Secretary-General of the United Nations

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

of the United Nations
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
Flag of the United Nations.svg
António Guterres - 2019 (48132270313) (cropped).jpg
António Guterres

since 1 January 2017 (2017-01-01)
United Nations Secretariat
StyleHis Excellency
Member ofSecretariat
General Assembly
ResidenceSutton Place, Manhattan
SeatUnited Nations Headquarters, New York City, United States
NominatorSecurity Council
Appointer General Assembly
Term lengthfive years, renewable (traditionally limited to two terms)
Constituting instrumentUnited Nations Charter
Inaugural holderGladwyn Jebb
as acting Secretary-General (24 October 1945)
Trygve Lie
as first Secretary-General (2 February 1946)
Formation24 October 1945
DeputyDeputy Secretary-General

The secretary-general of the United Nations (UNSG or SG) is the chief administrative officer of the United Nations and head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the six principal organs of the United Nations.

The role of the secretary-general and of the Secretariat is laid out by Chapter XV (Articles 97 to 101) of the United Nations Charter. However, the office's qualifications, selection process, and tenure are open to interpretation and have been established by custom.[1]

As of 2020, the secretary-general is former prime minister of Portugal António Guterres, who was appointed by the General Assembly on 13 October 2016 and began his five-year term on 1 January 2017.[2]

Selection and term of office[edit]

The Secretariat Building is a 154-metre-tall (505 ft) skyscraper and the centerpiece of the Headquarters of the United Nations.

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.[3] 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,[4]:5 although no woman has yet served as secretary-general. All appointees to date have been career diplomats.[5]

The length of the term is discretionary, but all secretaries-general since 1971 have been appointed to five-year terms. Every secretary-general since 1961 has been re-selected for a second term, with the exception of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who was vetoed by the United States in the 1996 selection. There is a term limit of two full terms, established when China cast a record 16 vetoes against Kurt Waldheim's third term in the 1981 selection. No secretary-general since 1981 has attempted to secure a third term.

The selection process is opaque and is often compared to a papal conclave.[6][7] Since 1981, the Security Council has voted in secret in a series of straw polls; it then submits the winning candidate to the General Assembly for ratification. No candidate has ever been rejected by the General Assembly, and only once, in 1950, has a candidate been voted upon despite a UNSC veto.[8]

In 2016, the General Assembly and the Security Council sought nominations and conducted public debates for the first time. 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".[9]

Powers and duties[edit]

The role of secretary-general is described as combining the functions and responsibilities of an advocate, diplomat, civil servant, and CEO.[10] The UN Charter designates the secretary-general as the "chief administrative officer" of the UN and allows him to perform "such other functions as are entrusted" by other United Nations organs. The Charter also empowers the secretary-general to inform the Security Council of "any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security". These provision has been interpreted as providing broad leeway for officeholders to serve a variety of roles as suited to their preferences, skill set, or the circumstances.[11]

The secretary-general's routine duties include overseeing the activities and duties of the Secretariat; attending sessions with United Nations bodies; consulting with world leaders, government officials, and other stakeholders; and traveling the world to engage with global constituents and bring attention to certain international issues.[10] The secretary-general publishes an annual report on the work of the UN, which includes an assessment of its activities and an outline future priorities. He or she is also Chairman of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), a body composed of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and specialized agencies, which meets twice a year to discuss substantive and management issues facing the United Nations System.[10]

Many of the secretary-general's powers are informal and left open to individual interpretation; some appointees have opted for more activist roles, while others have been more technocratic or administrative.[11] The SG is often reliant upon the use of his or her "good offices", described as "steps taken publicly and in private, drawing upon his independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading".[10] Consequently, observers have variably described the office as the "world's most visible bully pulpit" or as the "world's moderator".[12][11] Examples include Dag Hammarskjöld's promotion of an armistice between the warring parties of Arab-Israel conflict, Javier Perez de Cuellar's negotiation of a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War, and U Thant's role in de-esalating the Cuban Missile Crisis.[11]


The official residence of the secretary-general is a townhouse at 3 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.[13]

List of secretaries-general[edit]

