Secretary-General of the United Nations

Last updated

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

since 1 January 2017 (2017-01-01)
United Nations Secretariat
Style His Excellency
Member of Secretariat
General Assembly
Residence Sutton Place, Manhattan
Seat United Nations Headquarters, New York City, United States
Nominator Security Council
Appointer General Assembly
Term length five years, renewable (traditionally limited to two terms)
Constituting instrument United Nations Charter
Inaugural holder Gladwyn Jebb
as acting Secretary-General (24 October 1945)
Trygve Lie
as first Secretary-General (2 February 1946)
Formation24 October 1945
Deputy Deputy Secretary-General

The secretary-general of the United Nations (UNSG or just SG) is the head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the six 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 2020, the secretary-general is António Guterres of Portugal, appointed by the General Assembly on 13 October 2016. [1]

Selection and term of office

The Secretariat Building is a 154 m (505 ft) tall skyscraper and the centerpiece of the Headquarters of the United Nations Newyork unitednations.JPG
The Secretariat Building is a 154 m (505 ft) tall 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. [2] 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, [3] :5 although no woman has yet served as Secretary-General.

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. [4] [5] Since 1981, the Security Council has voted in secret in a series of straw polls. The Security Council then submits the winning candidate to the General Assembly for ratification. No candidate has ever been rejected by the General Assembly.[ citation needed ] 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". [6]

Powers and duties


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. [7]

List of secretaries-general

Dates in officeCountry of origin UN regional group Reason of withdrawalRef.
Sr. Gladwyn Jebb.jpg Gladwyn Jebb
24 October 1945 –
2 February 1946
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg   Britain Western European & othersServed as Acting Secretary-General until Lie's election. [8]
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
Flag of Norway.svg  Norway Western European & othersResigned. [9]
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]
Dag Hammarskjold.jpg Dag Hammarskjöld
Sign Dag Hammarskjold.png
10 April 1953 –
18 September 1961
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden Western European & others Died in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), while on a peacekeeping mission to the Congo. [11]
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. [10] U.S. President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of our century". [12] 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
Flag of Burma (1948-1974).svg   Myanmar Asia & PacificServed as Acting Secretary-General after Hammarskjöld's death until Thant's election as Secretary-General. [13]
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. However, Thant offered to stay on until the end of the General Assembly session on 2 December 1966 while a successor, Thant himself was elected, finally for just over full 5-year term, ending on 31 December 1971. Thant did not seek a third election. [10]
Kurt Waldheim 1971b.jpg Kurt Waldheim
Kurt Waldheim Signature.svg
1 January 1972 –
31 December 1981
Flag of Austria.svg  Austria Western European & othersChina vetoed his third term. [14]
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; [15] however, there also remained the question of his possible involvement in Nazi war crimes. [16] 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. [10]
Javier Perez de Cuellar (1982).jpg Javier Pérez de Cuéllar
Javier Perez de Cuellar (firma).jpg
1 January 1982 –
31 December 1991
Flag of Peru.svg  Peru Latin American
& Caribbean
Did not stand for a third term. [17]
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. [10]
Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1980).jpg Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Signature of Boutros Boutros-Ghali.svg
1 January 1992 –
31 December 1996
Flag of Egypt.svg  Egypt AfricanThe United States vetoed his second term. [18]
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. [10]
Kofi Annan 2012 (cropped).jpg Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan signature.svg
1 January 1997 –
31 December 2006
Flag of Ghana.svg  Ghana AfricanRetired after two full terms. [19]
On 13 December 1996, the Security Council recommended Annan. [20] [21] He was confirmed four days later by the vote of the General Assembly. [22] 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
Flag of Korea (1899).svg   Korea Asia & PacificRetired after two full terms. [23]
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. [24] Prior to his selection, he was the Foreign Minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006.
Antonio Guterres - 2019 (48132270313) (cropped).jpg António Guterres
(born 1949)
Assinatura Antonio Guterres.svg
1 January 2017 –
Flag of Portugal.svg  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 UNSG map.png
A map showing which nations have had a national serving as Secretary-General of the United Nations
World location map (equirectangular 180).svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Birthplaces of Secretaries-General of the United Nations


#Secretary-GeneralDate of birthAge at ascension
(first term)
Time in office
Age at retirement
(last term)
Date of deathLongevity
actingFlag of the United Kingdom.svg Gladwyn Jebb 25 April 190045 years, 182 days101 days45 years, 283 days24 October 1996
1Flag of Norway.svg Trygve Lie 16 July 189649 years, 201 days6 years, 282 days56 years, 117 days30 December 1968
2Flag of Sweden.svg Dag Hammarskjöld 29 July 190547 years, 255 days8 years, 161 days56 years, 51 days18 September 1961
3Flag of Burma (1948-1974).svg U Thant 22 January 190952 years, 312 days10 years, 31 days62 years, 343 days25 November 1974
4Flag of Austria.svg Kurt Waldheim 21 December 191853 years, 11 days10 years63 years, 10 days14 June 2007
5Flag of Peru.svg Javier Pérez de Cuéllar 19 January 192061 years, 347 days10 years71 years, 346 days4 March 2020
6Flag of Egypt.svg Boutros Boutros-Ghali 14 November 192269 years, 48 days5 years74 years, 47 days16 February 2016
7Flag of Ghana.svg Kofi Annan 8 April 193858 years, 268 days10 years68 years, 267 days18 August 2018
8Flag of Korea (1899).svg Ban Ki-moon 13 June 194462 years, 202 days10 years72 years, 201 daysLiving
9Flag of Portugal.svg António Guterres 30 April 1949IncumbentLiving

By regional group

UN Regional Group Secretaries-GeneralTerms
Eastern European Group 00
Asia-Pacific Group 24
African Group 23

Lifespan timeline

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 JebbSecretary-General of the United Nations

Living former secretary-general

As of April2020, the only 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. [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

Kofi Annan 7th Secretary-General of the United Nations

Kofi Atta Annan was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. He was the founder and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation, as well as chairman of The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela.

United Nations Secretariat principal organ of the United Nations

The United Nations Secretariat is one of the six major organs of the United Nations, with the others being (a) the General Assembly; (b) the Security Council; (c) the Economic and Social Council; (d) the defunct Trusteeship Council; and (e) the International Court of Justice. The Secretariat is the United Nations' executive arm. The Secretariat has an important role in setting the agenda for the UN's deliberative and decision making bodies of the UN, and the implementation of the decision of these bodies. The Secretary-General, who is appointed by the General Assembly, is the head of the secretariat.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali 6th Secretary-General of the United Nations

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was an Egyptian politician and diplomat who was the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) from January 1992 to December 1996. An academic and former Vice Foreign Minister of Egypt, Boutros-Ghali oversaw the UN over a period coinciding with several world crises, including the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide. He was then the first Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie from 16 November 1997 to 31 December 2002.

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar 5th Secretary-General of the United Nations

Javier Felipe Ricardo Pérez de Cuéllar y de la Guerra was a Peruvian politician and diplomat who served as the fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1, 1982 to December 31, 1991. He ran unsuccessfully against Alberto Fujimori for President of Peru in 1995 and following Fujimori's resignation over corruption charges, he was Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs from November 2000 until July 2001. In September 2004, he stepped down from his position as Peru's Ambassador to France, where he formerly resided. He was also a member of the Club de Madrid, a group of more than 100 former Presidents and Prime Ministers of democratic countries, which works to strengthen democracy worldwide. At the age of 100 years, 45 days, at the time of his death in March 2020 Pérez de Cuéllar was both the oldest living former Peruvian prime minister and Secretary General of the United Nations.

Álvaro de Soto y Polar is a Peruvian diplomat. He ended a 25-year career with the United Nations in May 2007.

Since the late 1990s there have been many calls for reforms of the United Nations (UN). However, there is little clarity or consensus about what reform might mean in practice. Both those who want the UN to play a greater role in world affairs and those who want its role confined to humanitarian work or otherwise reduced use the term "UN reform" to refer to their ideas. The range of opinion extends from those who want to eliminate the UN entirely, to those who want to make it into a full-fledged world government. Secretary General has presented numerous ways to implement these new reforms. There have been reform efforts since the creation of the UN and closely associated with each of the Secretary-Generals.

Salim Ahmed Salim Tanzanian politician and diplomat

Salim Ahmed Salim is a Tanzanian politician and diplomat who has worked in the international diplomatic arena since the early 1960s.

United Nations Department of Peace Operations A department of the United Nations which is charged with managing peacekeeping operations.

The Department of Peace Operations (DPO) is a department of the United Nations which is charged with the planning, preparation, management and direction of UN peacekeeping operations.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah Mauritanian diplomat

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah is a Mauritanian diplomat who was a senior United Nations official.

Marrack Goulding British diplomat, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Sir Marrack Goulding KCMG was a British diplomat who served more than eleven years as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

2006 United Nations Secretary-General selection

A United Nations Secretary-General selection was held in 2006 to succeed Kofi Annan, whose second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations ran until 31 December 2006. Seven candidates were officially nominated for the position.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 693 United Nations Security Council resolution

United Nations Security Council resolution 693 of 20 May 1991 established the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador to verify the military-led government of El Salvador and the militia Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front's compliance with human rights in accordance with an agreement both parties signed in San Jose in 1990.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1090 United Nations Security Council resolution

United Nations Security Council resolution 1090, adopted without a vote at a closed meeting on 13 December 1996, having considered the question of the recommendation for the appointment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Council recommended to the General Assembly that Mr. Kofi Annan be appointed for a term of office from 1 January 1997, to 31 December 2001.

