By Erol Avdovic
Note: Erol Avdovic is Managing editor at WebPublicaPress Online Magazine in New York, which carried this article originally. It is being reproduced by arrangement with them.
UNITED NATIONS (IDN-INPS) – Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is a well-recognized analyst of the United Nations and for many years the champion for sustainable peace and development. He is a former Under-Secretary-General (USG) and High Representative of the UN. Chaowdhury was Chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) Committee in 1997-1998, approving UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s first reform budget.
Among other important UN duties, like being Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001), he was an Initiator of Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality.
The UN Security Council resolution (S/RES/1325) on women, peace and security, adopted in October 2000, is considered to be a benchmark one. It reaffirms the important role of women and urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations system.
At the very beginning of our conversation Ambassador Chowdhury did not hide his disappointment that the new UN Secretary-General will not be a women. Despite the highly qualified seven women candidates in the UN Secretary General selection process in 2016, to succeed Ban Ki-moon at the leading UN position, neither obtained full backing of the UN Security Council.
The interview begins with the question, whether this is all the more the reason that a Deputy to the new UN Secretary-General (SG) Antonio Guterres is a woman.
Q: It looks like everybody at the UN system were paying lips service to the idea for the first woman as a UN SG. Should the new Deputy Secretary- General (DSG) be a woman and perhaps from Eastern Europe according to the geographical order that was put as a criteria, but was is not followed strictly?
A: The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates for SG would get the post as Deputy Secretary-General as part of the deal surrounding the new SG. This, however, is not a big deal as we already had two women DSGs in the past. It should also be remembered that when the DSG’s post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly – when I was chairing its Administrative and Budgetary Committee – the understanding was that if the SG is from an industrialized country, the DSG would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the SG is a man, the DSG would be a woman – though no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years. Mention is also being made for a woman from Africa for the DSG post. Politics will decide who is appointed finally to that post.
Q: Why is there only a small number of women among UN permanent representatives and in the United Nations administration? What should be done for more gender equality?
A: A simple and direct answer to that question is: it is due mainly to a high degree of insensitivity to women’s equality of participation at all decision-making levels. Both Member States and the UN system as a whole are giving lip service to this matter without effectively ensuring the equality objectives as adopted by all UN bodies, particularly the General Assembly and Security Council whose decisions are to be accepted and carried out according to the UN Charter. We all know how foot-dragging continues undermining the full and effective implementation of the UNSCR 1325 for women’s equality of participation at all levels.
Q: The number of women in crucial positions is certainly not in accordance to the well-proclaimed gender equity; men continue to rule the world. Can the new UN Secretary-General change this?
A: There are only about 35 women Permanent Representatives to the UN – from among 193 Member States. This paltry number can be changed in a big way if Member States decide to appoint woman Ambassadors in increasing numbers. That decision lies solely in the hands of the appointing governments. This is one action the Member States can take unilaterally for the world’s most important multilateral body.
In terms of gender equality, now that a new helmsman of the UN will be in charge from 1 January 2017, a sea change is possible to set the long-entrenched inequality against women rights. This can be done if the new SG announces a real 50-50 gender balance at the level of USGs and ASGs (Assistant Secretary-Generals) by clearly laying down an implementable time-bound plan in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.
Out-dated personnel policy
Q: Will a personnel policy in which decisions are taken behind closed doors ever succeed in changing the UN culture? What needs to be done to turn this around, especially when it comes to “women issues”?
A: I believe politics always trumps women’s equality agenda, violating UN Charter’s Article 8, which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all organs of the world body – principal or subsidiary. The true realization of this objective of the Charter should begin by enforcing this fundamental policy from top down – from the SG all the way down to junior-most professional levels.
Q: Looks like men and national politics in general rule the world. But, why is the proclaimed sprit of the United Nations – We the People – not being respected more?
It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 (five permanent members of the Security Council) and big contributors to the UN budget. What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating Article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization”. The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did.
Q: So, how can Mr Guterres, the new UN Secretary General, avoid that negative trend in recruitment policy?
A: One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the SG some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the SG will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.
A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.
Q: What about the reforms? It looks like they are also influenced by the national politics of Member States and not driven by the common agenda?
A: No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process at the senior management or other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms. The determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new SG will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.
Credit to Ban Ki-moon
Q: How do you evaluate the personnel appointment policy of outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon? What did he miss to do to change all this a in different direction?
A: To give SG Ban his due: I would give him credit for appointing a number of women USGs and ASGs, which are commonly known as political appointments. But, unfortunately this positive trend could not be retained in the real sense. Some of his later appointments replaced the departing woman incumbents by men. So he earns the praise for appointing a good number of women in senior posts but his subsequent appointments undermined that expanded presence of women at the leadership levels of UN.
Q: We hear that Amina Mohammed*, the Environment Minister of Nigeria, and a well-know UN figure – will become the new UN Deputy Secretary-General. What would you say about this selection?
A: Amina is very good and very outspoken. I hope she will represent not only herself or the SG but half of the humanity (50 percent of world’s population is female). We look forward for her to play a major role as the major woman player at the UN system.
*Amina Mohammed was described as a key player in the Post- 2015 development agenda, and is also the Special Adviser to the current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. [IDN-INPS – 13 December 2016]
Photo: Anwarul Chowdhury, addresses the UN Youth Assembly. 07 August 2013 (UN Photo/Evan Schneide)
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