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Updated on 7 February 2015


Section 5:   Decisions to recommend appointments of Secretaries-General


Proposals by The Elders for “a more independent Secretary-General”


On 7 February 2015, at the Munich Security Conference, four recommendations for United Nations reform were put forward by The Elders, a prestigious group of independent global leaders first brought together by Nelson Mandela and now chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  The fourth recommendation proposes “A New Process for Choosing the Secretary-General”.  With a view to the selection of a “more independent” Secretary-General, The Elders “call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin.”


In this connection, it will be recalled that the procedure for appointing the Secretary-General has its basis in Article 97 of the UN Charter, supplemented by Rule 48 and Rule 142 of the Rules of Procedure of the Security Council and the General Assembly respectively, as well as additional recommendations adopted by the Assembly.  Article 97 states that the Secretary-General shall be “appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”.  In theory, Article 97 might be interpreted as permitting the recommendation of several candidates for the post, leaving the final choice to the General Assembly.  In 1946, however, in its resolution 11(I), the Assembly approved a recommendation of the Preparatory Commission to the effect that it would be “desirable for the Security Council to proffer one candidate only”. This practice has consistently been followed since 1946.  No candidate recommended by the Security Council has ever been rejected by the General Assembly.


In their 7 February 2015 statement, The Elders also “suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns.”  The proposal of a seven-year term for the Secretary-General was earlier made in 1996 by Sir Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers in their book, A World in Need of Leadership: Tomorrow’s United Nations.  A similar proposal was put forward in the General Assembly’s Open-ended High-level Working Group on the Strengthening of the United Nations System at about the same time, but it did not gain traction.  Paragraph 58 of resolution 51/241, adopted by the General Assembly on 31 July 1997, sought at least to open a discussion on the “duration of the term or terms of appointment, including the option of a single term . . . before the appointment of the next Secretary-General”, but this provision did not lead to any concrete initiatives.


The Charter itself is silent as to the duration of the term in office of the Secretary-General.  It was resolution 11(I) of the General Assembly which provided that “The first Secretary-General shall be appointed for five years, the appointment being open at the end of that period for a further five-year term.”  Except for Trygve Lie, the duration of whose first term was thus decided by the Assembly and whose shorter second term was also decided by the Assembly, it has been the Security Council which has recommended the term of office for each subsequent Secretary-General.  This has normally been for five years, with a slight adjustment made to U Thant’s tenure following the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.  Thereafter, each term in office has started on 1 January of the first year of the term.  (This update draws from information on pages 404 to 406 of the book.)


For the full text of the 7 February 2015 statement by The Elders, see:





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