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Appointment of the Secretary-General

Secretary-General Guterres taking the oath of office, UN Photo # UN7133682.

The current term of the Secretary-General is five years, with a possibility to be re-appointed for a second five year term. In accordance with Article 97 of the Charter, the appointment is made by the General Assembly, upon the recommendation of the Security Council. 

There are several ways to approach research on the appointment of a Secretary-General.

  • To find the resolution appointing a particular individual, see the relevant page in this guide.
  • For a narrative overview of an appointment, see the Yearbook of the United Nations for the year the election was held.
  • The Repertory of Practice of the UN Organs gives details of appointment under discussion of Article 97.
  • For additional historical or political context, check secondary sources such as books, scholarly articles, and contemporary news accounts.

For more information, see our FAQ: How is the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed?

Resources and Links

Activities of the Secretary-General

The Charter sets the framework but does not define all the types of activities the Secretary-General should carry out. Broadly, the Secretary-General performs both administrative and political activities. Some examples are:

  • Administrative activities
    • Annual report to the General Assembly on the work of the Organization (Article 98 of the Charter)
    • Prepare and take part in meetings of the organs of the UN (Article 98 of the Charter)
    • Selection, appointment and supervision of staff (Article 101 of the Charter)
    • Registration of international agreements (Article 102 of the Charter)
    • Depositary of multilateral treaties
    • Chair of Chief Executives Board (CEB) of the UN System
    • Preparation of the budget of the UN
  • Political activities
    • "The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security" (Article 99 of the Charter)
    • Appointment of special representatives, special envoys, other mediators
    • Fact-finding missions
    • Good offices, quiet diplomacy, mediation
    • Political missions 

Resources and Links

Research the work of a Secretary-General

Because of the variety of activities carried out by the Secretary-General, research can be challenging or overwhelming.

In general, we recommend that researchers start with secondary sources and use cited references to identify additional or primary sources. It may also help to focus on one type of activity or significant event to narrow the focus of the research.

UN resources

  • Annual report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization
  • Yearbook of the United Nations
  • UN Press Releases
    • Series symbol in UN Libraries: ST/DPI/Press/SG/-
    • SG/SM/-: Statements of the Secretary-General
    • SG/T: Travel of the Secretary-General
    • SG/A: Appointments of the Secretary-General
  • UN Archives

Non-UN resources

  • Secondary sources, such as books and articles about the Secretaries-General
  • Encyclopedia and biographical dictionary entries
  • Contemporary news articles
  • Collected papers of [each Secretary-General]
  • Foundations or organizations dedicated to the life and/or work of the individual

Reports of the Secretary-General, in general

In addition to the annual report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization, the Secretary-General reports to the principal organs and their subsidiaries on a broad range of topics.

In general, reports of the Secretary-General are issued in response to request from one of the principal organs or a subsidiary body. The report usually cites the resolution or decision that called for it.

The symbol assigned to a Secretary-General report usually indicates the body to which the report is submitted.

For example, the Secretary-General reports to the General Assembly, symbol A/-, on:

  • Budgetary matters (including peacekeeping financing)
  • Human resources matters
  • Other substantive questions on the agenda of the General Assembly
  • example: A/76/205

The Secretary-General reports to the Security Council, symbol S/-, on topics such as:

  • Peacekeeping missions, with maps
  • Regional or country situations
  • Other topics under consideration by the Security Council, such as Women, peace and security, and Rule of law
  • example: S/2021/682

The Secretary-General reports to the Economic and Social Council, symbol E/-, on topics such as:

  • Development
  • Economics
  • Regional cooperation
  • Statistics
  • example: E/2021/52

The Secretary-General reports to other organs and subsidiary bodies on topics on their agendas.