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The Secretary-General

Everything you wanted to know about the UN's top leader

By David Watson | May , 2007

Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaks in front of a board in honor of Ban at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images/NewsCom)

May 2007

The head of the United Nations is called the Secretary-General. There have been eight Secretaries-General since 1946. Ban Ki-Moon is the current Secretary-General. Secretary-General Ban is from South Korea and took office on January 1, 2007.

The Secretary-General is elected by the 192 members of the General Assembly. Each member represents a country in the world. Member governments then nominate different candidates. After that, there are a bunch of informal votes. Members can vote: "encourage," "discourage," or "no opinion."

Then the vote moves to the Security Council. The Council is made up of five permanent members and 10 elected members. The permanent members include the U.S., United Kingdom, China, Russia, and France. If any of the permanent members vetoes, or rejects a candidate, the candidate cannot be elected.

Eventually, the Security Council will recommend a specific candidate to the General Assembly. The General Assembly usually accepts the recommendation. The new Secretary-General serves a five-year term and can be re-elected only once.

A Typical Day

The Secretary-General has many roles to play. One of the most important is keeping the peace. This includes preventing new world conflicts, as well as keeping current conflicts from getting worse or spreading to other regions. To do this, the Secretary-General usually travels a lot.

He is also a spokesperson for the UN and represents the organization in talks with other countries. He can bring up any topic to the Security Council for discussion and action. The Secretary-General also listens to the UN’s member states. But he can act on his own, if he thinks it's very important for international peace.

On an average day, the Secretary-General attends United Nations sessions and consults with world leaders. Once a year he writes a report. The report looks at the organization’s work and makes plans for the future. The Secretary-General is also Chairman of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). The ACC runs all the UN’s funds, programs, and charity groups.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan

The last Secretary-General was Kofi Annan. Annan came from Ghana, a country in Africa. He served from 1997-2006 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his work as head of the UN.

Annan was dedicated to the protection of human rights. In 2005 he convinced member states to form two new international groups: the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. He has worked on the process of bringing peace to Iraq, Lebanon, Cyprus, and many other countries.

In a farewell speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2006, Annan said that he “remain[ed] convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations.”

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