- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

NEW YORK - A secret Cabinet convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will select the new U.N. high commissioner for human rights in the next few weeks.

In fact, the process is so closely guarded that U.N. officials, diplomats, human rights advocates and nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives say they do not know who is on the selection team to find Louise Arbour’s successor, how many people are involved with the process, or when they will come up with a name.

“We didn’t expect anything quite like this,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “The NGOs have appealed for a transparent process, and they promised to consult with us. But what we see is a closed-door process that doesn’t inspire confidence.”

The “black box committee,” as one senior U.N. official called it, is necessary because Mr. Ban wants to protect its members from the extreme pressures applied by governments with a stake in the outcome.

“He knows what an important appointment this is, and he knows how much some member states really want their candidate, [or] don’t want another one,” said the adviser, stressing that the widespread disappointment with the independent Human Rights Council has made the issue even more contentious these day.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro has been named as the head of the search committee, whose members include Mr. Ban, his close adviser Kim Won-soo, and chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, according to officials.

Ms. Arbour, the respected Canadian judge and former prosecutor for both U.N. international tribunals, will step down when her four-year term expires at the end of June. The outspoken advocate - who managed to vex nearly every member state on some element of its rights record - chose to step down after a single term.

No shortlist of candidates has been issued, but the names most commonly floated as having been interviewed by the committee, either in person or by teleconference, include: Adama Dieng of Senegal, former registrar for the U.N. Rwandan tribunal; Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, former chief justice for the Rwanda tribunal; Pierre Sane of Senegal and Irene Khan of Bangladesh - respectively, the former and current heads of Amnesty International; Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, a former president of the Human Rights Council; Frances Deng of Sudan, a refugee expert who heads the U.N. office for the prevention of genocide; and Juan Mendez of Argentina, who held the genocide post before him.

Interestingly, the unofficial list contains no former world leaders, and is heavy on U.N. staff and alumni.

The Geneva-based U.N. high commissioner for human rights is by far the most difficult diplomatic job in the canon of U.N. positions.

Not only does it require challenging governments to uphold or aspire to basic human rights, but it also requires routine interaction with the independent Human Rights Council, an oft-maligned group that many nations say protects violators far more often than it censures them.

The job description, circulated to governments by Mr. Ban on March 28, lays out the kind of posting that would attract former world leaders, well-known human rights advocates and other high-profile candidates.

“I believe the new High Commissioner must be a person of unimpeachable personal and professional integrity, with strong diplomatic and political skills,” Mr. Ban wrote.

“He or she must be able to provide strong leadership to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and advocacy for the respect of human rights worldwide, before member states, both developed and developing, and in international fora, both intergovernmental and nongovernmental. He or she will need vision, and must be good at working with people of diverse backgrounds and opinions, not only within OHCHR and the wider UN system, but also in civil society organizations and governments worldwide, so as to lead the overall global effort to protect and promote human rights,” Mr. Ban wrote.

Mr. Ban further seeks a candidate with management skills, imagination and fluency in French or English.

The secrecy of the selection process will extend to the 20 or so candidates who were submitted for consideration: no shortlist will be published, to the consternation of those would like to see a more transparent selection process. Those who run, it is said, would not like it to be known they didn’t win.

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