top of page

Article revised on 16 Sept. 2016


Section 5:   Decisions to recommend appointments of Secretaries-General


When a Council member nominates its national for Secretary-General, is it restricted from participating in the Council’s recommendation process?


On 20 August 2016, the New Zealand Herald reported that during its Council Presidency in September 2016, New Zealand would hand over the responsibility for carrying out straw polls on the Council’s recommendation of a candidate for Secretary-General to the Russian Federation.  The Herald quoted New Zealand’s Permanent Representative, Gerard van Bohemen, as explaining that “New Zealand has chosen to do this to counter any conflict-of-interest perception issues given we also have a candidate.”  This was in reference to Helen Clark, who was nominated for the post of Secretary-General by New Zealand on 4 April 2016 (S/2016/314). 


The Herald also reported that while the Russian Federation would oversee the straw polls held during the month of September, New Zealand would still preside over any Council meetings at which the members discussed the form balloting would take.


In a press conference on 1 September 2016, van Bohemen confirmed that “because New Zealand has a candidate involved in the election, I will not be myself presiding over the conduct of the straw polls.  Instead, my colleague Ambassador Churkin, from the Russian Federation, has kindly agreed to take that role upon himself.”  Van Bohemen added that in addition to “conducting the poll”, Ambassador Churkin would also be “announcing the outcomes, such as they are announced, to the media and the President of the General Assembly.”

In arriving at these arrangements, New Zealand has acted under Rule 20 of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, which provides that


“Whenever the President of the Security Council deems that for the proper fulfillment of

the responsibilities of the presidency he should not preside over the Council during the

consideration of a particular question with which the member he represents is directly

connected, he shall indicate his decision to the Council.”


The wording of Rule 20 clearly gives to the Council President himself the discretion to decide whether or not to cede the presidential chair in such instances.  And in the Council’s actual practice, as described on pages 113 to 115 of the book, there have been no instances when the Council has forced a member to cede the Presidency on a particular question, although there were cases in which a Council member complained when a President did not. 


Because New Zealand has deemed that it should not preside over the conducting of the straw polls in September, in such case, under Rule 20, “The presidential chair shall then devolve, for the purpose of the consideration of that question, on the representative of the member next in English alphabetical order . . .”  It is for this reason that Ambassador Churkin would preside over any straw polls held in September 2016, since the Russian Federation will serve as Council President in October 2016.


In only one previous case did a cession of the Presidency occur in connection with an election process.  In that case, however, the Permanent Representative serving as Council President was himself the candidate.  This was in November 1993, when José Luis Jesus of Cape Verde, the Council President for that month, was a candidate for election to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  The Council met on 10 November to elect, in parallel with the General Assembly, five new ICJ members.  After the adoption of the agenda, Jesus immediately raised Rule 20.  Noting that the Rule “places this matter entirely within the discretion of the President”, Jesus stated that, given the “exceptional circumstances”, he had concluded that he should “act within the discretion which the rule provides”.  Consequently, China, which would serve as President the following month, took the chair for the duration of the elections.  Jesus withdrew his candidacy after two ballots, but did not resume the Presidency to conduct the Council’s final ballot (S/PV.3309 and S/PV.3311). 


Apart from the question of presiding over the Council’s balloting, some observers have wondered whether the UN Charter or the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure might preclude a Council member which has nominated a candidate for Secretary-General from voting on the Council’s recommendation, but this is not the case.  Concerning the appointment process of the Secretary-General, Article 97 of the Charter merely states that the Secretary-General “shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”  The Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure similarly do not set any limits on the participation of a Council member in the recommendation process when its national is a candidate.


The sense that the Charter might restrict a Council member from voting on the recommendation of a candidate for Secretary-General may come from Article 27(3) of the Charter, which does restrict a member’s participation in Council decision-making, but under different circumstances:  Article 27(3) provides that “in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.” (see pages 341 to 350 in the book and a related article on this website).


This is not the first time in the Security Council’s history that a country has served on the Council when its national was under consideration for the post of Secretary-General.  In fact, there have been five such cases:


1)  In 1950, Norway was serving as an elected Security Council member when its national, the incumbent Secretary-General Trygve Lie, was considered by the Council for a second term.  Because the permanent members were unable to reach unanimity on renewing Lie’s term and remained deadlocked, for the only time in the UN’s history, the decision was ultimately made by the General Assembly, which renewed Lie’s term on the basis of a legal technicality (see page 409 of the book).


2)  In 1956, Sweden served on the Council when its national, the incumbent Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, was recommended by the Council for a second term.


3)  In 1971, Argentina was an elected member of the Council when the Argentinian Carlos Ortiz de Rozas was a candidate for Secretary-General.  He was vetoed by the Soviet Union.


4)  In 1991, Zimbabwe was serving on the Council when its national, Bernard Chidzero, was a candidate.  In the Council’s “straw polls”, at one point Chidzero received ten “encouragements”, the same tally as Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and with no “discouragements” from any permanent member.  Then Chidzero began to lose support, while Boutros-Ghali advanced to receive eventually the votes of all 15 Council members.


5)  In 1996, Egypt was an elected Council member when its national, the incumbent Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, was being considered for a second term.  As detailed in the book on page 413, after a series of “straw polls” among the Council members, once it became clear that Boutros-Ghali would continue to be blocked by the United States, Egypt eventually switched its support from him to Kofi Annan.


While neither the Charter nor the Rules of Procedure place limitations on the participation of a Council member whose national is a candidate for Secretary-General, this would not preclude the Council itself from imposing such restrictions.  However, in none of the cases listed above did the Council do so.  Nor did any of the Council members involved recuse itself voluntarily from the balloting because of a perceived conflict of interest. 

bottom of page