Will the next UN Secretary – General be a non – Christian?
Posted on March 9th, 2016

By Senaka Weeraratna 

As the symbolic head of the UN, the Secretary-General serves as both its top diplomat and its chief administrative officer. The UN Charter postulates, that he / she is responsible for performing various functions entrusted to him/her by UN bodies, and also for “bring[ing] to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The term of office of Ban Ki – Moon as UN Secretary – General ends on Dec. 31. Names of potential candidates for the next Secretary – General  have already begun to circulate. Some UN member states are calling for a female successor.

Since the inception of this office in 1946,  the UN Secretary-General has been selected based on an informal system of regional rotation. GA Resolution 51/241 states, due regard shall continue to be given to regional rotation and shall also be given to gender equality.”

Regional distribution of the post of Secretary-General to date has taken the following order:

1) Trygve Lie

Region:  Western Europe

Country : Norway
Religion: Lutheren Christian

Term of Office: 1946 – 1952

2) Dag Hammarskjold

Region: Western Europe
Country: Sweden
Religion: Christian
Term of Office: 1953 – 1961

3) U Thant

Region: Asia
Country : Myanmar ( formerly known as Burma )
Religion: Buddhist
Term of Office: 1961 – 1971

4) Kurt Waldheim

Region: Western Europe
Country: Austria
Religion: Roman Catholic
Term of Office: 1972 – 1981

5) Javier de Perez de Cuellar

Region: Latin America and the Caribbean
Country: Peru
Religion: Roman Catholic
Term of Office: 1982 – 1991

6) Boutros Boutros – Ghali

Region: Africa ( Middle East )
Country: Egypt
Religion: Coptic Christian
Term of Office: 1992 – 1996

7) Kofi Annan
Country: Ghana
Religion: Christian
Term of Office: 1997 to 2006


8) Ban Ki – Moon

Region: Asia

Country – South Korea

Religion – Christian

Term of Office: 2007 – 2016
Breaking it down to regional representation, the post of Secretary-General has been held by three Europeans, two Asians (U Thant and Ban Ki Moon), one Latin American (Javier de Perez de Cuellar), and two from the African continent (Boutros Boutros – Ghali and Kofi Annan ) primarily on the basis of geographical rotation.

Further breaking it down to religious representation, It is disappointing to note that seven of the eight holders of this high post have been Christians, though drawn from different continents. Only one non – Christian ( U Thant ) has held this post. Not a single Hindu,Muslim,Jain or Sikh has been deemed fit to occupy this position.

The Members of other Global Religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism should also be allowed to serve in this position to give balance and diversity. Such a change will also instill confidence in the integrity and non – discriminatory nature of the UN and the office of the UN Secretary – General.

It is generally expected of the UN Secretary – General to give some representation through his person to the moral authority, beliefs and values of the dominant religious civilizations of the world.

Major Religions have the following numbers

Size of Major Religious Groups, 2012
Religion Percent
Christianity   31.5%
Islam   23.2%
Unaffiliated   16.3%
Hinduism   15.0%
Buddhism *   7.1%
Folk   5.9%
Other   0.8%
Judaism   0.2%
Pew Research Center, 2012[1]


On a combined basis the Eastern Dharmic Religions which have their origins in India namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism have followers globally that represent about 23% of the world’s religious population.

Hindu and Buddhist civilizations have been pre-dominant on the Asian continent for more than two millennia. There are more than ten Buddhist states in Asia, namely Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Bhutan, Korea, Singapore, China, Japan and Mongolia. In these countries the primary civilization is Buddhist running to more than a millennium. There are two Hindu states i.e. India and Nepal. The total population of Buddhists and Hindus in Asia exceed 2.5 billion.

The total population of the world is 7.167 Billion. The total population of Christians is 2.2. Billion (31.5 %). The total population of non – Christians is 4.9 Billion ( 68.5%).

The latter figure is staggering and it should be taken into account when filling the post of the UN Secretary – General.

Though the world is diverse it would be thought necessary that the personal values of the office holders of this high post fit well with the orientation of the United Nations and the Organisation’s charter. In other words, personal values and charter ideals may need to be seen to be ‘entwined’ in the incumbent of this office.

In a remarkable study on former UN Secretary – General U Thant entitled ‘ U Thant: Buddhism in Action’  the author A. Walter Dorn points out that the appointment of U Thant was a novelty in international relations. U Thant was the first non – European Secretary – General  in the United Nations or League of Nations, and the first from a newly independent or developing country. Dorn also shows in a Table ( Table 5.1) drawn that the UN Charter provisions mesh well with Buddhist Concepts.

Table 5.1. Comparison of the principles of Buddhism and those of the UN Charter

Buddhist Concept UN Charter Provisions
Metta (good will or kindness)

– practiced “to all, without distinction”

– “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” (Preamble)

– “to develop friendly relations among nations” (Art. 1.2)

– “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (Art. 1.3)

Karuna (compassion)

–  the “duty to mitigate the suffering of others”

– “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” (Preamble)

– “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security” (Preamble and Art. 1.1)

– “to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples” (Preamble)

– “to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character” (Art. 1.3)

– “the interests of the inhabitants of [non-self-governing] territories are paramount, and [administering nations] accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost … the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories” (Art. 73)

Ahimsa (non-violence)

– respect for all

– “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (Art. 2.4)

– “to ensure … armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest” (Preamble)

– “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small” (Preamble)

– “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” (Art. 1.2)

– encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion (1.3)

Karma (law of cause and effect)

– “law of reciprocal action”

– cosmic justice

– “as you sow so you reap” (Christian equivalent)

– consequently, “hurt not other in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”, hence practice metta,karunaahimsa

– “all Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” (Art. 2.3)

– “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained” (Preamble)


The prestige and moral authority of both the United Nations and the World’s No. 1 Bureaucratic job would be greatly diminished if the latter is seen to be a niche only for candidates belonging to one religious belief system, namely Christianity.

It is time for reform to end this discriminatory practice.

Senaka Weeraratna


Senaka Weeraratna is an Attorney at Law. Holds an LLB degree (University of Sri Lanka), and Master of Laws (Monash University, Australia).



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