What's In Blue

Posted Mon 7 Jun 2021

Private Council Meeting on the Recommendation for the Appointment of the Secretary-General*

Tomorrow (8 June) morning, the Security Council will convene in person for a private session to discuss its recommendation to the General Assembly on the appointment of the Secretary-General. (Article 97 of the UN Charter states that the Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly based on the recommendation of the Security Council. Rule 48 of the Security Council’s provisional rules of procedure requires that both voting and discussion of the appointment of the Secretary-General be held in private.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution recommending Secretary-General António Guterres for a second term from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2026 without a vote (that is, by acclamation). In line with rule 55 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, the Council will approve a communiqué which will be issued after the meeting. Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia), the Council president for June, is scheduled to hold a press stakeout following the meeting. The General Assembly, which formally appoints the Secretary-General after the Council’s recommendation, is expected to take up the matter as soon as next week.

Council members discussed the agenda for tomorrow’s private meeting, the draft resolution, the communiqué and draft letters from the president of the Council communicating the Council’s decision to the General Assembly President and to the candidate under “any other business” on 30 May.


Secretary-General António Guterres’ five-year term concludes on 31 December 2021. The 2021 Secretary-General selection process has retained most of the new practices created during the 2015-2016 selection process to increase transparency, including a joint letter from the president of the Security Council and the General Assembly, public dialogues and informal interaction with Council members and the candidate.  (For more background information on the 2015 – 2016 Secretary-General selection process, see Security Council Report’s 2017 report on the Secretary-General selection and appointment process.) On 8 January, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir wrote to Guterres expressing his intention to start the selection process for the next Secretary-General and inquiring whether the latter was interested in seeking a second term. In the letter, Bozkir stressed that member states are interested in consolidating the 2015-2016 selection process reforms and that the process would again be guided by principles of transparency and inclusivity. 

The process of selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General officially commenced when Bozkir and Ambassador Barbara Woodward (UK), acting in her capacity as president of the Security Council for February, issued a joint letter on 5 February to all member states requesting candidates for the position. The 5 February joint letter indicated that Guterres had conveyed his availability to serve a second term and that he was ready to “meet the expectations of the membership regarding transparency and inclusivity with the submission of a vision statement and participation in an informal dialogue with Member States”. On 26 February, Woodward and Bozkir circulated a joint letter informing members that Portugal had presented Guterres as a candidate for the position of Secretary-General for the 2022-2026 mandate.

On 23 March, Bozkir circulated to all member states Guterres’ vision statement, which had been transmitted by Portugal. In the vision statement, titled “Restoring trust and inspiring hope”, Guterres outlined the challenges and opportunities facing the world today. He highlighted the interconnected nature of the challenges, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, and the importance of prevention in finding solutions to these problems.

The most significant innovation introduced in the 2016 reforms to the Secretary-General selection process was the participation of all the candidates in informal dialogue sessions in the General Assembly. This development allows a global audience to observe the candidates present their approach to the challenges facing the UN, while providing the larger UN membership and civil society with the opportunity to pose questions to the candidates. Although there was just one candidate this year, the practice was maintained. On 7 May, Guterres participated in a three-hour informal interactive dialogue with members of the General Assembly and civil society in the General Assembly Hall. During the dialogue, which was webcast, Guterres presented his vision statement and took questions from member states. Several questions from civil society representatives and individuals, submitted via an online form, were answered during the informal interactive dialogue. Following the session, Guterres provided written answers to some questions from member states and civil society, which were not answered due to a shortage of time.

Keeping with the practice instituted in 2016, Guterres also held an informal dialogue with Council members on 18 May in the ECOSOC chamber. The restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the Council meeting in a larger space in the UN building rather than at one of the members’ missions as was done in 2016. Marking a move to greater transparency of the process, Council members released press elements noting that the meeting had been held and that it was the first such dialogue since the beginning of this year’s Secretary-General selection process. The press elements also noted that Guterres has presented his vision statement and Council members were able to ask questions and interact with him. In the press elements, Council members emphasised the importance of the Secretary-General position, noting that they would be guided by the principles of transparency and inclusivity as they continued this process. They further stated that the Council planned to make its recommendation to the General Assembly in a timely manner.

Council and wider Dynamics

The 2021 Secretary-General selection process was relatively straightforward, as only one candidate was formally nominated by a member state. Council members appear to have accepted that candidates needed the support of a member state, which ruled out two potential candidates (one self-nominated and the other nominated by a civil society organisation). With just one candidate to consider, there was also no need for straw polls, an informal procedure for testing the viability of candidatures, which in the last process took over five months. Overall, Council members also appear to have agreed that the 2016 process should be consolidated, and a similar level of transparency retained despite not having multiple candidates. Members also had little difficulty in agreeing that the draft resolution recommending Guterres for a second term be based on past practice. All 15 members have co-sponsored the resolution, making it a presidential text.

The wider membership and civil society appear to be generally satisfied that the 2021 process was guided by the new practices created in 2015-2016. However, they seem to have preferred greater clarity on some unresolved matters. Among the issues raised by groups such as the 1 for 7 Billion Coalition, which is made up of civil society organisations, and the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT), which is comprised of 25 member states, were the need for clarity on the timeline for the selection process, and nomination and withdrawal criteria for candidates. They would also have liked to have seen discussion around the idea of a non-renewable longer office term for the Secretary-General. In addition, there was some disappointment over the lack of female candidates and the limited time given to civil society representatives’ questions during Guterres’ General Assembly informal interactive dialogue session. Many of these issues are likely to be raised again in the run-up to the start of the next Secretary-General selection process in 2025-2026.


*Post-Script: On 8 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2580, recommending Secretary-General António Guterres for a second term.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails