News Focus: Appointing UN chief

Ban Ki-moon is the current Secretary-General of the United Nations. See highlights of first term in office.

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FAQ: Procedures for the appointment of the Secretary-General

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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.


UN Secretaries-General

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon (Republic of Korea)

Ban Ki-moon was born in Eumseong on 13 June 1944. He served in various diplomatic and Government posts for his country for more than three decades, including a stint as Foreign Minister.

He became UN Secretary-General on 1 January 2007, and since been appointed to a second term. He will serve until 31 December 2016.
Full biography


Kofi Annan

Kofi A. Annan (Ghana)

Kofi Annan was born in Kumasi on 8 April 1938 and was the first UN Secretary-General to emerge from the ranks of the Organization’s staff.

He joined the UN system in 1962 as an administrative and budgetary officer in Geneva, and held a series of posts until he served as Secretary-General from 1 January 1997 until 31 December 2006. Full biography


Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt)

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was born on 14 November 1922 in Cairo and had a long career as a diplomat, jurist, scholar and author. He also served as his country’s Foreign Minister.

On 1 January 1992 he became UN Secretary-General, and served in that post until 31 December 1996. Full biography

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Havier Perez de Cuellar

Javier Perez de Cuellar (Peru)

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar was born in Lima on 19 January 1920. He served as a lawyer and diplomat and later in senior positions with the UN, including as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

He served as UN Secretary-General from 1 January 1982 to 31 December 1991. Full biography

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Kurt Waldheim

Kurt Waldheim (Austria)

Kurt Waldheim was born at Sankt Andrä-Wördern on 21 December 1918. He served in his country’s diplomatic service after 1945 and was Austria’s head of mission when it joined the UN as a Member State in 1955.

Mr. Waldheim served as UN Secretary-General from 1 January 1972 until 31 December 1981, and held the post of President of Austria between 1986 and 1992. He died on 14 June 2007. Full biography

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U Thant

U Thant (Myanmar)

U Thant was born on 22 January 1909 in Pantanaw. He worked as a teacher, headmaster, freelance journalist and Government official, and also served as his country’s Permanent Representative to the UN from 1957 to 1961.

He became acting Secretary-General in November 1961 and was then formally appointed to the post on 30 November 1962, serving until 31 December 1971. He died on 25 November 1974. Full biography

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Dag Hammarskjöld

Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden)

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was born on 29 July 1905 in Jönköping. He served in a series of different governmental and public posts in his native Sweden, including as a Cabinet minister.

He became UN Secretary-General on 10 April 1953 and served until he was killed in a plane crash on 18 September 1961 while he was serving on a peace mission to the Congo. Full biography

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Trygve Lie

Trygve Lie (Norway)

Trygve Halvdan Lie was born on 16 July 1896 in Oslo. He served as a Government minister during the 1930s and 1940s and led his country’s delegation to the April 1945 conference in San Francisco that helped set up the UN.

On 1 February 1946 he was elected as the UN’s first Secretary-General and he held the office until his resignation in November 1952. He passed away on 30 December 1968. Full biography

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Appointment process

How is the Secretary-General appointed?

The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council. The Secretary-General's selection is therefore subject to the veto of any of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Although there is technically no limit to the number of five-year terms a Secretary-General may serve, none so far has held office for more than two terms.

Click here for former Secretaries-General.

Role of the office

The role of the Secretary-General

Equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world's peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them. The current Secretary-General, and the eighth occupant of the post, is Mr. Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea, who took office on 1 January 2007.

The Charter describes the Secretary-General as "chief administrative officer" of the Organization, who shall act in that capacity and perform "such other functions as are entrusted" to him or her by the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and other United Nations organs. The Charter also empowers the Secretary-General to "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security". These guidelines both define the powers of the office and grant it considerable scope for action. The Secretary-General would fail if he did not take careful account of the concerns of Member States, but he must also uphold the values and moral authority of the United Nations, and speak and act for peace, even at the risk, from time to time, of challenging or disagreeing with those same Member States.

That creative tension accompanies the Secretary-General through day-to-day work that includes attendance at sessions of United Nations bodies; consultations with world leaders, government officials, and others; and worldwide travel intended to keep him in touch with the peoples of the Organization's Member States and informed about the vast array of issues of international concern that are on the Organization's agenda. Each year, the Secretary-General issues a report on the work of the United Nations that appraises its activities and outlines future priorities. The Secretary-General is also Chairman of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), which brings together the Executive Heads of all UN funds, programmes and specialized agencies twice a year in order to further coordination and cooperation in the entire range of substantive and management issues facing the United Nations System.

One of the most vital roles played by the Secretary-General is the use of his "good offices" -- steps taken publicly and in private, drawing upon his independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

With gratitude for your support and encouragement, and honouring your trust, I pledge my full commitment to accept your support. I am proud and humbled to accept. As Secretary-General, I will work as a harmonizer and bridge-builder — among Member States, within the United Nations system, and between the United Nations and a rich diversity of international partners.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in remarks to the General Assembly after being elected for a second term, 21 June '11


General Assembly appoints Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary-General for second term - 21 Jun. '11

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