Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

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Nov. 26, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon will be pressed by both member states and the international aid community to appoint a successor to Valerie Amos as head of OCHA based on merit and not, as has been his precedent, to give the post to a major power.

Amos, the well-liked, hard-working and longest-serving UN aid chief, has overseen the 1,900 person OCHA office at a time of multiple humanitarian emergencies, which, since her appointment in Sept. 2010, includes crises in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. She will step down in March 2015, her office said on Wednesday.

Amos is the second UK national to head the OCHA since it was founded by merging two separate offices in 1992. She succeeded John Holmes, another UK diplomat, who served from 2007-10. Britain, as is common with its fellow P5 members, typically has one of its own in a key UN cabinet post. In recent years, UK diplomats have served as head of the UNDP and the Dept. of Political Affairs, which is now headed by an American, Jeffery Feltman. The US also gets control of UNICEF, currently headed by former US national security adviser, Tony Lake.

A French national has headed the UN’s Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations since 1997, after then chief, Kofi Annan, was appointed secretary-general. India, the largest troop-contributing country, covets the post. China’s Margaret Chan heads up the World Health Organization while a Russian, Yury Fedotov, is head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

With NGO’s calling for a more transparent process for selecting the next secretary-general, Ban will be under pressure to show he has an independent streak and is not merely doing the bidding of the big powers. To do this, he will have to select candidates based on their previous humanitarian and leadership experience and make the short-list public.

The appointment of the world’s top humanitarian official will come at a key time, just a year before the World Humanitarian Summit which aims to find new ways to address the growing number of humanitarian crises. Earlier this year, MSF published a withering critique of the global humanitarian response and said the UN was at the heart of the dysfunctional response.

Previous heads of OCHA:

1 Jan Eliasson Sweden Sweden 1992 1994
2 Peter Hansen Denmark Denmark 1994 1996
3 Yasushi Akashi Japan Japan 1996 1998
4 Sérgio Vieira de Mello Brazil Brazil 1998 January 2001
5 Kenzo Oshima Japan Japan January 2001 June 2003
6 Jan Egeland Norway Norway June 2003 December 2006
7 John Holmes United Kingdom United Kingdom January 2007 September 2010
8 Valerie Amos United Kingdom United Kingdom September 2010 present

Related Story: Four Insiders Who Could Succeed Valerie Amos as Head of OCHA

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo