You are here: Campaign to get the best human rights chief

This page is part of our campaign to find the best High Commissioner for Human Rights. Back to the campaign hub.

Our campaign will:

  • address the highly politicised context through civil society pressure on states to support the Secretary-General in finding and appointing the best possible candidate from a diverse and experienced field
  • monitor and report on the process as it unfolds using a ‘transparency’ checklist based on best practice from across the UN system
  • work with UNA-UK's large civil society network to raise awareness of the call for nominations and encourage partners to lobby their governments on the importance of a merit-based appointment
  • facilitate public participation and debate on the demands and priorities of this role
  • provide a campaign hub which aggregates the strands mentioned above as well as expert commentary and resources on the appointment

Watch this space for more information, and our transparency checklist.

Why should I care?

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is one of the most important jobs in the world.  As the principal human rights official of the United Nations, the postholder is tasked with promoting and protecting all human rights for everyone, everywhere. At a time when human rights are under attack across the world, including in some of the most powerful countries, she or he is at the forefront of defending the international community’s commitment to the universal idea of human dignity.

The vastness of the responsibilities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is at odds with its extremely constrained budget. It receives just 3.7% of the UN’s core budget – roughly $200m – and has secured only $5.7m in voluntary funding in 2018. Much of the office’s impact, therefore, comes from the HCHR’s role as a strong advocate and effective diplomat for the protection of human rights and human rights defenders.

This appointment matters hugely. A thorough, inclusive process will produce a stronger field of candidates and increase the chance of finding the best possible person for this impossibly challenging job. Transparency is vital: the future postholder’s credibility and mandate will be strengthened if it is clear that they have come through a thorough a competitive and meritocratic recruitment process.

The challenges we want to address

A highly politicised context
This appointment is taking place at an immensely challenging time. Human rights abuses are on the rise across the world, and repressive leaders have been emboldened. Traditional supporters of rights appear to be in retreat at the UN, while defenders are attacked on the ground. The UN’s human rights work, meanwhile, is being undermined - publicly and behind the scenes.

Against a broader backdrop of fraught international relations, there is a serious risk that UN member states will not give this appointment sufficient attention, or worse, that they will seek to block good candidates.

  • Building on the success of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, which transformed the UN Secretary-General selection process, UNA-UK will work with partners to build pressure on states to support the Secretary-General in finding and appointing the best possible candidate from a diverse and experienced field.

Short timeframe
With less than three months’ until the postholder is to assume office (1 September 2018), there is concern that the short timeframe will not allow for a rigorous selection process.

Using a ‘transparency’ checklist based on best practice from across the UN system, UNA-UK will monitor and report on the process as it unfolds.

A narrow, lacklustre field
States, particularly powerful countries, exert enormous pressure on the Secretary-General in relation to senior appointments, and this one is likely to prove particularly contentious, with states backing candidates who will be less likely to speak truth to power.

We applaud the Secretary-General’s decision to issue an explicit call inviting nominations from civil society, which will help to ensure a broader pool of candidates. Yet this call will not be effective unless it is widely publicised, and not just to the usual NGO suspects.

  • UNA-UK will work with partners to circulate information on the post and the appointment process to a wide international audience. We will also encourage these partners to lobby their governments on the importance of a merit-based appointment.

Lack of public awareness
Millions of people around the world look to the High Commissioner to serve as their advocate. But hardly anyone is aware that this crucial appointment is taking place, much less how they might be able to engage with it.

  • UNA-UK will work with partners to communicate the importance of the appointment, to create a hub for information relating to the process, and to stimulate debate on the appointment.

Public participation
Candidate debates were a key part of UNA-UK's 1 for 7 Billion campaign to improve the Secretary-General selection process. However, we do not believe this is appropriate for the High Commissioner appointment, given the challenging context and the fact that this appointment is made by the Secretary-General, although the General Assembly has a role in confirming it. As such, candidates will not be made public through the official process. We know from previous processes though, that names do become public and this is likely to happen again. Indeed, there is already speculation on potential candidates.

  • UNA-UK will seek to collate and source this information on our website, but we will place emphasis on public participation in relation to discussing the demands and priorities of this role.