|Secretary-General of the
United Nations Secretariat
New York City, New York, US
|Term length||5 years
(renewable, traditionally limited to 2 terms)
|Constituting instrument||United Nations Charter|
|Inaugural holder||Trygve Lie|
|Formation||June 26, 1945|
The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UNSG or just SG) is the head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the principal organs of the United Nations. The Secretary-General serves as the chief administrative officer of the United Nations. The role of the United Nations Secretariat, and of the Secretary-General in particular, is laid out by Chapter XV (Articles 97 to 101) of the United Nations Charter.
As of 2017, the Secretary-General is António Guterres, appointed by the General Assembly on 13 October 2016.
The Secretary-General was envisioned by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "world moderator", but the vague definition provided by the UN Charter left much room for interpretation by those who would later occupy the position. According to the UN website, their roles are further defined as "diplomat and advocate, civil servant, and CEO". Nevertheless, this more abstract description has not prevented the office holders from speaking out and playing important roles on global issues to various degrees. Article 97 under Chapter XV of the United Nations Charter states that the Secretary-General shall be the "chief administrative officer" of the Organization, but does not dictate their specific obligations.
Responsibilities of the Secretary-General are further outlined in Articles 98 through 100. Article 98 states that they shall act as the chief administrative officer "in all meetings of the General Assembly, of the Security Council, of the Economic and Social Council and the Trusteeship Council, and shall perform other functions as are entrusted to him by these organs". They are also responsible for making an annual report to the General Assembly. According to Article 99, they may notify the Security Council on matters which "in their opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security". Other than these few guidelines, little else is dictated by the Charter. Interpretation of the Charter has varied between Secretaries-General, with some being much more active than others.
The Secretary-General, along with the Secretariat, is given the prerogative to exhibit no allegiance to any state but to only the United Nations organization: decisions must be made without regard to the state of origin.
The Secretary-General is highly dependent upon the support of the member states of the UN. "The Secretary-General would fail if they did not take careful account of the concerns of Member States, but they 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."
"The personal skills of the Secretary-General and their staff are crucial to their function. The central position of the UN headquarters in the international diplomatic network is also an important asset. The Secretary-General has the right to place any dispute on the provisional agenda of the Security Council. However, they work mostly behind the scenes if the members of the council are unwilling to discuss a dispute. Most of their time is spent on good offices missions and mediation, sometimes at the request of deliberative organs of the UN, but also frequently on their own initiative. Their function may be replaced or supplemented by mediation efforts by the major powers. UN peacekeeping missions are often closely linked to mediation (peacemaking). The recent improvement in relations between the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) has strengthened the role of the Secretary-General as the world's most reputable intermediary."
In the early 1960s, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev led an effort to abolish the Secretary-General position. The numerical superiority of the Western powers combined with the one state, one vote system meant that the Secretary-General would come from one of them, and would potentially be sympathetic towards the West. Khrushchev proposed to replace the Secretary-General with a three-person leading council (a "troika"): one member from the West, one from the Eastern Bloc, and one from the Non-Aligned powers. This idea failed because the neutral powers failed to back the Soviet proposal.
Article 97 of the United Nations Charter determines that the Secretary-General is "appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council." As the recommendation must come from the Security Council, any of the five permanent members of the Council can veto a nomination. Most Secretaries-General are compromise candidates from middle powers and have little prior fame. Unofficial qualifications for the job have been set by precedent in previous selections. The appointee may not be a citizen of any of the Security Council's five permanent members. The General Assembly resolution 51/241 in 1997 stated that in the appointment of "the best candidate", due regard should be given to regional (continental) rotation of the appointee's national origin and to gender equality.:5
The Secretary-General is customarily appointed for a five-year term, although the length of the term is discretionary. Trygve Lie's second appointment was for three years,:4 and U Thant's first two terms were short terms that added up to five years. The Secretary-General customarily runs unopposed for a second term if he wishes to continue serving, and he is reappointed unless vetoed by a permanent member. Although there is no formal limit to the number of terms, none so far has held office for more than two full terms. Kurt Waldheim ran for a third full term in 1981, but several candidates ran to oppose him. China cast a record 16 vetoes against Waldheim, forcing him to suspend his candidacy. No Secretary-General since 1981 has attempted to secure a third term.
Since 1981, Secretaries-General have been chosen behind closed doors by the Security Council and then had their names submitted to General Assembly for ratification. No candidate has ever been rejected by the General Assembly. The Security Council and General Assembly took steps in 2016 to make the selection process more transparent and open, sending a letter to UN member states asking them to nominate candidates for the position. However, the Security Council voted in private and followed the same process as previous selections, leading the President of the General Assembly to complain that it "does not live up to the expectations of the membership and the new standard of openness and transparency".
