June 10, 2008 / 7:27 PM / in 11 years

U.N. defends selection process for rights chief

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations rejected on Tuesday as “absurd” and “offensive” allegations that it was being secretive in selecting a successor to its outspoken human rights chief, Louise Arbour.

Outgoing United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Louise Arbour of Canada gestures during an interview with Reuters in Geneva June 10, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Arbour, a Canadian, announced in March that she would not seek a second four-year term as Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights after her current term expires on June 30.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said the world body was following standard procedures to find the best successor from the widest range of candidates.

“The idea, circulated by some, that the process represents some kind of cozy insider deal is absurd, even offensive,” Okabe told a regular news briefing.

Unauthorized by the United Nations, advocacy group Avaaz.org, which says it combats decision-making by “political elites and unaccountable corporations,” posted a recruitment advertisement for the job last Friday in the British-based magazine The Economist.

“There needs to be far more transparency and public input into these top appointments, so that a successful candidate, as well as vetoes of potential candidates, must stand the test of public scrutiny,” said Avaaz executive director Ricken Patel.

But Okabe said the aim of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been “to identify the best qualified candidate who can enjoy the broadest possible support from all stakeholders.”


Nominations had been sought from U.N. member states as well as from Ban’s own research and from other sources including international non-governmental organizations and rights groups, she said.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and Ban’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar met a week ago with human rights representatives to discuss the appointment, Okabe added.

A short list of candidates has been interviewed by senior U.N. officials but Ban will make the final choice, although that must be approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

Okabe refused to reveal the short-listed names, but the Avaaz Web site suggested this week the three top contenders were Francis Deng of Sudan, a special adviser to Ban on prevention of genocide; South African judge Navanethem Pillay; and Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico’s permanent representative to the U.N. office in Geneva.

Another name that has been mentioned is that of Irene Khan, secretary general of rights group Amnesty International.

The high commissioner’s job is one of the most high-profile and politically controversial in the United Nations. Arbour’s views have angered some Islamic and African countries on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, although she has also criticized Israeli and U.S. policies.

Some countries on the 47-nation council, which has been accused by Western critics of spending a disproportionate amount of time castigating Israel, would like to have the commissioner answerable to the council rather than to Ban.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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