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Updated on 10 June 2016


Section 5:   Decisions to recommend appointments of Secretaries-General


Recommendation of multiple candidates for Secretary-General by the Security Council


The procedure for appointing the Secretary-General has its basis in Article 97 of the Charter, which 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 by the Security Council of several candidates for the post, leaving the final choice of which candidate to appoint as Secretary-General to the General Assembly.  In this connection, it is relevant that on 24 January 1946, by its resolution 11(I), the Assembly approved the recommendation of the Preparatory Commission that “It would be desirable for the Security Council to proffer one candidate only for the consideration of the General Assembly”.  Had Article 97 been interpreted at that time either as requiring the Council to recommend multiple candidates, or as requiring the Council to recommend only one candidate, no Assembly recommendation on this matter would have been seen as necessary.  This tends to confirm that Article 97 in and of itself contains no requirement as to the number of candidates to be recommended by the Council to the Assembly.


Moreover, there is no rule in the Security Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure relating to the number of candidates to be recommended by the Council pursuant to Article 97, nor has the Council adopted any Statements by the President, Notes by the President, or any other document on this topic.


Therefore it can be said that neither the Charter, nor the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, nor any decision adopted to date by the Council itself, would prevent the Council’s recommending multiple nominees to the General Assembly. 


At the same time, particularly given the Council’s consistent practice since 1946 of recommending only one candidate to the Assembly, it is equally true that neither the Charter, nor the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, nor any decision adopted to date by the Council itself, can be interpreted as creating any requirement that the Council must recommend more than one candidate.


The question then arises as to whether the General Assembly could create such a requirement. This question is answered by Article 10 of the Charter, which provides that


“The General Assembly may discuss any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter or relating to the powers and functions of any organs provided for in the present Charter, and, except as provided in Article 12, may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.” (emphasis added)


Accordingly, Assembly resolution 11(I) has never been binding on the Security Council, but instead has had only the status of a recommendation.  Consequently, if the Assembly were to reverse its position and adopt a resolution providing that it would be desirable for the Council to proffer multiple candidates, such a resolution also would not be binding upon the Council, but would only constitute a recommendation under the terms of Article 10.


Therefore, while the General Assembly may adopt a resolution encouraging the Security Council to recommend more than one candidate, such a resolution by the Assembly cannot legally compel the Council to do so. 


However, the question remains whether the Assembly politically could compel the Council to recommend multiple candidates by refusing to adopt a resolution appointing a Secretary-General based on a Council recommendation of a single candidate.  While this is theoretically possible, it would represent a tremendous breach between the two bodies, as well as creating a risk that the position of Secretary-General might stand vacant should the impasse extend beyond the expiry of an incumbent's term, and therefore is considered at this time to be an unlikely possibility.

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