15 APRIL 2008

The departure of Judge Louise Arbour from the post of U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner leaves in charge someone whom the Secretary General most likely feels is very capable. She was one of a selected few who worked closely with him in Seoul to get elected. Between his selection in October and taking over in January, she was already in place in Geneva. However, there may be some obstacles -- or more accurately, some delaying factors. She may not yet have grown adequately in that job to gain the stature of the High Commissioner; also being a Korean would open too many eyes -- or raise too many eyebrows -- if smoothly appointed.

As has become usual procedure, the Secretary General's office has circulated a letter asking for suggestions to fill the post. It went to a selected number of missions, though not necessarily all. In accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 48/141, which created the post, it is to be filled with special attention to "equitable geographical distribution." As there have already been three from the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean and two from the Group of Western Europe and Others, it may mean that now is the turn for someone from Asia or Africa. A balance would take account of overall number of senior Africans or Asians, either already appointed or in the process of appointment. The young Korean lady, though not necessarily out, does not seem to appear on the two already leaked short lists. That may well be to her advantage.

One list reportedly emanates from the U.N. Secretary General's office prepared for the first meeting of a group of senior staff advising him on the matter. It seemed like an uncoordinated list compiled by junior staff from an Internet search. One of those named had not been consulted and another, a former President of a southern African country, said he was not interested.

Another list is particularly circulated by an African delegation. It includes some Asians (for example, Ms. Hina Jilani, former Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, whose term just concluded). Former President of Mali and former head of the African Union Alfa Omar Konery are also listed. Another African name, that of former Uganda Foreign Minister Olara Otunu, would sound unlikely due to his sudden disappearance from an earlier assignment; yet never count Olara out, he's a survivor. Two Europeans, however, stand out on that seemingly credible list. Swiss Foreign Minister, Ms. Micheline Calmy-Rey and the ever-recurring Dr. Bernard Kuchner, France's current Foreign Minister who in earlier days had expressed keen interest. The prominence of the two European names drove some Non-Governmental Organizations to write letters to the Secretary General calling for a truly transparent process, drawing attention to the need for equitable geographical and cultural rotation.

There are those who speculate that a relatively unknown candidate would be designated soon to display swift action and avert a prolonged campaign. Others, however, are inclined to believe that as a compromise, Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang, current Deputy and former special aide to the former Foreign Minister of South Korea, will be left Acting for a year or so, pending further consideration. The current Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon would not object.