During 2016, Mr. Huf had the opportunity to meet with both the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the President of the UN General Assembly for the 2015-16 term. As a Representative (Observer) to the UN on behalf of the New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA), a recognized Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Mr. Huf took a keen interest in what they had to say.
(Left to Right: H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations; and, Jason Huf)
Nearing the end of his second term, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been very earnest in showcasing and attempting to make effective his crowning accomplishment: the UN Sustainable Development Treaty (the Treaty), which garnered a record number of member states joining as signatories.
In April, the Secretary-General reached out to the private sector, in particular the US Legal Community in New York City, to see what they could do to help promote and ensure the success of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are embodied in the Treaty (for more on the SDGs specifically, we invite you to peruse www.un.org).
While the underlying purpose of the SDGs is noble (after all, who doesn't like clean air & water, equal rights, rule of law and the like), as lawyers we are limited to providing our corporate clients with legal advice, not business or public relations advice. We can only advise our clients on how to be compliant with the laws and regulations of the relevant jurisdiction(s). If a client were to invest in, say, Saudi Arabia (KSA) in such a manner that it promotes gender equality in that market, it may be a terrific selling point - but, that's a PR decision, not a legal requirement.
We will discuss gender equality and other relevant issues in the KSA when providing JHI's write-up on Mr. Huf's attendance at and observations of the week-long "Riyadh Day" presentations at the UN. As to the promotion and enforcement of the SDG's, it really is up to the signatories to pass executing legislation before attorneys can advise on how to comply with such provisions. And let's face it, only government can concentrate the resources and power necessary to execute such sweeping and extensive changes.
The odds of that happening really have to be measured on a state-by-state basis. As to the Western states, Mr. Huf points out that in politics there is an ebb and flow, with a pendulum that swings right and left, and the present trend appears to be one wherein Western countries are electing more conservative, business-friendly governments. If Mr. Huf is correct, then issues such as combating "climate change", for example, will (for the time being at least) take a back seat to pro-energy policies that are likely to be adopted by such governments.
Irrespective of what one thinks of the feasibility of accomplishing the SDGs by the target date of 2030, no one should doubt the Secretary-General's sincerity in wanting these goals to be accomplished, or what he views as the UN's power to shepherd such change. Mr. Huf found His Excellency's sincerity, passion and enthusiasm to be obvious in that he wears it on his sleeve. He also thinks it obvious that the Secretary-General is highly intelligent, exceedingly accomplished, and a very nice man.
Its a remarkable life story, really. From UN Refugee to UN Secretary-General: finding himself to be a UN refugee at age 6 with the outbreak of the Korean War, to becoming an advocate for lasting peace as the Republic of Korea's (South Korea's) Foreign Minister, to being Secretary-General of the international body that once shielded him and his family as young refugee, he proudly says "I am a UN Boy".
(Left to Right: Morgens Lykketoft (Denmark), then-President of the United Nations General Assembly; and, Jason Huf)
On the subject of choosing his successor as Secretary-General, Mr. Huf had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Morgens Lykketoft, formerly the Finance Minister of Denmark who, until this September, served as President of the UN General Assembly.
Mr. Lykketoft provided an overview of changes to the selection process. Perhaps the most fundamental innovation is the vetting of candidates by member states that occurs prior to the vote taken by the Security Council members.
Whereas in past years the entire process of selecting a Secretary-General was dominated by the "Big Five" (the permanent Security Council members: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom & France), candidates for their consideration are now first reviewed, narrowed down and subsequently voted upon by the General Assembly.
The Security Council is not bound by any recommendation made or preference expressed by the General Assembly; however, to elect a candidate that was not considered favorably by the General Assembly would be to risk a divide between the Secretariat (the executive wing and permanent bureaucracy of the UN, which the Secretary-General heads) and the member states themselves (upon which the very legitimacy of the UN relies).
On the other hand, this increased, more hands-on role by the member states and the General Assembly as a whole could provide for greater transparency in the selection process and, when heeded by the Security Council, may lead to greater consensus between the General Assemby and Secretariat.
This year, the revised process produced the election of Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal who once served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He will take over the office of Secretary-General in January of 2017.
In addition to achieving the SDG's, Mr. Guterres's efforts are promised to be focused on continued reform of the UN bureaucracy; continued streamlining, expansion and enhancement of refugee assistance; and, very prominently, an aggressive new "surge" in diplomacy for peace - an intensification in seeking resolution to the wide proliferation of conflicts around the world, especially those conflicts that have led to several severe refugee crises currently plaguing humankind globally.
JHI congratulates Mr. Guterres on his election after a months-long campaign that included a rigorous review process resulting in consensus in both the General Assembly and (somewhat remarkably) the Security Council as well; and, cautions: careful what you wish for, sir - because now you've got it.
The retiring Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, even after all of his success in his position at an institution he has loved and revered since childhood, nonetheless seems very happy to return home to Seoul after 10 rewarding - but long - years. JHI congratulates him as well, and thanks him for his service. We hope His Excellency enjoys a well-earned retirement after a long, but safe, journey home.