Ahmad Fawzi Egyptian press director

Ahmad Fawzi is an Egyptian-born news, media and communication expert, who, until recently, served as Communication Adviser and Chief Spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2015–2016 he served as Director, a.i., of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, with overall responsibility for the Geneva headquarters’ press and media, as well as extensive public information programmes and guided tours through the historic Palais de Nations.

Virendra Dayal is a retired Indian Administrative Service officer and United Nations civil servant who served as Chef de Cabinet to Secretary General of the United Nations for more than a decade. He has served as the director of the Office of Special Political Affairs of the United Nations and as the special envoy who probed the allegations levelled against a number of India politicians including Natwar Singh, a former Minister of External affairs, in the Paul Volcker Committee report of 2005. A former Indian Administrative Service officer and a Rhodes Scholar of 1956 Dayal sat on the National Human Rights Commission of India as a member for two terms from 1998 to 2006. The Government of India awarded him the third highest civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan, in 1992, for his contributions to society.

United Nations Secretary-General selection is the process of selecting the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. To be selected as Secretary-General, a candidate must receive the votes of at least 9 members of the United Nations Security Council, with no vetoes from permanent members. The Secretary-General is then appointed by a majority vote of the United Nations General Assembly.

1996 United Nations Secretary-General selection UN Secretary-General selection, 1996

A United Nations Secretary-General selection was held in 1996 at the end of Boutros Boutros-Ghali's first term. Boutros-Ghali ran unopposed for a second term and received the support of 14 of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council. However, the United States vetoed his re-selection and eventually forced him to withdraw his candidacy.

1991 United Nations Secretary-General selection

A United Nations Secretary-General selection was held in 1991 to replace Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, whose second term would end on 31 December 1991. Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt was selected for a term ending on 31 December 1996, becoming the first Secretary-General from Africa.

1981 United Nations Secretary-General selection

A United Nations Secretary-General selection was held in 1981. Kurt Waldheim ran for an unprecedented third full term as Secretary-General, losing to Salim Ahmed Salim by one vote. However, the selection deadlocked through 16 rounds of voting as China vetoed Waldheim and the United States voted against Salim. The Security Council finally settled on a dark horse candidate who stayed home and did not campaign. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar was selected for a term beginning on 1 January 1982, becoming the first Secretary-General from Latin America.


  1. "Who is and has been Secretary-General of the United Nations? - Ask DAG!". Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  2. "Kofi Annan: Job at a Glance". PBS . Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2002. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016.
  3. Appointing the UN Secretary-General (PDF). Research Report. 2015. New York: Security Council Report, Inc. 16 October 2015. pp. 4–5.
  4. Sengupta, Somini (21 July 2016). "Secrecy Reigns as U.N. Seeks a New Secretary General". The New York Times.
  5. "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.
  6. "Letter from Mogens Lykketoft to All Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers to the United Nations, 21 July 2016" (PDF). 21 July 2016.
  7. Teltsch, Kathleen. "Town House Offered to UN", The New York Times , 15 July 1972. Retrieved 27 December 2007.
  8. Stout, David (26 October 1996). "Lord Gladwyn Is Dead at 96; Briton Helped Found the UN". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2008.
  9. The United Nations: Trygve Haldvan Lie (Norway). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "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.
  11. The United Nations: Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  12. 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).
  13. United Nations: U Thant (Myanmar). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  14. The United Nations: Kurt Waldheim (Austria). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  15. Nossiter, Bernard D. (29 October 1981). "China Continues to Bar Waldheim Renomination". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  16. Editors, History com. "Waldheim elected U.N. secretary-general". HISTORY. Retrieved 14 February 2019.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. The United Nations: Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  18. The United Nations: Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt). Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  19. The United Nations: The Biography of Kofi A. Annan. Retrieved 13 December 2006.
  20. "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.
  21. Traub, James (2006). The Best Intentions . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp.  66–67. ISBN   978-0-374-18220-5.
  22. "General Assembly appoints Kofi Annan of Ghana as seventh Secretary-General" (Press release). United Nations. 17 December 1996. Retrieved 12 December 2006.
  23. "Ban Ki-moon is sworn in as next Secretary-General of the United Nations". United Nations.
  24. "Ban Ki-moon gets second term as UN chief". The Globe and Mail. 22 June 2011. Archived from the original on 24 June 2011.
  25. Gestión, Redacción (5 March 2020). "Javier Pérez de Cuéllar: Diplomático falleció este miércoles a los 100 años". Gestión (in Spanish). Retrieved 5 March 2020.