The Secretariat

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The charter lays down very few requirements governing the establishment of the sixth main organ of the UNthe Secretariat. Such requirements as are specified, in Chapter XV, may be conveniently listed under the following headings.


The charter states simply: "The Secretariat shall comprise a Secretary-General and such staff as the Organization may require."

Appointment of Staff.

With regard to the Secretary-General, the charter stipulates that the person to hold the position "shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council." In other words, the Security Council first must agree on a candidate, who then must be endorsed by a majority vote in the General Assembly. The other members of the Secretariat are to be appointed by the Secretary-General "under regulations established by the General Assembly." The charter stipulates that the "paramount consideration" in the employment of staff"shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity." However, to this consideration is added an important ridernamely, that "due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible."

Functions of the Secretariat.

The duties of the general staff are not specified beyond an instruction that an appropriate number shall be permanently assigned to the Economic and Social Council and the Trusteeship Council and, "as required, to other organs of the United Nations." With respect to the functions of the Secretary-General, the charter states only that he shall be "the chief administrative officer of the Organization," shall "act in that capacity" at all meetings of the General Assembly and the three councils, and shall also perform "such other functions as are entrusted to him by these organs." Apart from these general requirements, the charter accords the Secretary-General one specific duty and one specific power: to make an annual report to the General Assembly on the work of the organization, and he has the right to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that "in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security."

The single restriction on the Secretariat is that "in the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization," and that "they shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization." As a corollary to this injunction, the charter puts member nations under the obligation to "respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff and not to seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities."


Since the charter does not specify the qualifications for Secretary-General and the term of office, these decisions had to be made by the first General Assembly, in January 1946. It was agreed that, in making its recommendations to the General Assembly, the Security Council should conduct its discussions in private and vote in secret, for the dignity of the office required avoidance of open debate on the qualifications of the candidate. The General Assembly also decided that the term of office would be five years (the Secretary-General of the League of Nations was elected for 10 years) and that the Secretary-General would be eligible for reappointment.

The permanent members of the Security Council have tacitly agreed that the Secretary-General should not be a national of one of their own countries.


The Secretariat services the other organs of the UN and administers the programs and policies laid down by them. As the scope and range of UN activities have widened, the staff of the Secretariat has increased in number and its organizational pattern has increased in complexity. The major elements of the Secretariat, variously designated as offices, departments, programs, conferences, and the like, are headed by officials of the rank, but not necessarily the title, of under secretary-general or assistant secretary-general. In 1987 there were 48 officials at those two levels in the Secretariat.

As the United Nations grew from its original 51 members in 1945 to 191 members in 2002, the Secretariat necessarily changed and evolved. Between 1945 and 1994 major reform of the Secretariat's structure was undertaken five times: 195356; 196466; 197477; 198586; and 199294. The latest round of restructuring was requested by the General Assembly in numerous resolutions beginning in 1988 (41/213; 44/200; 45/254; 46/232, and 47/212A). Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali began the restructuring process upon his entry into office in January 1992. In 1991 there were 48 high-level posts (1 director general, 26 undersecretary-generals, 20 assistant secretary-generals) reporting directly to the Secretary-General, by the 19961997 biennium that number had been reduced to 21 under secretary-generals and 15 assistant secretary-generals for a total of 36. In 2006, the activities of the Secretariat were organized in the following departments:

The Department of Political Affairs (DPA).

The functions of five previous offices and units were integrated into the DPA. The department oversees the organization's efforts in preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, collects and analyzes information to alert the General Assembly and Security Council of impending crises, and carries out mandates handed down by the General Assembly and Security Council. DPA provides secretariat services to both bodies. It also provides electoral assistance to countries requesting help in strengthening the democratic process.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

This department supervises the operations of the United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world. The work of the United Nations in this area has grown exponentially in size and complexity since the end of the cold war. In December 1991, peacekeeping missions involved approximately 11,000 troops and 4,000 civilian personnel with a combined budget of us$ 500 million. At its peak in 1995 (when UN peacekeeping personnel were heavily deployed in the former Yugoslavia), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was supervising approximately 70,000 military and civilian personnel, whose annualized budgets approached us$ 3 billion. In the reorganization, the Field Operations Division, which had been part of the Department for Administration and Management, was transferred to its main client, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The annual budget was subsequently reduced to about us$ 1 billion.

The Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA).

