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Then there were four: The short list for the top human rights post

Candidates for the top human rights post at U.N. headquarters have been narrowed down to a short list of four, according to senior U.N. diplomats familiar with the process. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, a Brazilian diplomat; Juan Méndez, an Argentine human rights advocate; Ivan Simonovic, a former Croatian diplomat; and Karin Landgren, a Swedish national who ...

Candidates for the top human rights post at U.N. headquarters have been narrowed down to a short list of four, according to senior U.N. diplomats familiar with the process.

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, a Brazilian diplomat; Juan Méndez, an Argentine human rights advocate; Ivan Simonovic, a former Croatian diplomat; and Karin Landgren, a Swedish national who heads the U.N. mission in Nepal, have been selected as front-runners by a selection panel headed by Navanethem Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The U.N. General Assembly created the new assistant secretary-general position in December in an attempt to raise the profile of human rights at U.N. headquarters. The new rights official will serve as a liaison for Pillay in deliberations in New York.

U.N. officials hope the appointment will blunt criticism that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has not promoted human rights aggressively enough since he came into office more than three years ago. It also follows a sustained campaign by rights groups and governments to place a high-level rights advocate at headquarters so he or she can better inject a human rights perspective into the U.N. leadership’s deliberations on the major political crises of the day.

The selection process has been highly secretive, and several prominent candidates were not interviewed for the position. Some member states have put pressure on the U.N. secretary-general to widen consideration of other candidates. Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Pillay, said senior U.N. posts have always been conducted confidentially. "Nothing unusual about the process," he said in an email. "As far as the identity of candidates goes, no — I’m not in a position to confirm or deny identities."

Here are the chief candidates:

  • Karin Landgren, a trained lawyer, served for more than 20 years with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, including a stint as head of the agency’s office in war-time Bosnia. In 1998, she was appointed head of child protection division at the U.N. Children’s Fund. She currently runs the U.N. Mission in Nepal.
  • Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, a Brazilian diplomat, served as the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights for Burma from 2000 to 2008. He is currently a commissioner and rapporteur on children’s rights with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of America States.
  • Ivan Simonovic, a Croatian diplomat and law professor, served as Zagreb’s envoy to the United Nations in the late 1990s. Simonovich was a member of the Croation delegation during the 1995 Dayton Peace Talks, which ended the Bosnian civil war. He also served as president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council and represented the Croatian government in 2000 in its case for genocide against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice.
  • Juan Méndez, a former Argentine political prisoner, worked for Human Rights Watch for 15 years, including a stint as the advocacy group’s legal counsel. In 2004, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him U.N. special advisor on the prevention of genocide. Méndez recently stepped down as head of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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