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Why UNWTO Elections Should Become an Urgent Concern for the UN and Heads of State?

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May it not be tourism that delivers the coup de grâce to the UN system!
Tourism is central to this picture for two reasons.

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Coup de grâce to the UN system

  • The pandemic has weakened the United Nations system, favoring the emergence of policies mainly, if not only, nationally oriented.
  • The World Trade Organization, faced with the request of India and South Africa to liberalize the production of vaccines, has been unable to do anything about it despite the overwhelming support of the majority of its members, because of its consensual approach.
  • The World Health Organization has been the target of criticism and attacks, the roots of which could be traced back to internal political problems of some of its members.

The calls for mass vaccination in low-income countries have fallen on deaf ears. The figure indicating that five or ten countries had vaccinated 75 or 80% of their population, has remained stable for months despite being frequently recalled as unacceptable by its Secretary General.

Today, this figure has changed, also due to progress in some high-population countries, but the African situation remains very worrying, as the organization’s Director for Africa recently recalled.

The UN Secretary General’s appeals have not fared any better.

On the other hand, the declarations of the groups of the richest and/or most industrialized countries at their periodic meetings have been recorded, which only an inveterate optimist can assess as being attentive to the problems of the relatively less-developed countries.

As far as the pandemic is concerned, this has probably favored the emergence of new variants of the virus.

The very limited outcome of COP26 is another indication of the unfavorable moment for international coexistence.

However, there are many geopolitical reasons for strengthening international relations. They include trade, migration, regional stability, and the world economy, which has been affected, albeit geographically and sectorally unevenly, by the pandemic.

Tourism is central to this picture for two reasons.

The first is its contribution to world GNP. Before the pandemic, it was around 10%, and now it has been reduced to 5%, with indirect impacts on consumption and on the tertiary sector. Its recovery is on the economic agendas of all countries, but for some countries, it is absolutely essential, as their economies are almost mono-dependent, with a contribution to their GNP of up to 30%.

This makes it crucial that their world organization be strong and sensitive to the variety of problems that this industry presents depending on the characteristics of the countries. It is easy to suggest to countries such as Russia or the United States, or even the major European tourist destinations, to support domestic tourism, but it would be ridiculous to think that such a measure could serve countries such as Seychelles, Saint Lucia, or Fiji.

But at this time, tourism may also be an important factor for the stability of the United Nations system because of a situation – the forthcoming General Assembly of UNWTO, the World Tourism Organization.

On its agenda is the appointment of the Secretary General for the next four years.

In a controversial Executive Council, the two previous Secretary Generals have claimed to have been manipulated to eliminate competition for the campaign.

The proposal of the Executive Council to re-appoint Zurab Pololikashvili must be ratified by 2/3 of the Member States attending the General Conference.

This requirement stems from a rule, established in 1978 in Buenos Aires, which sets the two conditions for the election of the Secretary General by qualified majority and secret ballot.

The two rules are contextual. If one is questioned, there is no reason to think that the other is of higher rank and cannot be questioned.

This suggests defending and respecting them as a guarantee of the neatness of the most important activities for a United Nations organization. However, subliminal propaganda has presented on the organization’s website the election as mere ratification, and in the convocation of the next conference, it has been reminded that it would be a tradition not to resort to the secret ballot unless a country does not expose itself to request it.

Also, the non-threatening threatening tone with which the situation of the organization’s lack of control in the event of non-ratification is described may leave some perplexity in a not naive reader.

Is it not rather for those who wish to depart from an existing rule to take responsibility and put their face forward by requesting acclamation? 

This would require an available Conference President, so it has been easier for the Secretariat to recall a tradition forgetting that there was also some nebulous aspect of withdrawal of candidatures, which to the one who writes, a former UNESCO official called to memory the also nebulous withdrawal of the only Latin American candidature in the 2017 UNESCO election.

WTN Advocacy Committee Debate

The candidature recommended by the Executive Board was today the subject of a debate, organized by the World Tourism Network (WTN) Advocacy Committee, which I attended.

It was a very balanced debate, in which the need for the election of the Secretary General of the UNWTO to ensure transparency and fidelity to the principles that bind all UN civil servants prevailed.

This should require clarification of the worrying final statements (items 48-50) of the Ethics Officer’s Annual Report, annex 1 to the Human Resources Report, and of how the legitimate election campaign of the recommended candidate has been conducted, about which attention may be drawn to a possible bias in the program of his official visits, particularly during 2019, an issue to which member countries that were forgotten by UNWTO are likely to be sensitive.

One of the problems that may affect the results of the vote is to have decided (was it within its powers?) that after Morocco’s announcement of not being able to host the conference because of the pandemic (minimal in Marrakech, it is worth clarifying), the same would be held in Madrid, ignoring the offer of Kenya, which from the organizational point of view did not present problems and from the epidemic is in much better condition than Madrid.

There are those who think that this favors the recommended candidate, but this would not be the case if two conditions were met, one of competence of the General Conference: to accept that the private session in which the Secretary General is elected can be hybrid, face-to-face – virtual, guaranteeing the secrecy of the vote, and the other of competence of the member countries.

A controversial election could not only destroy the UNWTO but also deliver the coup de grace to the United Nations system.

This is not a matter for the Ministers of Tourism and even less for the ambassadors of the countries represented in Madrid, but for those who hold the executive power.

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Galileo Violini

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