On 31 May 2018, UN Secretary General, in his remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York at the adoption of the resolution on repositioning the UN development system stated, “The resolution you adopt today ushers in the most ambitious and comprehensive transformation of the UN development system in decades. It sets the foundation to reposition sustainable development at the heart of the United Nations.” The UNSG went on to add, “I will move immediately to put in place a transition team under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary General to implement your decisions. This team will work in the same open, transparent and inclusive way we have conducted this process thus far and ensure the inclusion of our funds, programmes and specialized agencies.” Why did the UNSG vest the important task of reform of the UN development system in the Deputy Secretary General? More fundamentally, what is this office and what is its background? This article looks into twenty years of the role and impact of the UN Deputy Secretary General in promoting reforms of the organization and also shares some thoughts on the way forward for this institution.
The institution of the UN Deputy Secretary General is not mentioned in the UN Charter. Twenty years ago, on 2 March 1998, Canadian national, Louise Fréchette was appointed as the first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations [DSG] by then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and remained at her post until 31 March 2006. The post of DSG was established by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/RES/52/21 B dated 9 January 1998.
The responsibilities of the DSG, by terms of the GA resolution, were those “delegated by the Secretary General…” and included the following five broad categories:
To assist the Secretary-General in managing the operations of the Secretariat;
To act for the Secretary-General at United Nations Headquarters in the absence of the Secretary-General and in other cases as may be decided by the Secretary-General;
To support the Secretary-General in ensuring intersectoral and inter-institutional coherence of activities and programmes and to support the Secretary-General in elevating the profile and leadership of the United Nations in the economic and social spheres, including further efforts to strengthen the United Nations as a leading centre for development policy and development assistance;
To represent the Secretary-General at conferences, official functions and ceremonial and other occasions as may be decided by the Secretary-General;
To undertake such assignments as may be determined by the Secretary-General;
The same GA resolution also further noted “…that the Secretary-General will appoint the Deputy Secretary-General following consultations with Member States and in accordance with Article 101 of the Charter of the United Nations and that the term of office of the Deputy Secretary-General will not exceed that of the Secretary-General.”
Distinguished diplomats and international civil servants
According to the information sheet about Louise Fréchette, the UN website observes, “As Deputy Secretary-General, Ms. Fréchette assisted the Secretary-General in the full range of his responsibilities and also represented the United Nations at conferences and official functions. She chaired the Steering Committee on Reform and Management Policy and the Advisory Board of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), which handles relations with the foundation set up by Ted Turner in support of the United Nations.”. Since 31 March 2006, there have been four DSGs including the serving Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, a Nigerian national who took charge on 28 February 2017. Louise Fréchette was succeeded by British national Mark Malloch Brown on 3 March 2006 (and remained till December 2006). Tanzanian national, Asha-Rose Migiro was the third DSG to be appointed and took office on 1 February 2007. She remained in her post until the end of June 2012. Jan Eliasson of Sweden was the fourth Deputy Secretary-General to be appointed and took office on 1 July 2012 until the end of December 2016. Invariably, all DSGs have come to their jobs after substantial UN and diplomatic experience. Before joining the United Nations, Ms. Louise Fréchette was the Deputy Minister of National Defence of Canada from 1995 to 1998. Prior to that, she was Associate Deputy Minister in her country’s Department of Finance. She served as Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations from 1992 to 1995. The shortest serving DSG, Mark Malloch Brown served as Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General since January 2005 and before that served as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN’s global development network, from July 1999 to August 2005. The third DSG, Dr. Migiro served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation from 2006-2007, the first woman in the United Republic of Tanzania to hold that position since its independence in 1961. Before that, she was Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for five years. Dr. Migiro’s successor as DSG, Mr. Jan Eliasson was from 2007-2008 the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Darfur. He was Sweden’s Ambassador to the US from September 2000 until July 2005. Most recently, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed was Minister of Environment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from November 2015 to December 2016 and prior to this, she served as Special Adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning.
