31 Mar 2016

Nationality no obstacle to UN's top job - Clark

9:25 am on 31 March 2016

Coming from New Zealand, not Eastern Europe, won't disadvantage former prime minister Helen Clark if she decides to put her hat in the ring for the top job at the United Nations (UN), she says.

Helen Clark launches the Religious Diversity Centre at Parliament.

Helen Clark launches the Religious Diversity Centre at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Ms Clark says UN members will be looking for the candidate with the best set of skills for the position.

Ms Clark, currently administrator of the UN Development Programme, was at New Zealand's Parliament yesterday to launch the Religious Diversity Centre, an educational and research organisation for people working in multicultural environments.

She told RNZ News she still had nothing to say about a possible bid for the job of UN Secretary General.

Ban Ki-moon ends his term this December, and seven candidates have already been declared.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at UN Disaster meeting in New York in November 2015.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Photo: AFP

There has been a big push from the top levels of the UN for a woman to succeed him.

The job has also traditionally been shared around the regional groupings, with Eastern Europe being seen as next in line.

New Zealand is in the "Western Europe and Others" grouping, but Ms Clark does not think that would be a disadvantage.

"It's wide open. The member states are very conscious that we live in extremely challenging times.

"Minds will be very much on what are the set of skills that the member states would like the new secretary general to have."

Ms Clark said she could not possibly comment as to whether she had that set of skills and whether she would be putting her hand up for the role.

"There is a process underway and that includes formal interactions between candidates and General Assembly members in a couple of weeks' time, and then the formal process moves to July for the Security Council to start deliberating."

Ms Clark said the process had months to run and she expected a lot more candidates to be put forward.

There have been reports that another former prime minister, Australia's Kevin Rudd, will put in his own nomination for the job of Secretary General.

Party leaders endorse Clark

New Zealand's Acting Prime Minister Bill English said the government had not yet had any formal talks with Ms Clark about a nomination.

"Oh well, I'm sure if she decides to have a go at the UN job the New Zealand government will be supporting it."

He said this country's candidate would be better than any Australia could put up.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said Ms Clark would be a very credible candidate, if she entered the race.

"From the point of view of competency and gender she ticks both of those really important boxes," Mr Shearer said.

"It's interesting that there hasn't been a secretary general who's ever been the head of state before."

Greens' foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said it would be good to see a woman take the role.

But he said it could cause ructions within the UN if Eastern Europe was passed over.

"It's a very strong protocol and the East Europeans could be forgiven for being miffed if they think they've got good women candidates and it switches."

Dr Graham said it was inappropriate the P5, or permanent members on the Security Council, could veto any candidate.

Former ambassador to the UN Terence O'Brien said Ms Clark would be a credible candidate but the decision to stand was her decision to make.

He said it was the first time the appointment process being used by the UN this year had ever been tried.

"The idea that candidates (are) putting hats into the ring publicly, and then the United Nations taking decisions about who is the person they want to choose - all of this is brand new and nobody can be certain about how it is going to work out," Mr O'Brien said.

The General Assembly will hold what it calls "informal discussions" with declared candidates from 12-14 April.

But that leaves some months to go before the Security Council starts seriously considering the candidates in July.

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