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FAQ: Procedures for the appointment of the Secretary-General


1) What are the basic requirements for the appointment of the UN Secretary-General?

Article 97 of the UN Charter provides that, “The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” In other words, Article 97 creates a two-stage process: a recommendation by the Security Council followed by a decision by the General Assembly.

2) Can the Security Council recommend more than one candidate to the General Assembly?

While nothing in the Charter prevents the Security Council from recommending more than one candidate, General Assembly resolution 11 (I) of 24 January 1946 stipulates that it is desirable for the Security Council to “proffer one candidate only” and that has been the consistent practice.

3) How does the Security Council go about making its recommendation?

The Security Council adopts a resolution setting out its recommendation. This resolution has consistently been adopted at a private meeting of the Council, since rule 48 of the Provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council states, “Any recommendation to the General Assembly regarding the appointment of the Secretary-General shall be discussed and decided at a private meeting”. In years when a number of candidates are being considered, the Council will conduct balloting before adopting its resolution. In years when only one candidate is being considered, the Council’s normal practice is to proceed directly, without prior balloting, to adopting a resolution, usually by acclamation.

4) Does the veto apply to the adoption of the Security Council’s recommendation?

Yes, General Assembly resolution 11 (I) of 24 January 1946 specifies that the recommendation of a Secretary-General by the Security Council is a “substantive decision” and that therefore the negative vote of a Permanent Member can prevent the adoption of a draft resolution setting out a recommendation.

5) What kind of planning and coordination goes on between the Security Council and the General Assembly?

The first step is for the Council President to consult informally with the other Council members and determine a date for holding the private meeting to adopt the Council’s recommendation. Once that date has been agreed by the Council members, the Council President writes a letter informing the Assembly President, who in turn informs the General Assembly Member States. It is common also for the two Presidents to meet in person to discuss preparations for the election.

Following adoption of the Security Council’s recommendation, the practice is for the Council President to write a letter informing the Assembly President.

6) Will the press have a chance to be briefed by the Council President?

The common practice is for the Council President to go to the press Stakeout following the adoption of the Council’s recommendation to brief the press.

7) Since the Charter does not specify the number of years a Secretary-General will serve, how is that decided?

When adopting its resolution, the practice of the Council has been to specify the term of office for its recommended candidate, and the Assembly acts similarly when adopting its resolution appointing the Secretary-General. Except for some adjustments during the early years of the United Nations, the terms of office of Secretaries-General have been fixed at five years.

8) Is written endorsement by each of the regional groups a requirement for a candidate to be recommended by the Security Council or appointed by the General Assembly?

There is no requirement for recommended candidates to be endorsed by the regional groups. Nonetheless, it is a common practice for those groups to write a letter to the UN membership in support of a candidate, and such letters are brought to the attention of the Council members.

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