This department was originally established in 1982, and continued until 1992. It was reestablished in January 1998. The DDA furthers the goal of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and disarmament of chemical and biological weapons. It promotes disarmament efforts for conventional weapons, especially land mines and small arms. It has five branches: the Conference on Disarmament Secretariat and Conference Support Branch; the Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch; the Conventional Arms Branch; the Regional Disarmament Branch; and the Monitoring, Database and Information Branch.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

From September 1992 to April 1996, the UN launched 64 consolidated inter-agency appeals for humanitarian assistance seeking some us$ 11 billion in relief programs. To handle the increasing number of emergencies the organization's membership requested it to manage, the Secretary-General created the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), incorporating the functions of the UN Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO) and 11 other units of the Secretariat. Two new units were created: the Complex Emergencies Branch and the Inter-Agency Support Unit. In January 1998, the DHA was renamed the OCHA, as part of the Secretary-General's reform program at the time. The new body took steps to encourage more active inter-agency cooperation, and streamlined procedures for support of field coordination. The OCHA works to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance to victims of disasters and other emergencies. It also acts as an advocate for humanitarian activities being considered by inter-governmental bodies. It was designed to provide quick needs assessments, field situation analyses, and early negotiations on access to emergency situations. A major feature of this department is interagency coordination that allows all the organizations of the UN system to make consolidated appeals for humanitarian assistance and to better track contributions from donor governments, UN agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

This department was a consolidation of the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis and the Department for Development Support and Management Services. The DESA aims to promote broad-based and sustainable development through an integrated approach to economic, social, environmental, population, and gender-related aspects of development. It has the following divisions: Advancement of Women; Africa and the Least Developed Countries; Development Policy Analysis; Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination; Population; Public Economics and Public Administration; Social Policy and Development; Statistics; Sustainable Development; and Financing for Development.

The Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM)..

This department consists of three divisions and one service. The Central Planning and Coordination Service provides central planning services for meetings and documentation, and coordinates conference services worldwide. The General Assembly and ECOSOC Affairs Division provides secretariat services and assistance to the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the Trusteeship Council. The Interpretation, Meetings and Publishing Division provides interpretation services for all of the six official languages of the UN from and into each other. It also prepares verbatim records of meetings of the General Assembly, Security Council, and other bodies, and prepares and prints documents and other publications. The Translation and Editorial Division is responsible for translating all official United Nations documents, meeting records, publications and correspondence, from and into the six official languages. It also provides reference services and terminology services for authors, editors, interpreters, translators, and verbatim reporters.

The Department of Public Information (DPI).

Under the reorganization, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the publishing services of the organization were transferred from the Office of Conference Services to DPI. The department, which creates press releases, publications, and radio and video programs publicizing the work of the organization, also took on the activities that had been handled by the former Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General. Many of DPI's field offices were integrated into the field offices of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for substantial savings. DPI's work was facilitated by the installation of an electronic mail system connecting peacekeeping missions, information centers and UNDP officesincreasing headquarters' contact with its far-flung staff.

The Department of Management (DM).

This department has a number of offices and divisions, including: the Treasury; the Office of Human Resources Management; the Integrated Management Information System Project; the Procurement Division; and the Archives and Records Management Section.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

In August 1993, the Secretary-General announced the creation of a new Office of Inspections and Investigations, headed by an assistant secretary-general, which would incorporate various former units of the DAM dealing with audit, management advisory services, evaluation, and monitoring. In July 1994, the General Assembly strengthened the office, and changed its name to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (resolution A/218B [29 July 1994]). The General Assembly stipulated that the head of the new office, at the level of under-secretary-general, should be an expert in the fields of accounting, auditing, financial analysis and investigations, management, law, or public administration. It further stipulated that the individual

OSGOffice of the Secretary-General
OIOSOffice of Internal Oversight Services
OLAOffice of Legal Affairs
DPADepartment of Political Affairs
DDADepartment of Disarmament Affairs
DPKODepartment of Peacekeeping Operations
OCHAOffice of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
DESADepartment of Economic and Social Affairs
DGACMDepartment of General Assembly and Conference Managment
DPIDepartment of Public Information
DMDepartment of Management
UNSECORDOffice of the UN Security Coordinator
OHRLLSOffice of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States
ODCOffice on Drugs and Crime
UNOGUnited Nations Office at Geneva
UNOVUnited Nations Office at Vienna
UNONUnited Nations Office at Nairobi
ECAEconomic Commission for Africa
ECEEconomic Commission for Europe
ECLACEconomic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
ESCAPEconomic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
ESCWAEconomic and Social Commission for Western Asia

should serve only one five-year term, and that the post would not be subject to geographical distribution limits. The watchdog office was given wider independence to investigate possible fraud and abuse within the organization. It is assisted in its task by the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), a major hardware and soft ware upgrade that allows greater monitoring and audit capabilities through electronic audit trails. The creation of this office had long been sought by industrialized countries concerned that their contributions to the United Nations were being wasted by fraud and abuse.

The Office of Legal Affairs (OLA).

This office advises the organization and the Secretary-General on legal matters. For example, the OLA has provided advice on numerous activities related to the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. Under the 1992 reorganization, it also assumed responsibility for the Office for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea. The OLA also provides a range of advice and assistance on issues relating to treaty law and technical aspects of treaties.

Besides the above departments, the Centre for Human Rights, formerly a division, had its activities greatly expanded by a series of new mandates by the General Assembly, ECOSOC, the Commission on Human Rights, and expert groups in the human rights field. It is the principal entity of the UN Secretariat dealing with human rights issues, and is responsible for supervising the ratification and implementation of the international human rights agreements. The Secretary-General, in his 1993 report (A/48/428), stated that the activities of the Centre for Human Rights were evolving from standard-setting to furthering the implementation of a universal culture of human rights. The center is responsible for following up the recommendations of the Second World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in June 1993. Recognizing this, the 47th session of the General Assembly authorized additional financial resources for the center. The center is headed by an assistant secretary-general who reports directly to the Secretary-General.

Directly below the ranks of undersecretary-general and assistant secretary-general are directors of main subdepartments and chiefs of specific bureaus within the major organizational units. Below them is the professional staff: personnel with qualifications as administrators, specialists, technical experts, statisticians, translators, editors, interpreters, and so on. Staff in the category of general services include administrative assistants, clerical workers, secretaries, typists, and the like. Manual workers, such as building maintenance staff, are separately classified.

Personnel at the professional level and above are recruited in the various member countries of the UN and, when serving outside their own country, are entitled to home-leave travel, repatriation grants, and related benefits. General service personnel include a number of nationalities, but they are recruited locally and are not selected according to any principle of geographical representation. The majority of general service staff employed at UN headquarters are US citizens.

Organizational Distribution of Staff

As of 2005, the global work force stood at approximately 8,900 posts, down from 12,205 in 198485. Some posts currently are being kept vacant as a result of the General Assembly's decision to increase vacancy rates.

Problems of Staff Appointment According to Equitable Geographical and Gender Distribution

All UN senior staff members are appointed by the Secretary-General under regulations established by the General Assembly. Some of the appointments, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, are subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. Staff recruitment, in general, is handled by the Office of Personnel, salary scales and other conditions of employment being determined by the General Assembly.

UN member governments attach great importance to having a fair proportion of their nationals employed in the Secretariat. The 1962 General Assembly recommended that in applying the principle of equitable geographical distribution, the Secretary-General should take into account members' financial contributions to the UN, the respective populations of the member countries, the relative importance of posts at different levels, and the need for a more balanced regional composition of the staff at the director level. It further recommended that in confirming permanent contracts (UN staff are initially hired on the basis of one-year contracts), particular account should be taken of the need to reduce under-representation of some member states.

The 1975 General Assembly reaffirmed previously defined aims for UN recruitment policy and mentioned the following specifically: development of an international civil service based on the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity; equitable geographic distribution, with no post, department, or unit to be regarded as the exclusive preserve of any member state or region; the recruitment of a greater number of qualified women for professional and senior-level posts; and the correction of imbalances in the age structure of the Secretariat.