Portrait Secretary-General
Dates in office Country of origin UN regional group Reason of withdrawal Ref.
Sr. Gladwyn Jebb.jpg Gladwyn Jebb
24 October 1945 –
2 February 1946
United Kingdom Britain Western European & others Served as Acting Secretary-General until Lie's election. [14]
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.
UtenriksministerTrygveLie.jpg Trygve Lie
Trygve Lie Signature.svg
2 February 1946 –
10 November 1952
 Norway Western European & others Resigned. [15]
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.[16]
Dag Hammarskjöld.jpg Dag Hammarskjöld
Sign Dag Hammarskjold.png
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. [17]
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 died in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1961.[16] U.S. President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of our century".[18] Hammarskjöld was awarded the 1961 Nobel Prize for Peace posthumously.
U Thant at UN press conference.PNG U Thant
U Thant Signature.svg
3 November 1961 –
30 November 1962
Myanmar Myanmar Asia & Pacific Served as Acting Secretary-General after Hammarskjöld's death until Thant's election as Secretary-General. [19]
30 November 1962 –
31 December 1971
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 (Myanmar 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 full term ending on 3 November 1966. At the General Assembly session on 2 December 1966, Thant was reappointed as Secretary-General by a unanimous vote of the Security Council. His 5-year term ended on 31 December 1971. Thant did not seek a third election.[16]
Kurt Waldheim 1971b.jpg Kurt Waldheim
Kurt Waldheim Signature.svg
1 January 1972 –
31 December 1981
 Austria Western European & others China vetoed his third term. [20]
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; although the official reasons by the Chinese government for the veto of Waldheim remain unclear, some estimates from the time believe it to be in part due to China's belief that a Third World country should give a nomination, particularly from the Americas;[21] however, there also remained the question of his possible involvement in Nazi war crimes.[22] From 1986 to 1992, Waldheim served as President of Austria, making him the first former secretary-general to rise to the position of head of state.[citation needed] 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.[16]
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (1982).jpg Javier Pérez de Cuéllar
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (firma).jpg
1 January 1982 –
31 December 1991
 Peru Latin American
& Caribbean
Did not stand for a third term. [23]
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 who a decade earlier had served as President of the UN Security Council during his time as Peruvian Ambassador to the UN, was a compromise candidate, and became the first and thus far only secretary-general from the Americas. He was re-elected unanimously in 1986.[16]
Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1980).jpg Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Signature of Boutros Boutros-Ghali.svg
1 January 1992 –
31 December 1996
 Egypt African The United States vetoed his second term. [24]
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.[16]
Kofi Annan 2012 (cropped).jpg Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan signature.svg
1 January 1997 –
31 December 2006
 Ghana African Retired after two full terms. [25]
On 13 December 1996, the Security Council recommended Annan.[26][27] He was confirmed four days later by the vote of the General Assembly.[28] He started his second term as Secretary-General on 1 January 2002. Kofi Annan and the United Nations were the recipients of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Peace.
Ban Ki-moon April 2015.jpg Ban Ki-moon
(born 1944)
Ban Ki Moon Signature.svg
1 January 2007 –
31 December 2016
Korea Korea Asia & Pacific Retired after two full terms. [29]
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.[30] Prior to his selection, he was the Foreign Minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006.
António Guterres - 2019 (48132270313) (cropped).jpg António Guterres
(born 1949)
Assinatura António Guterres.svg
1 January 2017 –
 Portugal Western European & others
Guterres is 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).
A map showing which nations have had a national serving as Secretary-General of the United Nations
Birthplaces of Secretaries-General of the United Nations


# Secretary-General Date of birth Age at ascension
(first term)
Time in office
Age at retirement
(last term)
Date of death Longevity
acting Jebb, Gladwyn Gladwyn Jebb 1900 04 2525 April 1900(5 April 1900) 45 18245 years, 182 days 00 101101 days 45 28345 years, 283 days 1996 10 2424 October 1996 35,24696 years, 182 days
1 Lie, Trygve Trygve Lie 1896 07 1616 July 1896(16 July 1896) 49 20149 years, 201 days 06 2826 years, 282 days 56 11756 years, 117 days 1968 12 3030 December 1968 26,46472 years, 167 days
2 Hammarskjöld, Dag Dag Hammarskjöld 1905 07 2929 July 1905(29 July 1905) 47 25547 years, 255 days 08 1618 years, 161 days 56 05156 years, 51 days 1961 09 1818 September 1961 20,50556 years, 51 days
3 Thant, U U Thant 1909 01 2222 January 1909(22 January 1909) 52 31252 years, 312 days 10 03110 years, 31 days 62 34362 years, 343 days 1974 11 2525 November 1974 24,04865 years, 307 days
4 Waldheim, Kurt Kurt Waldheim 1918 12 2121 December 1918(21 December 1918) 53 01153 years, 11 days 09 36410 years 63 01063 years, 10 days 2007 06 1414 June 2007 32,31788 years, 175 days
5 Pérez de Cuéllar, Javier Javier Pérez de Cuéllar 1920 01 1919 January 1920(19 January 1920) 61 34761 years, 347 days 09 36410 years 71 34671 years, 346 days 2020 03 044 March 2020 36,570100 years, 45 days
6 Boutros-Ghali, Boutros Boutros Boutros-Ghali 1922 11 1414 November 1922(14 November 1922) 69 04869 years, 48 days 04 3645 years 74 04774 years, 47 days 2016 02 1616 February 2016 34,06293 years, 94 days
7 Annan, Kofi Kofi Annan 1938 04 088 April 1938(8 April 1938) 58 26858 years, 268 days 09 36410 years 68 26768 years, 267 days 2018 08 1818 August 2018 29,35280 years, 132 days
8 Ban, Ki-moon Ban Ki-moon 1944 06 1313 June 1944(13 June 1944) 62 20262 years, 202 days 09 36410 years 72 20172 years, 201 days Living 27,88576 years, 126 days (Living)
9 Guterres, António António Guterres 1949 04 3030 April 1949(30 April 1949) 67 years, 246 days 3 years, 290 days (Ongoing) Incumbent Living 26,10371 years, 170 days (Living)

