New Head of Humanitarian Affairs Appointed

10 March 2015

Drawing the controversy  that began in late November to a close, Stephen O’Brien, a member of the UK Parliament, has been appointed head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Emergency Relief Coordinator. 

It is informally understood that the position, like certain other senior UN posts, is an entitlement of the permanent five members of the Security Council.  In the case of OCHA, the UK’s prime minister would identify one of its nationals for appointment by the UN Secretary-General. 

However, David Cameron’s recommendation of Andrew Lansley—a political ally with no real experience in international affairs— drew widespread criticism. In response, the Secretary-General issued an open call to all member states  for nominations along with formal qualifications for the post.  Since this call was issued in December, Cameron reportedly proposed Caroline Spelman as well as Stephen O’Brien as alternatives to Lansley.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General announced that Stephen O’Brien would replace Valerie Amos as OCHA’s head. 

By refusing to appoint Lansley, the Secretary-General insisted that the UN’s senior positions fulfill high standards.  At the same time, the Secretary-General has preserved the post’s status as a British entitlement by appointing O’Brien, a UK national.  

O’Brien currently serves as a MP for Eddisbury and is part of the Conservative Party.  From 2010 to 2012, O’Brien was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development.  He was later appointed to be the Prime Minister's Envoy and Special Representative for the Sahel at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

After postponing her departure during the search for her successor, Valerie Amos will step down as head of OCHA in May.