One of the United Nations' most disturbing lapses relates to the status of women within the organization's own secretariat. The equality of men and women is a principle enshrined in the UN charter. However, while more than half of the Secretariat's general service (nonprofessional) posts are filled by women, until the 1990s, few women were appointed to the highest levels of management. No woman has even been seriously considered for the position of Secretary-General. The General Assembly called in 1978 for an increase in the number of women in posts at the professional level to 25% of total staff. The Secretary-General reported in 1987 that the number of women in the professional and higher categories had increased to 25.7% of the total, compared to 17.9% in 1977. In 1985, at the end of the United Nations Decade for Women, the number of women in professional posts (designated as P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4, P-5, D-1 and D-2) had risen to 29%. However, women held only 8% of the highest administrative posts (director level, including assistant secretary-general and undersecretary-general; designated D-1 and D-2). In response, the General Assembly raised its goal for women to 35% of all professional level posts, with 25% in the senior, D-level posts by 1995. Some of the United Nations' semiautonomous subsidiary bodies already achieved progress in equitable gender representation in their own secretariats. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported in 1992 that 43% of its professional posts were occupied by women and set a goal of 50% of professional posts to be filled by women by the year 2000. UNICEF, which had women in 24.6% of its professional posts in 1986, increased that level to 35% in 1992. By June 1996, women accounted for 17.9% of the high level posts, and had received 40.3% of promotions within the last year. In 1992, in an effort to further strengthen the position of all women in the Secretariat, the first guidelines on sexual harassment were issued.

The International Civil Service Commission, established by the General Assembly in 1972, is responsible for making recommendations to that body for the regulation and coordination of service within the UN, the specialized agencies, and other international organizations that are part of the UN system. The commission is composed of 15 independent experts, appointed in their individual capacities for four-year staggered terms.


The UN's administrative arm has developed largely in accordance with the demands made upon it. In the process, it has evolved a distinctive character of its own, in keeping with its status as a constitutionally defined organ of the world body.

The Secretary-General has played the main role in shaping the character of the Secretariat. As chief administrative officer, the Secretary-General has wide discretionary powers to administer as he thinks fit. As Eleanor Roosevelt, a former chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, noted in 1953, the Secretary-General, "partly because of the relative permanence of his position (unlike the president of the General Assembly who changes every year) and partly because of his widely ramified authority over the whole UN organization, tends to become its chief personality, its embodiment and its spokesman to the world."

Each Secretary-General tries to develop the positive functions of the Secretariat. Although each has had his own views on the role of the office, all have shared the belief that the Secretariat is the backbone of the UN system. The most eloquent statement of that belief was probably made by Dag Hammarskjöld in a 1955 address at the University of California: " the United Nations is what member nations made it, but within the limits set by government action and government cooperation, much depends on what the Secretariat makes it." In addition to the Secretariat's function of providing services and facilities for governments in their capacity as members of the UN, he said, the Secretariat also "has creative capacity. It can introduce new ideas. It can, in proper forms, take initiatives. It can put before member governments findings which will influence their actions." Stressing the fact that members of the Secretariat serve as international officials rather than as government representatives, Hammarskjöld concluded that "the Secretariat in its independence represents an organ, not only necessary for the life and proper functioning of the body, but of importance also for its growth."

In response to mounting criticism of the UN bureaucracy, the mismanaged and scandal-ridden oil-for-food program (see the discussion of the oil-for-food program in the chapter on the Secretary-General under "Developments Under KofiAnnan"), and reports of sexual abuses committed by peacekeeping forces, in 2006 Secretary-General KofiAnnan put forth a radical overhaul of the Secretariat entitled Investing in the "UN: For A Stronger Organization Worldwide." The report deals with the management of the Secretariat and confirms that the UN needs a significant investment in how it recruits, develops, and retains its people, how it procures goods and sources services, and how it manages and accounts for taxpayer funds in its overall pursuit of efficiency and results. The report focuses on transforming the UN into a more efficient and accountable organization in a way that reflects the fact that more than 70% of its $10 billion annual budget in the 2000s relates to peacekeeping and other field operations, up from around 50% of a $4.5 billion budget in the 1990s. By 2006, over half of the UN's civilian staff served in the field-not only in peacekeeping, but also in humanitarian relief, criminal justice, human rights monitoring and capacity-building, assistance with a cumulative total of more than 100 national elections, and in the battle against drugs and crime. Among the specific recommendations of KofiAnnan's report were: the 25 departments and other entities reporting directly to the Secretary-General should be reorganized to significantly reduce the reporting span; a major new leadership development plan is needed, covering recruitment, training and career development, to build middle and senior management capacity; the creation of the post of the Chief Information Technology Officer at the Assistant Secretary-General level, to oversee the creation and implementation of an effective information management strategy; an urgent upgrading of Secretariat-wide ICT systems; shortening the cycle for reviewing and adopting the budget, and consolidating budget appropriation from 35 sections into 13 parts; and consolidating peacekeeping accounts and streamlining trust fund management.

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The Secretariat

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