- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NEW YORK | The office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday lashed out at advocacy groups complaining that he is choosing the next U.N. human rights advocate in secret.

“The idea, circulated by some, that the process represents some sort of cozy inside deal is absurd, even offensive,” said spokeswoman Marie Okabe, reading a hastily drafted statement from Mr. Ban’s office.

“The United Nations has consulted widely with every group and constituency represented at the United Nations, including member states, nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups.” The current high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour of Canada, is stepping down when her four-year term expires at the end of June.

Mr. Ban sent a letter to member states at the end of March soliciting their candidates for the post, one of the most delicate in the whole U.N. system. Mr. Ban’s office has refused to release the names of those serving on the search committee to select the next high commissioner for human rights, prompting one online advocacy organization to post a fake help-wanted ad in this week’s Economist magazine in protest.

U.N. officials say the secrecy is important to “protect” the decision-makers from political pressures.

Previous secretaries general have rarely had such qualms.

Several nongovernment organizations that deal regularly in civil liberties and political rights say they cannot trust a selection process they do not understand.

Diplomats, some of whom claim to have seen a short list, are of several minds. Some say they trust Mr. Ban to select Ms. Arbour’s successor, as that is part of the secretary-general’s job. Others say they wish they were consulted earlier in the process.

“At some point, I believe member states should be consulted so that they can have input, a chance to influence the decision,” U.N. General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, who has not been included in the process, told The Washington Times.

“Often there are consultations, informal consultations, especially on these very delicate issues.”

Either way, Mr. Ban’s office is determined not to make a short list of contenders public as many demand saying that Ms. Arbour’s competitors were not named.

Ms. Okabe acknowledged Mr. Ban will interview the short-list candidates.

“This is for obvious reasons of privacy and is not about alleged transparency issues,” she told reporters.

Mr. Ban’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

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