Issue 124 - February 26 - Candidates for Human Rights Post Believed to Include Irene Khan

New York, February 26, 2010 - The formal nomination period has closed for candidates for UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

Former high-level UN officials and other informal sources have indicated that Ms. Irene Khan, who just completed two terms as Secretary-General of Amnesty International, has submitted her application.

In addition to her role at AI, Khan - a national of Bangladesh - also is known for her recent book, The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights. In the book, Khan describes poverty as "the world's worst human rights crisis" and calls for the recognition of health, education, and security as human rights. Moreover, she asserts, addressing poverty requires a focus on the human rights abuses that deprive people of control over their lives. "Freedom matters, if you're going to tackle poverty." She describes the UN's approaches to both human rights and development as antiquated and also criticizes the past work of Amnesty International.

The UNelections Campaign understands that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has committed privately to appointing a candidate from the Global South, which may have been a factor in security the support of some developing countries for the creation of the new human rights post.

"Pre-selection" allegations, however, such as those rumored to have been made by India's representative in the Fifth Committee in December, have not been confirmed. It is unclear if Khan was the person being referred to.

About the Position

Created by the UN General Assembly in late December 2009, the ASG position is designed to lead the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), integrate human rights into key policy and management decisions and the work of intergovernmental bodies based in New York, coordinate New York activities with those in Geneva, and build relationships with all stakeholders (governments, other UN bodies, NGOs, etc.).

(See Jan 25, 2010 announcement in The Economist outlining the position and qualifications and Note Verbale to Member States calling for nominations by February 15.)

Expected Selection Process

A selection committee is expected to review the candidates against the declared criteria, including:

  • At least twenty years of senior leadership experience in human rights or a related field,
  • Negotiation and diplomatic skills, and
  • Strong leadership and management abilities.

Finalists will be submitted to the Secretary-General for a decision.

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