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United Nations: human rights must be priority for next Secretary General

The next United Nations (UN) Secretary General must overhaul the global approach to aiding refugees and must do everything possible to end atrocities and protect civilians in armed conflicts, said Amnesty International as the process of selecting the leader of the world body is opened to the public for the first time.
Amnesty and six other human rights organisations have listed eight priorities the next Secretary General must pursue to restore the UN’s credibility on human rights damaged by peacekeeper abuse and failure to protect human rights in major crises like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan.
In an effort to open up the selection process, candidates to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will outline their vision and field questions at the UN General Assembly from 12-14 April. 
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said:
“The world needs a strong UN Secretary General who will stand up to states that commit human rights violations. The UN simply cannot fulfil its mandate without putting human rights at the heart of everything it does.
“Candidates to lead the United Nations have to stand up for human rights, starting now. They should not fear a backlash for doing so. Member states that seek to penalise a commitment to human rights would be violating the UN Charter and jeopardising the future of the UN itself.”
Amnesty and partners are calling on the next UN Secretary General to address eight priority issues:
  • Deliver a new deal for refugees and migrants. As a result of conflict and human rights abuses, the number of people forced from their homes today is higher than at any point since the Second World War. In support of the Refugee Convention, the Secretary General should work assiduously towards a new global approach to refugees, based on sustained international co-operation and an equitable sharing of responsibilities for resettlement. They must spearhead a broad review of existing structures for managing international migration, integrating human rights within them


  • Prevent and end mass atrocity crimes. The Secretary General should use the powers awarded under the UN Charter to help prevent and end major violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, such as the deliberate targeting of civilians in conflicts.
  • Defend civil society. Civil society is a vital bulwark against state crackdowns on dissent and protest. The Secretary General must display a clear commitment to civil society, in particular human rights defenders and journalists.
  • Champion the rights of the marginalised. Discrimination, and the failure to respect human rights, have deepened poverty and inequality across the world. The new Secretary General must champion the rights of marginalised people and seek to end all forms of discrimination.
  • Ensure gender equality. The Secretary General must do everything within her or his power to advance women’s rights and gender equality, helping to implement key commitments such as the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
  • Combat impunity. The new leader of the United Nations must be committed to fighting impunity for crimes under international law. They must ensure that the International Criminal Court and other internationalised tribunals receive the political and financial support they need.
  • End the death penalty. Significant progress has been made towards abolishing the death penalty worldwide. The Secretary General must do everything possible to achieve the goal of total abolition within their term in office.
  • Strengthen the impact of the United Nations on human rights. Human rights form the third pillar of the UN, along with the maintenance of international peace, and security and development. The new Secretary General must ensure that human rights are given sufficient prominence and resources. They must take bold and transformative steps to improve the respect for human rights worldwide, leaving no-one behind. They must also safeguard the integrity of the organisation through making high-quality appointments and ensuring accountability of UN personnel.


“A Human Rights Agenda for the next United Nations Secretary-General” is signed by Amnesty International, CIVICUS, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Human Rights Watch, International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy. 
Eight people have so far declared their candidacy for the role of the UN Secretary General. 
More candidates may step forward over the coming months. The successor to Ban Ki-moon will be nominated by the UN Security Council before the end of the year.

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