Issue 135 - April 7 - Three Unreported Candidates on Short List for Human Rights Post, Mendez is Rumored Frontrunner

New York, April 7, 2010 - The short list of candidates for Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights in New York has been confirmed.

Turtle Bay reported on March 26 that Karin Landgren of Sweden, Ivan Šimonović of Croatia, and Juan Méndez of Argentina have joined UN Rapporteur Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro of Brazil as the top contenders for the newly created post. The UNelections Campaign was able to verify this list.

 The list is believed to have been assembled by a Selection Committee, which was led by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay and also included her deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang, the head of her office in New York Jessica Neuwirth, and UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is responsible for making the final selection. The UNelections Campaign urges him to consult with UN stakeholders, such as non-governmental human rights organizations, in doing so.

About the Candidates

Karin Landgren

Swedish lawyer Karin Landgren, currently the head of the UN mission in Nepal, received her BA in Economics and MA in International Law at the London School of Economics. 

Landgren worked with asylum seekers in the 1980s and led the UN High Commissioner for Refugee's (UNHCR) offices in Singapore, Eritrea and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s. At UNHCR, she also served as Chief of Standards and Legal Advice. She also was the Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF. In 2008, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Landgren Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Nepal, and in February 2009 she replaced Ian Martin as the head of the mission.

In addition to her legal career, Landgren teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. 

Landgren's candidacy could be weakened by her being a national of Sweden, which is part of the Group of Western European and Other States (WEOG), according to UN observers. It is believed that High Commissioner Pillay had committed privately to appointing a developing country candidate in order to secure support for the creation of the post.

Juan Méndez

According to analysis by Global Memo on March 29, human rights advocate Juan Méndez of Argentina is the favored candidate for the post. 

A prominent human rights lawyer and academic, Méndez earned his law degree from Stella Maris University in 1970, then began his career representing trade unions and political prisoners. This work led to his detention by the Argentine military for 18 months, during which Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.

Following his release, Méndez continued his law career in the United States, joining the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights in 1978. He headed Human Rights Watch's Americas program in 1982. He became HRW's general counsel in 1994. From 1996-1999, Méndez served the executive director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica.

He then moved onto academia, teaching law and serving as the director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame from 1999-2004. In 2000-2003, he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, of which he served as president in 2002. 

Méndez was appointed the UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide (2004-2007), while also serving as the president of the International Center for Transitional Justice. He departed from the post when the mandate for his office expired in March 2007. Mendez stepped down from ICTJ in 2009.

He teaches at Oxford University's Master's Program in International Human Rights Law. He also has taught at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Georgetown Law School.

Ivan Šimonović

Croatia's justice minister, Ivan Šimonović, earned his law degree from the University of Zagreb Law School in 1982 and his doctorate from the same university in 1990. 

In the early 1990s, Šimonović began his career as assistant to Croatia's Foreign Minister, going on to serve as the Croatian Ambassador to the UN in 1997-2002. He was the president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2002. 

In 2000, Šimonović represented Croatia in its case for genocide against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the International Court of Justice. 

At the end of his UN ambassadorship, he briefly became Deputy Foreign Minister (2002-2003). 

In 2004, he taught theory of law and international relations at University of Zagreb Law School. 

In 2008, Šimonović became the Minister of Justice-designate of Croatia. 

(For biographical information on Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, please refer to UNelections Monitor Issue 130 - March 11 - Piet de Klerk and Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro Rumored Candidates for HR Post .)

Selection Process

Following the establishment of the short list, the Secretary-General is responsible for making a final decision.

According to Turtle Bay, the selection process for this high-level post has been "highly secretive" and several Member States "have put pressure on the UN Secretary-General to widen consideration of other candidates."

However, a spokesman for the Secretariat told Lynch, there was "nothing unusual about the process...senior UN posts have always been conducted confidentially."

In the view of the UNelections Campaign, an important aspect at this stage of the process is to give governments and other appropriate stakeholders, such as human rights experts within civil society, time and opportunity to provide input on the short-listed candidates.