The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday formally approved Secretary-General António Guterres for a second term, assuring that the former Prime Minister of Portugal retains the top job for five more years starting January 1, 2022.The recommendation will now go to the 193-member General Assembly, which is expected to make the appointment on June 18, according to Reuters.Guterres, 72, started his first term in 2017, becoming the ninth UN chief since the international body’s founding in 1945. While there are no term limits applicable to this post, no Secretary-General has so far served more than two terms.
How is the UN Secretary-General chosen?
- 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, as per the UN website.
- Essentially, the Secretary-General is chosen during closed-door sessions of the Security Council, and approval by the General Assembly is seen more as a formality.
- The five permanent members of the 15-nation-strong Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – are the most powerful players in this process as any one of them can eliminate a candidature by a veto.
- The US used this power to deny Egypt’s Boutros-Ghali a second term in 1997 and China did the same in 1981 for denying Austria’s Waldheim a third term.
- The 10 elected non-permanent members of the Security Council, of which India is currently a part, do not have veto powers, but their backing is still crucial as a candidate requires at least nine out of 15 votes to be recommended for the top job.
- For any candidate to have a real chance at being considered for the top post, a recommendation by any UN member state is essential. In the current race, Guterres was endorsed by Portugal for a second term, and none of his seven other challengers received backing from a member state, making Guterres all but certain of retaining his job.
- A resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 2015 made the selection process more open and transparent, allowing member states for the first time to see basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to question them at open sessions, as per the Associated Press.
- Guterres was appointed in 2016 under the 2015 rules, and the same process was followed this year, which involved holding a question and answer session with UN diplomats in the General Assembly in May, followed by private meetings with members of the Security Council.
- What does the UN Secretary-General do?
- The UN Charter refers to the Secretary-General as the body’s “chief administrative officer”, who shall act in that capacity and perform “such other functions as are entrusted” to them by the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and other United Nations organs.
- The UN website defines the role as “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO,” and “a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesperson for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them”.
- The Secretary-General’s day-to-day work includes attendance at sessions of United Nations bodies; consultations with world leaders, government officials, and others; and worldwide travel intended to keep the Secretary-General in touch with the peoples of the UN member states, as per the body’s website.
- So far, all Secretaries-General have come from member states considered to be small- or medium-sized neutral powers, and a regional rotation is observed, as per the Council on Foreign Relations. All nine occupants of the post have been men.
Previous UN chiefs
- Ban Ki-moon (Korea), who held office from January 2007 to December 2016;
- Kofi A. Annan (Ghana), who held office from January 1997 to December 2006;
- Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt), who held office from January 1992 to December 1996;
- Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru), who served from January 1982 to December 1991;
- Kurt Waldheim (Austria), who held office from January 1972 to December 1981;
- U Thant (Burma, now Myanmar), who served from November 1961, when he was appointed acting Secretary-General (he was formally appointed Secretary-General in November 1962) to December 1971;
- Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden), who served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in Africa in September 1961; and
- Trygve Lie (Norway), who held office from February 1946 to his resignation in November 1952.