIST report] in March that she would not seek a second term and plans to step down on June 30, but many have strongly criticized the selection process for her successor due to an alleged lack of transparency. At a daily UN press briefing, Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, commented:

The idea circulated by some that the process represents some kind of cosy insider deal is absurd and even offensive. The Secretary-General’s objective is to identify the best qualified candidate who can enjoy the broadest possible support from all stakeholders. We have consulted widely with every group and constituency represented at the UN — UN Member States, NGOs and human rights groups. We have followed standard procedures for senior appointments made by the Secretary-General. Our goal from the outset was to establish clear and vigorous standards timelines and a list of candidates from the widest possible pool. This was done by soliciting nominations from Member States, complemented by the Secretary-General’s own research efforts and nominations received from other sources, including international NGOs and human rights organizations. Recently, the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet met with representatives of the human rights community to discuss various aspects relating to this critical appointment. We will continue these consultations.

Following a thorough review process, a shortlist of candidates has been drawn up. All have been interviewed by a panel of senior officials in accordance with procedures governing senior appointments made by the Secretary-General. The names of the shortlisted candidates have not been made public to protect their right to privacy. The Secretary-General will interview the finalists before making his final decision prior to sending his nomination to the General Assembly.

Supporters of the process contend that keeping the shortlist confidential will prevent UN Member States from increasing lobbying efforts and unfairly influencing the selection. Reuters has more.

Critics of the process have called for public scrutiny of potential candidates and increased autonomy for the position. In March, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] issued an open letter [full text] asking the UN Secretary-General to release the UN's list of qualifications for the position, and specifically requested that the shortlist of candidates be made public. Advocacy group [advocacy website; selection process blog] posted a recruitment ad [PDF, New York Times report] on the website of The Economist Monday, calling for an individual "independent of governmental pressure" and of the "highest moral standing" to apply for the position.