The official residence of the Secretary-General is a townhouse in Sutton Place, Manhattan, in New York City, United States. The townhouse was built for Anne Morgan in 1921, and donated to the United Nations in 1972.
|Dates in office||Country of origin||UN Regional Group||Reason of withdrawal||Ref.|
|24 October 1945 –
1 February 1946
|United Kingdom||Western European & Others||Served as Acting Secretary-General until Lie's election.|||
|After World War II, he served as Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations in August 1945, being appointed Acting United Nations Secretary-General from October 1945 to February 1946 until the appointment of the first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie.|
|2 February 1946 –
10 November 1952
|Norway||Western European & Others||Resigned.|||
|Lie, a foreign minister and former labour leader, was recommended by the Soviet Union to fill the post. After the UN involvement in the Korean War, the Soviet Union vetoed Lie's reappointment in 1951. The United States circumvented the Soviet Union's veto and recommended reappointment directly to the General Assembly. Lie was reappointed by a vote of 46 to 5, with eight abstentions. The Soviet Union remained hostile to Lie, and he resigned in 1952.|
|10 April 1953 –
18 September 1961
|Sweden||Western European & Others||Died in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), while on a peacekeeping mission to the Congo.|||
|After a series of candidates were vetoed, Hammarskjöld emerged as an option that was acceptable to the Security Council. He was re-elected unanimously to a second term in 1957. The Soviet Union was angered by Hammarskjöld's leadership of the UN during the Congo Crisis, and suggested that the position of Secretary-General be replaced by a troika, or three-man executive. Facing great opposition from the Western nations, the Soviet Union gave up on its suggestion. Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1961. U.S. President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of our century".|
|30 November 1961 –
31 December 1971
|Burma||Asia-Pacific||Declined to stand for a third election.|||
|In the process of replacing Hammarskjöld, the developing world insisted on a non-European and non-American Secretary-General. U Thant was nominated. However, due to opposition from the French (Thant had chaired a committee on Algerian independence) and the Arabs (Burma supported Israel), Thant was only appointed for the remainder of Hammarskjöld's term. He was the first Asian Secretary-General. The following year, on 30 November, Thant was unanimously re-elected to a new term ending on 3 November 1966. He was re-elected on 2 December 1966, finally for a full 5-year term, ending on 31 December 1971. Thant did not seek a third election.|
|1 January 1972 –
31 December 1981
|Austria||Western European & Others||China vetoed his third term.|||
|Waldheim launched a discreet but effective campaign to become the Secretary-General. Despite initial vetoes from China and the United Kingdom, in the third round, Waldheim was selected to become the new Secretary-General. In 1976, China initially blocked Waldheim's re-election, but it relented on the second ballot. In 1981, Waldheim's re-election for a third term was blocked by China, which vetoed his selection through 15 rounds. From 1986 to 1992, Waldheim served as President of Austria. In 1985, it was revealed that a post–World War II UN War Crimes Commission had labeled Waldheim as a suspected war criminal – based on his involvement with the army of Nazi Germany. The files had been stored in the UN archive.|
||Javier Pérez de Cuéllar
|1 January 1982 –
31 December 1991
|Peru||Latin American & Caribbean||Did not stand for a third term.|||
|Pérez de Cuéllar was selected after a five-week deadlock between the re-election of Waldheim and China's candidate, Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania. Pérez de Cuéllar, a Peruvian diplomat, was a compromise candidate, and became the first Secretary-General from the Americas. He was re-elected unanimously in 1986.|
|1 January 1992 –
31 December 1996
|Egypt||African||The United States vetoed his second term.|||
|The 102-member Non-Aligned Movement insisted that the next Secretary-General come from Africa. With a majority in the General Assembly and the support of China, the Non-Aligned Movement had the votes necessary to block any unfavourable candidate. The Security Council conducted five anonymous straw polls—a first for the council—and Boutros-Ghali emerged with 11 votes on the fifth round. In 1996, the United States vetoed the re-appointment of Boutros-Ghali, claiming he had failed in implementing necessary reforms to the UN.|
|1 January 1997 –
31 December 2006
|Ghana||African||Retired after two full terms.|||
|On 13 December 1996, the Security Council recommended Annan. He was confirmed four days later by the vote of the General Assembly. He started his second term as Secretary-General on 1 January 2002.|
|1 January 2007 –
31 December 2016
|South Korea||Asia-Pacific||Retired after two full terms.|||
|Ban became the first East Asian to be selected as the Secretary-General and the second Asian overall after U Thant. He was unanimously elected to a second term by the General Assembly on 21 June 2011. His second term began on 1 January 2012. Prior to his selection, he was the Foreign Minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006.|
|1 January 2017 –
|Portugal||Western European & Others|
|Guterres is the first Secretary-General from Western Europe since Kurt Waldheim (1972–1981), the first former head of government to become Secretary-General and the first Secretary-General born after the establishment of the United Nations. He was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002. He has also been President of Socialist International (1999–2005) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2005–2015).|
|UN Regional Group||Secretaries-General||Terms|
|Eastern European Group||0||0|
This is a graphical lifespan timeline of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations. They are listed in order of office.
As of April 2017, the only former Secretaries-General that are alive are Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Kofi Annan, and Ban Ki-moon. The most recent death of a former Secretary-General was that of Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992–96) on 16 February 2016.