How the UN Secretary-General is appointed

News: The term of the current mandate holder ends in December 2016. On June 2011, Member States unanimously re-elected Mr Ban ki-Moon for the post.

Role: The UN Charter describes the Secretary-General as "chief administrative officer" of the Organisation, 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".

How? 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. On 16 February 2006 Security Council Report published a Special Research Report titled “Appointment of a New Secretary-General”. It described the past history of appointments and discussed the processes used for appointing previous Secretary-Generals. It also described the decisions taken by the United Nations General Assembly in 1997 regarding the introduction of new appointment procedures when the time came to appoint a successor to Kofi Annan. Read more.

Informal rules influence the selection process. For example, nationals of permanent members of the Security Council - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom or the United States - cannot be considered for the post, because of possible undue influence. There is also an informal requirement that candidates for UNSG must be fluent in English and French, which, while the dominant languages of international relations, are only two of the UN's six official languages.

When: Ban's current term will expire in December 2016.

Action: There is an opportunity for ensuring that the appointment process is transparent, and that the criteria are publicly available and demonstrate a commitment to human rights. Further details will be circulated in due course.