The United Nations took a major step this month toward bringing much needed transparency into the process of selecting and appointing the next secretary-general in 2016. In a joint letter signed by their respective presidents, the General Assembly and the Security Council invited U.N. member states to submit the names of candidates for the top U.N. job for their review by next spring.

The process of selecting the secretary-general has been shrouded in secrecy. The U.N. Charter says little about the process — Article 97 says only that the "secretary-general shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council." In the past, therefore, candidates for the top U.N. position were screened behind the closed doors of the Security Council, where the veto-wielding five permanent members — China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States, commonly known as the "P-5," hold decisive power in deciding who to recommend to the General Assembly. It has been the practice that the General Assembly approves the candidate recommended by the Security Council.

The lack of transparency in the selection of the secretary-general has given rise to increasing criticisms from within and outside the U.N. In response to growing calls from the general U.N. membership and civil society to make the process more transparent and select the most suitable person for the post, the General Assembly unanimously adopted in September a resolution affirming that the selection process "shall be guided by the principles of transparency and inclusiveness, building on best practices and the participation of all member states." The resolution requested the presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council to start the process through a joint letter addressed to all member states. After months of intensive discussions, the joint letter was signed by the presidents of the two bodies and distributed Dec. 15.