Chapter XV of the United Nations Charter governs the organization and functioning of the Secretariat. Under Article 97 of the Charter “The Secretariat shall comprise a Secretary-General and such staff as the Organization may require.”
The Secretariat carries out the diverse day-to-day work of the Organization and is comprised of international civil servants working in various duty stations around the world. It services the other principal organs of the United Nations and administers the programs and policies laid down by them. It also carries out studies which are communicated to the appropriate UN organs in order to keep them informed of issues that the Secretariat deems important. At its head is the Secretary-General who is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term. The working languages of the Secretariat are English and French.
The role of the UN Secretariat is mostly administrative and includes the translation of documents and the organization of meetings. It ensures that the UN and its agencies function smoothly. In addition, the Secretariat can also mediate international disputes and survey economic and social trends. It is also responsible for communicating with the media.
The Secretariat is made up exclusively of civilians (approximately 250) and has some 40,000 staff members around the world. (Source: Secretary-General’s report (A/64/352). As international civil servants, staff members and the Secretary-General answer to the United Nations alone for their activities, and take an oath not to seek or receive instructions from any Government or outside authority (Article 100 of the Charter). Under the Charter, each Member State undertakes to respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff and to refrain from seeking to influence them improperly in the discharge of their duties.
The United Nations, while headquartered in New York, maintains a significant presence in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi, Santiago and Vienna, and has offices all over the world.
The Secretary-General is the most senior UN official.
The General Assembly appoints the Secretary-General on the recommendation of the Security Council. However, the permanent members of the Council may veto a selection for this position.
Gladwyn Jebb was appointed Acting Secretary-General in 1945. The first two Secretaries-General were Trygve Lie from Norway and Dag Hammarskjold from Sweden. Over the past 40 years, countries have come to an informal agreement as regards having diverse countries from around the world rotate the fulfilment of this post.
Since January 2007, Mr. Ban Ki-moon from South Korea has been Secretary General. On 6 June 2011 Ban Ki-moon announced his intention to run for a second term. He has been reappointed by the General Assembly for an additional term of five years on 21 June 2011.
Even though in principle there is no limit to the number of terms of office a Secretary-General can serve, up to now, no Secretary-General has been re-elected for more than two mandates.
The Secretary-General is authorized to submit to the Security Council any situation that might endanger international peace and security. To settle international disputes, the Secretary-General may act as a mediator or engage in “discreet diplomacy” behind the scenes.
The Secretary-General also chairs the United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB), which meets twice a year to coordinate the activities for which Member States have set common goals in a wealth of areas. The Board convenes Secretariat Heads from 28 organizations, including funds, programmes and specialized UN institutions, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (an independent organization placed under the UN’s aegis) and the World Trade Organization—thereby representing the entire United Nations system.
Learn more about the Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon