How is the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed?
Last Updated: Sep 30, 2019
The Secretary-General heads the Secretariat as the chief administrative officer of the Organization.
Article 97 of the Charter states, "The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council".
General Assembly resolution A/RES/11(I) of 1946 states, inter alia,
"Both nomination and appointment should be discussed at private meetings, and a vote in either the Security Council or the General Assembly, if taken, should be by secret ballot."
The documents related to the appointment of Secretary-General António Guterres in 2016 illustrate the general pattern past appointments have followed.
- Member states send letters to nominate candidates
- for example, A/70/768 - S/2016/206
- Security Council meets in a closed meeting to decide on a candidate
- for example, S/PV.7782
- Security Council adopts a resolution to recommend the candidate
- for example, S/RES/2311(2016)
- Security Council transmits the recommendation to the General Assembly
- for example, A/71/531
- General Assembly meets to consider the recommendation of the Security Council
- for example, A/71/PV.27
- General Assembly adopts a resolution to appoint the Secretary-General
- for example, A/RES/71/4
As illustrated in the sample meeting records, little discussion about the candidates occurs in open, formal meetings of the Security Council or General Assembly. Most of the negotiations on this matter take place behind the scenes and the official documents rarely reflect the process, just the outcome.
There have been regular calls for an increase in transparency in the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General, for example in General Assembly resolution 69/321, operative paragraphs 32-44, adopted 11 September 2015.
For the selection of the ninth Secretary-General, the Presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly issued a joint letter to invite states to nominate candidates (A/70/623).
"In line with General Assembly resolution 69/321, the present joint letter serves to begin soliciting candidates and to set in motion the process of selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, in accordance with the provisions of Article 97 of the Charter of the United Nations and guided by the principles of transparency and inclusivity."
The President of the 70th session of the General Assembly worked to improve the transparency of the selection and appointment process. His website included a page on the selection process and information about the candidates. Toward the end of his presidency, he sent a letter to the Security Council summarizing the process to date and making recommendations for the future (S/2016/784).
After the appointment of Secretary-General António Guterres, the Permanent Representative of Japan, in his personal capacity, transmitted a summary of the selection process that highlights key events, with a focus on the role of the Security Council in the process (A/71/774–S/2017/93).
"This paper is intended to provide an overview of the entire selection process, with specific emphasis on the process within the Council, and an exposition of the achievements made during the 2016 process and lessons learned for future selection processes."
In October 2017, a letter from Estonia on behalf of 25 Member States of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT) transmitted "a note on the selection process of the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2015 and 2016" (A/72/514–S/2017/846).
In September 2019, the General Assembly adopted resolution 73/341 that includes a section on "Selection and appointment of the Secretary-General and other executive heads" and annexes an "Oath of office of the Secretary-General".
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