By regional group[edit]

UN Regional Group Secretaries-General Terms
WEOG 4 7
Eastern European Group 0 0
Asia-Pacific Group 2 4
African Group 2 3

Lifespan timeline[edit]

This is a graphical lifespan timeline of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations. They are listed in order of office.

António GuterresBan Ki-MoonKofi AnnanBoutros Boutros-GhaliJavier Pérez de CuéllarKurt WaldheimU ThantDag HammarskjöldTrygve LieGladwyn Jebb

Living former secretary-general[edit]

As of October 2020, the one former secretary-general that is alive is Ban Ki-moon. The most recent death of a former secretary-general was that of Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (1982–1991) on 4 March 2020.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Urquhart, Brian (28 January 2009). "The Next Secretary-General: How to Fill a Job With No Description". Foreign Affairs : America and the World. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  2. ^ "Who is and has been Secretary-General of the United Nations? - Ask DAG!". Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  3. ^ "Kofi Annan: Job at a Glance". PBS. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2002. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016.
  4. ^ Appointing the UN Secretary-General (PDF). Research Report. 2015. New York: Security Council Report, Inc. 16 October 2015. pp. 4–5.
  5. ^ "The Role of the UN Secretary-General". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  6. ^ Sengupta, Somini (21 July 2016). "Secrecy Reigns as U.N. Seeks a New Secretary General". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "A Well-Read Secretary General". The New York Times. 13 December 1981. With a figurative puff of white smoke, the United Nations Security Council finally selected a new Secretary-General – a seasoned and soft-spoken diplomat from Peru, Javier Perez de Cuellar.
  8. ^ Barrett, George (13 October 1950). "Position of U.N. Chief Aide is Thrust Into Uncertainty". The New York Times. p. 1.
  9. ^ "Letter from Mogens Lykketoft to All Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers to the United Nations, 21 July 2016" (PDF). 21 July 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d "The role of the Secretary-General". United Nations Secretary-General. 22 April 2015. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d "The Role of the UN Secretary-General". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  12. ^ "The Secretary-General Is Dead; Long Live the Secretary-General". Observer. 10 October 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  13. ^ Teltsch, Kathleen. "Town House Offered to UN", The New York Times, 15 July 1972. Retrieved 27 December 2007.
  14. ^ Stout, David (26 October 1996). "Lord Gladwyn Is Dead at 96; Briton Helped Found the UN". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2008.
  15. ^ The United Nations: Trygve Haldvan Lie (Norway). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "An Historical Overview on the Selection of United Nations Secretaries-General" (PDF). UNA-USA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 October 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2007.
  17. ^ The United Nations: Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  18. ^ Linnér, S. (2007). Dag Hammarskjöld and the Congo crisis, 1960–61 Archived 5 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Page 28. Uppsala University. (22 July 2008).
  19. ^ United Nations: U Thant (Myanmar). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  20. ^ The United Nations: Kurt Waldheim (Austria). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  21. ^ Nossiter, Bernard D. (29 October 1981). "China Continues to Bar Waldheim Renomination". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  22. ^ Editors, History com. "Waldheim elected U.N. secretary-general". HISTORY. Retrieved 14 February 2019.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  23. ^ The United Nations: Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  24. ^ The United Nations: Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  25. ^ The United Nations: The Biography of Kofi A. Annan. Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  26. ^ "Kofi Annan of Ghana recommended by Security Council for appointment as Secretary-General of United Nations" (Press release). United Nations. 13 December 1996. Retrieved 12 December 2006.
  27. ^ Traub, James (2006). The Best Intentions. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-374-18220-5.
  28. ^ "General Assembly appoints Kofi Annan of Ghana as seventh Secretary-General" (Press release). United Nations. 17 December 1996. Retrieved 12 December 2006.
  29. ^ "Ban Ki-moon is sworn in as next Secretary-General of the United Nations". United Nations.
  30. ^ "Ban Ki-moon gets second term as UN chief". The Globe and Mail. 22 June 2011. Archived from the original on 24 June 2011.
  31. ^ Gestión, Redacción (5 March 2020). "Javier Pérez de Cuéllar: Diplomático falleció este miércoles a los 100 años". Gestión (in Spanish). Retrieved 5 March 2020.

External links[edit]