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How the UN Chose Its New Secretary General

Written by Abigail Rasol

November 16, 2016

How the UN Chose Its New Secretary General

On October 13th, António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was appointed Secretary-General by the General Assembly. He is to succeed Ban Ki-moon on January 1st.

Amidst this change, the foremost question on the minds of most is a simple one – how exactly was he chosen? I’ve compiled a list that describes the process of the appointment of a Secretary-General, with examples from the latest selection. Read up.

How is the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed?

Step One: Article 97 of the UN Charter stipulates that, “The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council,” thereby designating a two-step process in which the candidate is first nominated by the Security Council and then appointed by the General Assembly.

Despite there being no official rule, it is observed the Secretary-General cannot hail from a country that has a Permanent Seat in the Security Council. This is held out of fear a single state could yield too much influence over the UN. The position of Secretary General also typically rotates around regional blocs in the General Assembly. The one exception to this case has been the appointment of Kofi Annan, of Ghana, following Boutros Bouhattros-Gali of Egypt.

Step Two: Nominations are determined through “closed-door straw polls,” in which Council members are asked to indicate whether they “encourage,” “discourage,” or “have no opinion” regarding specific candidates.

  1. A series of straw polls were conducted in the Security Council. The candidates in question, in addition to Guterres, were Vuk Jeremi? of Serbia, Miroslav Laj?ák of Slovakia, Irinia Bokova of Bulgaria, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, Natalia Gherman of Moldova, Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia, Danilo Türk of Slovenia, and Susana Malcorra of Argentina.
  2. By the end, Guterres emerged with 13 “encourage” votes, 2 “no opinion” votes and no “discourage” votes, the highest amount of “encourage” votes and lowest amount of “discourage” votes, making him the clear candidate for official nomination.

Step Three: The Security Council adopts a resolution in order to declare its formal nomination once a final nominee has been chosen. This is done in a private meeting of the Security Council (very little discussion about candidates takes place openly; it is generally a highly confidential process, despite attempts made by UN President Lykketoft, and then President Thomson, to reform it). This nomination is subject to the veto of any of the permanent members of the Security Council: France, Russian Federation, the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. The resolution, in addition to establishing the nominee, also outlines the Security Council’s suggestion for the length of the term.

On October 6th, following the the final closed-door straw poll, the Security Council formally recommended Guterres as the nominee to the General Assembly.

Step Four: The Security Council president then informally consults with other Council members to determine a date for adopting the nomination. Once this date has been set, the Council President informs the Assembly President of the date.

Step Five: The General Assembly President informs the General Assembly member states of the date.

Step Six: The General Assembly votes on the appointment of the nominee. No candidate has ever been rejected by the General Assembly. The General Assembly formally selected Guterres as the new Secretary-General on the 13th of October.

Featured Image Photo Attribution: By English: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nederlands: Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken (130115 UNHCR bij Timmermans 0388) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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