Supporting the UN Secretary General in reforms
The first Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette was actively involved in reforms of the United Nations system. Special mention may be made of the Millenium Summit in the year 2000, when world leaders congregated at the UNGA in New York from 6 to 8 September and adopted the Millennium Declaration which, inter alia, identified the MDGs; resolved to reaffirm the central position of the United Nations General Assembly; intensify efforts for a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects; further strengthen the Economic and Social Council and the International Court of Justice; encourage regular consultations and coordination among the Organization’s principal organs; ensure greater policy coherence and urge the Secretariat to make the best use of resources, which should be provided on a timely and predictable basis. Ms. Louise Fréchette has subsequently also been involved, after demitting office of DSG, in reforms of UN peacekeeping operations. Though he served as DSG only very briefly (March to December 2006), Mark Malloch Brown, had in his position as Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General since January 2005 worked closely with the Secretary-General and the Deputy-Secretary General on all aspects of UN work, including helping to set out an ambitious reform agenda for the United Nations, much of which was endorsed by world leaders at the World Summit in New York in September 2005.
The third DSG, Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro worked on the “Delivering as One” scheme which was launched in 2007 to respond to global challenges and test how the UN can provide more coordinated development assistance in countries that volunteered to become pilot cases – Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Vietnam. In her remarks at the end of the 4th High-level Conference on Delivering as One in Montevideo, Uruguay on 10 November 2011, Dr. Migiro said that the initiative had empowered UN Resident Coordinators and country teams, noting the that coordinators now had greater role in helping articulate programmes and allocate resources around national priorities. “We must forge ahead with strengthening the Resident Coordinator system. All organizations must give priority to implementing the Management and Accountability System for the UN Development and Resident Coordinator System,” she stressed.
The now, the here and the way forward
Jan Eliasson, who had served as President of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly, had actually been a visiting lecturer on mediation, conflict resolution and UN reform at Uppsala University since 1988. In a detailed interview in 2014, Jan Eliasson identified the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ functions of the DSG. Speaking of the former set of functions, he said, “…it has been to try to bring the different entities together, use the fact that I have a different portfolio from my predecessor, who had management and development. I have political affairs and development and rule of law. So, management is done mainly by the chef de cabinet.” About the latter, he observed, “I will be also looking into the external role. One area where I have profiled myself very strongly, also publicly, where I will probably do more, is on water and sanitation. We launched the Call for Action on sanitation, and that will be followed up. It was met with a tremendously positive reaction.”. Current DSG, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed has conducted ‘robust consultations’ with Member States since the third quarter of 2017 on the UN development system reform process as part of UNSG Guterres’ efforts unveiled in a report of 30 June 2017. In a speech at the UN ECOSOC in October 2017, DSG Amina J. Mohammed stressed, “The 2030 Agenda is the guide and framework for the United Nations development system.”
Yet another area where the UN is engaged in terms of changes is the work culture at the Secretariat and within the organization. The Organization itself has identified three key issues that deserve maximum attention and commitment from the entire leadership of the United Nations: promoting gender parity; combating sexual exploitation and abuse; and addressing sexual harassment within the organizations of the United Nations system. A final area, among many others, that the DSG is focusing attention is in the sphere of privacy, data protection and ethics in the use of big data for the SDGs. The role of Information and Communication Technologies as an enabler for achieving the SDGs is well acknowledged; but regional inequities and the limitations of the existing norms that govern these technologies continue to hinder progress. In a sense it is remarkable that structural innovations like the DSG have been allowed to thrive within a large bureaucracy like the UN system. At the same time, the record of the last twenty years throws up a mixed bag. Perhaps this has more to do with the changing attitudes of the nation states that make up the UN. Nevertheless, the UN would do well to persist with the reforms and transformation process and the DSG can and must continue to play a constructive role in this.