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What is the United Nations Secretary-General?

The Secretary General often conducts diplomacy at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
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  • Written By: Venus D.
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2014
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The United Nations Secretary General is recommended by the Security Council and nominated by the General Assembly. The responsibilities included within this position are many, since it symbolizes the United Nations (UN). The Secretary General is given duties from all organs within the UN system. The daily duties of the United Nations Secretary General consist of consulting with world leaders, attending UN committee meetings, and traveling all over the world to keep abreast of the global concerns in Member States. The Secretary General is also the head of the Administrative Committee on Coordination, which enables her to meet with the heads of UN agencies, funds, and programs in order to address the management issues facing the agency.

One of the main responsibilities of the United Nations Secretary General is ensuring that member countries are made aware of developing, urgent international issues. This duty must be fulfilled even at the risk of disagreeing with Member States. The Secretary General's ability to perform this duty is enhanced by the “good offices” capability available to him. Through both private and public channels, the Secretary General can hold discussions with relevant parties in order to alleviate international tensions.

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Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General from 1997 to 2006, often used his “good offices” capability to achieve peace in a number of international conflicts. Conflicts within Africa were of special importance to Secretary Annan, who is from Ghana. A UN report entitled “The causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa” summarized his endeavors to promote higher development within the continent.

Another area on which Annan focused during his tenure was reform. In terms of administrative improvements, zero-growth budget and better management practices were achieved. Organizational structure was further improved by the creation of the Deputy Secretary General position. Overall, the reforms initiated by Annan helped the United Nations to better meet its objectives.

One of Annan’s most notable achievements was the 2000 Millennium Report entitled “We the People: The Role of the United Nations in the 21 century.” The report outlined vital development goals, including vastly reducing global poverty. One of the most comprehensive reports issued in the 55-year history of the United Nations, it underlined Secretary General Annan’s goal of encouraging Member States to better commit themselves to the alleviation of pressing international issues and the value he placed on the positive effects of globalization and technological advancement.

Ban Ki-Moon, who replaced Kofi Annan as the United Nations Secretary General in 2006, is set to continue with the goals of the Millennium Report while formulating goals of his own. The position of Secretary General is to a certain extent determined by the person holding it, and Secretary General Ki-Moon faces many challenges, one of the most important of which is recognizing the limits of his position. As with previous Secretary Generals, the reforms and goals Ki-Moon plans to implement must ultimately have the approval of the General Assembly, the UN organ representing all Member States.

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