chapter  17
The Special Representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General
ByManuel Fröhlich
Pages 13

Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs) of the United Nations (UN) are persons appointed by the UN Secretary-General to fulfi l roles in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. They work in specifi c confl ict situations or are engaged in transregional and transnational issues, with activities ranging from discreet mediation efforts to conducting a peace operation and virtually running a country. Since 1990 their number and their entrusted tasks have increased dramatically, making them a prime instrument of UN functions in the realm of international peace and security. The acronym SRSG is also used for a broader category comprising a wide variety of high-level appointments (Peck 2004: 337-8). Mirroring different tasks, contexts and mandates, it includes Special Envoys, Heads of Mission, Special Advisors, Personal Representatives and Transitional Administrators as well. Although SRSGs are present on all continents and work on a variety of transregional challenges, their work has not received much public or scholarly attention. According to Puchala (1993: 82) ‘even some very elementary questions’ regarding their origin, development, functions and performance ‘remain unanswered’. Some 20 years later Puchala’s assessment still holds true, although a few articles and reports explicitly dealing with SRSGs have been published (Vance and Hamburg 1997; Fafo 1999; Peck 2004; Fröhlich 2006; Peck 2008; Fröhlich 2012). Building on these efforts and the ongoing work of assembling a comprehensive database of SRSG appointments, activities and personalities, some elementary questions will be discussed in this chapter that will also illustrate their relevance for the study of international organizations (IOs). The chapter examines the origin of SRSGs in the UN context, discusses the legal and political basis of their work, provides some data on their evolution and offers perspectives for the evaluation of their work. 1

The use of envoys, representatives and mediators has been a constant feature of diplomatic activity and interaction throughout history (Black 2010). While the rank of ambassador is usually bestowed on the national representative of one country in a different country, new methods of diplomatic interaction, such as the emergence of IOs, have led to new diplomatic titles. Among these are permanent representatives, who do not work on behalf of a particular

country but are part of a multilateral framework with a thematic focus and specifi c procedural rights and obligations. The use of representatives of IOs is remarkable, as it underscores the fact or the ambition that, at times, IOs act in their own right. These representatives can also be seen as a manifestation of the international civil service, albeit with some major differences regarding their recruitment, remuneration and responsibilities. Among the fi rst people given mandates to represent the UN, and more specifi cally its Secretary-General, was Moderow Wlodzimierz of Poland, who in 1946 was designated Representative of the Secretary-General in Geneva to negotiate and organize with the League of Nations’ last Secretary-General, Sean Lester, the transfer of assets from the League. 2 The reasoning behind his appointment was simple and plausible, as the UN Secretary-General needed someone who could speak for him and negotiate and arrange matters on an equal footing with the League’s Secretary-General. Since the UN Secretary-General could not spend a long time away from headquarters to deal with technical problems in the context of the League’s dissolution, Wlodzimierz’s task was to ‘represent’ him in the legal procedure. The appointment of the Chinese Victor Hoo as Personal Representative of the Secretary-General on the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in 1946 introduced a more political role for the representative and indicated a pattern that has remained common until today: the use of SRSGs as members and leaders of UN entities away from headquarters. This also applied to the 1947 appointment of the Norwegian Erik Colban as the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative on the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). While Hoo’s task signalled the subsequent use of SRSGs in peacemaking, Colban foreshadowed their use in the context of peacekeeping efforts. Two prominent names complete the list of the fi rst SRSGs: the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, who worked as UN mediator in the Middle East until his assassination in 1948, and the American Ralph Bunche, whose position as Chief Representative of the Secretary-General in Palestine changed to that of Acting Mediator as successor to Bernadotte. Although working under different titles, Bunche in 1950 was the fi rst SRSG to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. 3

After the initial, rather improvised, use of representatives, a more specifi c use can be traced back to the tenure of Dag Hammarskjöld and his efforts to alleviate Cold War tensions through his style of private diplomacy and an enlarged concept of technical assistance for the benefi t of newly independent countries (Miller 1961; Urquhart 1972; Fröhlich 2008a). The overarching framework for these activities can be found in Hammarskjöld’s concept of ‘UN presence’, according to which UN deployment may take many forms, varying from a strong peacekeeping force of several thousand soldiers to a single diplomat working confi dentially on sensitive issues. While the fi rst ‘big’ deployments of UN peacekeepers after the Suez Crisis (1956) and in the Congo (1960) illustrate the former, the dispatch of the Head of the UN Geneva Offi ce, Piero Spinelli, to Jordan in 1958 to deal with the volatile situation there is an example of the latter (Urquhart 1972: 294-6; Fröhlich 2008b: 21-2). Going beyond peacekeeping and peacemaking, Hammarskjöld’s early use of SRSGs also points towards other, peacebuilding, functions entrusted to them. In 1959 he sent Adrian Pelt, a former UN staffer and then Secretary-General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, to Guinea as his Special Representative, to appraise the need and options for UN technical assistance (Urquhart 1972: 378-9). Pelt was an interesting choice for that mission because, following a mandate from the UN General Assembly, from 1950 to 1951 he had administered the independence of Libya as UN Commissioner. This quite unique assignment paved the way for the future use of SRSGs in similar circumstances and is echoed in the more recent roles that SRSGs have played in the transitional administrations of East Timor and Kosovo. Hammarskjöld consciously used SRSGs for political missions (Miller 1961) when he sent the

Colombian Francisco Urrutia to Israel and Jordan in order to negotiate the Mount Scopus Agreement of 1957 and dispatched the Swedish diplomats Johan Beck-Friis (border tensions between Thailand and Cambodia) and Herbert de Ribbing (the future of the disputed Bureimi oasis in Oman). The SRSGs thus emerged as part of the constitutional shift in the UN at the time. With the Security Council deadlocked by Cold War tensions, it fell to the General Assembly and the Secretary-General to take responsibility for actively working for international peace and security. 4 The General Assembly, however, can only recommend that certain actions are taken. As a plenary organ of decision making, and not of executive action, it placed more and more responsibilities on the Secretary-General’s shoulders. This was the background to the common quote ‘Leave it to Dag’, implying the one venue of UN action in the face of ‘Big Power inaction’ (Fröhlich 2008a).