Helen Clark to Announce Candidacy in Race for Next UN Secretary-General

April 4, 2016 – The much anticipated announcement of Helen Clark’s bid to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations will come on Monday with the former New Zealand prime minister and current head of the UN Development Program set to become the eight candidate for the post.

Clark will be the second Western candidate, after Portugal’s Antonio Guterres, and the fourth woman to enter the race. The New Zealand government have called a press conference for 9am NZ time while Wellington’s UN mission will hold a presser along with Clark at 5.30PM ET Monday in New York.

She is seen as the favored candidate of the P3 – Britain, France and the United States – but New Zealand had stalled on nominating her. Asked in late 2014 about a potential Clark candidacy, a source close to New Zealand’s United Nations mission told UN Tribune that Wellington was supportive of the view that it was Eastern Europe’s turn to nominate a candidate. Clark would be the fourth secretary-general to come from the Western Europe and Others UN regional group but the first from outside Europe.

No other regional group has had more than two secretaries-general while none of the previous eight have come from Eastern Europe. Although the UN Charter says nothing about regional rotation, it has been an established practice for selecting secretaries-general and was codified in a 1997 General Assembly resolution.

Clark was sworn in as administrator of the UN Development Program in 2009 and is currently serving her second term having been re-appointed in 2013.

The United States is believed to particularly favor Clark as a result of the cost-cutting measures she has undertaken at UNDP, including cutting staff. As New Zealand’s prime minister, she also sent troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led international coalition. Clark did not send troops to Iraq. Although not a member of the alliance, as prime minister Clark signed an agreement to share classified information with NATO.

Her bid to become the ninth UN secretary-general, and first woman to hold the post, comes barely a week before candidates are scheduled for their first set of interviews with the UN General Assembly. The General Assembly, with the support of civil society, has been trying to wrestle away some control of the procedure for selecting the secretary-general from the Security Council but the permanent five members still retain veto over selecting the next UN chief.

Russia has said it favors an Eastern European woman for the post while the P3 have at various stages each said they support a woman taking the reins. It is understood that besides Clark, the P3 were keen to see Ban Ki-moon’s former chief of staff, and current Argentine Foreign Minister, Susana Malcorra, along with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, a former head of UN Women, enter the race too. Neither have announced bids and seem unlikely to do so in the next week.

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That Clark hails from the Global South is sure to stand in her favor but whether Russia will support her bid is quite another matter. Some UN member states may also argue that as Queen Elizabeth II is New Zealand’s official head of state, as a member of the Commonwealth, that this violates the understanding that a secretary-general cannot hail from one of the Security Council’s permanent five member states.

Ghana, where the seventh secretary-general, Kofi Annan, hails from, is also a member of the Commonwealth, but its 1960 constitution decrees that the president replaces the British monarch as head of state.

Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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EU, US, Kuwait top Donors at Syria Pledging Conference

Ban Ki-moon and Kuwait FM Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a press conference following the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria (UN Photo)

Ban Ki-moon and Kuwait FM Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a press conference following the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria (UN Photo)

Kuwait City, March 31, 2015 –  A total of $3.8 billion was promised to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation for Syrians at the Third Humanitarian Pledging Conference for the country, more than double the combined amount committed at the previous two donor conferences for Syria.

The European Union and its member states pledged a total of $1.2 billion while the United States, $507 million, and hosts Kuwait, $500 million, were the top donors.

Also among the biggest to promise aid were the UAE, $100 million, and Saudi Arabia, $60 million. “While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” outgoing UN aid chief Valerie Amos said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has not yet released a final tally of all donors, saying it had to first convert from money pledged in national currencies into dollars, the currency used by the United Nations when releasing figures. [full list of pledges now available]

The conflict in Syria has killed an estimated 200,000 people while a further one million have been injured since 2011.

Amos told UN Tribune that “despite the considerable amount of work that we have been able to do, the huge toll that the people of Syria have had to take is a poor reflection on the international community.

“I think the fact that we have not been able to find a political solution to this crisis, that the violence has escalated rather than deescalated is something I view with a huge amount of regret and I will continue to do what I can as a private citizen to help and support the Syrian people,” she said.

This was the first of the three Syria donors conferences where the UN Development Program was principally involved along the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “I think it’s widely acknowledged now that a purely humanitarian response cannot do the job,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark told UN Tribune.

“We need more sustainable solutions. Those solutions are real investment in livelihoods, jobs, training, basic community infrastructure and services and keeping community tolerance of newcomers coming in. These are development tasks and now there’s wide awareness that this must be invested in.”

Speaking after the conference, Ban Ki-moon told reporters of his “deep anger against Syrian leaders who have been abandoning their own people.”

“The best humanitarian solution to end the suffering is a political solution to end the war,” Ban said. “It is time to forge an inclusive, Syrian-led political transition based on the Geneva Communique and which meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UNDP Inks Agreement With Controversial John McCain Institute

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Feb. 4, 2015 – The United Nations Development Program has signed a formal agreement with the controversial International Republican Institute (IRI) whose chairman since 1993 is John McCain. The IRI is considered by many as the foreign policy wing of the Republican Party.

It was established by former United States president Ronald Regan in 1983 as a response to a ban by previous president Jimmy Carter on CIA funding of individuals, political parties and non-governmental organizations favorable to US interests.

The mission of the IRI, which is funded by the US Congress, is to promote democracy and freedom and it is primarily involved in supporting and monitoring elections but it has also been accused of undermining democracy in Haiti, Venezuela and Honduras.

The UNDP said the memorandum of understanding it signed with the IRI on Tuesday “will strengthen the partnership and facilitate better coordination between UNDP and IRI in assisting countries to strengthen democratic governance systems and processes and achieve peaceful settlement of disputes.”

The UNDP is the development-arm of the United Nations and has an annual budget of some $5 billion. Its current administrator is former New Zealand PM Helen Clark. Clark is tipped as a potential next UN secretary-general and, if she decides to announce her candidacy, will need the support of the Republican-controlled US Congress to get the post. The United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a veto on the secretary-general nomination.

Republicans have called for cuts in US support to the United Nations and its specialized agencies and last month a Republican senator, Rand Paul, said he would be “happy to dissolve” the UN.

The IRI’s current president, Mark Green, is a former congressman from Wisconsin. He supported a number of votes when in congress to decrease funding for the United Nations.

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz