Issue 158 - June 21 - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Elected to Second Term

New York, June 21, 2011

2011 Appointment of UN Secretary-General

On 6 June, 2011, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly announced his bid for re-election. After “humbly” offering himself for consideration, he expressed pride for the accomplishments of the international community under his first term in office: on issues such as climate change; humanitarian crises in Myanmar, Haiti, and Pakistan; and African conflict regions, for instance. He also cited the success of increasing female representation, as well as his leadership in improving transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the UN system. With regards to the future, he urged a “redoubl[ing]” of efforts towards the Millennium Development Goals and maintaining momentum on nuclear disarmament. [1]
No alternative candidates emerged to challenge Ban. He received the strong and widespread support of member states, including all members of the Security Council and all regional groups. Following his unanimous re-election in the General Assembly on 21 June 2011, his second term is set to begin on January 1, 2012.

The role of the Secretary-General
In the UN Charter, Article 97 describes the Secretary-General as the “chief administrative officer.” Article 99 further states that “the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” [2] Lastly, Article 100 highlights the duty of the Secretary-General “as [an] international officia[l] responsible only to the Organization,” compelling member states “to respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General…and not to seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities. [3]
In practice, candidates can wield considerable political influence through Article 99, while Article 100 holds them to a high standard of impartiality and moral authority. The official website for the UN Secretary-General affirms:

One of the most vital roles played by the Secretary-General is the use of his “good offices” -- steps taken publicly and in private, drawing upon his independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. [4]

It continues, “Each Secretary-General also defines his role within the context of his particular time in office.” The brief formal description of the office lends itself to interpretation. The priorities and qualities which best define it are still debated today.


Reactions within the UN
Ban received clear, near-unanimous support from a wide variety of member states. He secured the backing of the P5, non-permanent members of the Security Council such as India, various other UN member states such as Egypt and Kenya, and international groupings such as the EU and the Asian Group. He furthermore received the endorsement of all regional groups, whose chairs sponsored the GA resolution on his re-election.

Though Ban’s candidacy has met with glowing statements of endorsement from governments across the world, his performance has also, at times, attracted criticism during his first term. The most frequent complaints target his lack of leadership qualities and charisma.[5]

Civil Society Reactions
Journalists, particularly those from UN-centric news organizations and Asian publications, offered mixed reviews of his past projects and handling of crises. While some defend Ban as speaking out on various human rights crises, others argue he has not been vocal enough. Another issue of concern is his impartiality as an international official—some criticize him as too compliant with the West.

On the subject of human rights, Ban has been praised for his approach to the crises in Libya and the Ivory Coast. [6] The Korea Joongang noted that Ban sought permission from the Myanmar government to allow aid for cyclone victims in 2008. [7]CNN noted incremental progress on one of his top priorities, ending violence in the Sudan, citing a recent vote to create an independent state in southern Sudan. [8] More recently, the Secretary-General’s strong support for pro-democracy movements in the Middle East has been popular in the press.

Such situations, it is argued, demonstrate his independence from the interests of powerful states. Mark Goldberg of UN Dispatch points out Ban’s advocacy for the International Criminal Court in spite of vigorous US opposition. [9] During the Arab Spring, too, Ban singled out heads of state such as former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak even as Western states hesitated. [10]

Yet certain projects Ban has undertaken have also enjoyed ample commendation. Among his most lauded accomplishments is his leadership on the Millennium Development Goals, particularly with regards to maternal health, and on promoting gender equality. The creation of UN Women under his watch after four years of tough negotiations consolidated four separate UN divisions under “a single recognized driver.” Women’s organizations and various NGO groups called the new body a “historic” step forward in promoting women’s rights internationally. [11]

Finally, editorialists reject portrayals of Ban as timid,[12] retorting that his understated style in persuasion and mediation is equally, if not more, effective. Ban himself has identified as “a harmonizer and bridge-builder”; he is generally characterized as humble and self-effacing. Yet former UN correspondent Mark Seddon asserts that while Ban’s daily work may not be “exciting enough for 24 hour news,” his steady and subtle diplomatic progress deserves recognition.[13] American journalist Thomas Plate writes, “you don't get a flashy showboat…but you do get an endlessly tireless and wholly competent worker.” [14]

Opposition to Ban’s candidacy in the weeks following his announcement has been limited. At the press release where he declared interest in a second term, he faced tough questions on his successes so far and his future goals. Bloomberg News pressed Ban on the status of his two stated top priorities: addressing the atrocities in Darfur and the problem of climate change: “don’t you think you should be held accountable for the fact that both of those goals haven’t been achieved?” [15] Other reporters, in response to the recent uprisings in the Middle East, questioned whether Ban would call on the President of Yemen to step down, and why he had not been as outspoken on previous human rights issues in Asia. [16]

Human rights groups and various other NGOs are among Ban’s loudest critics, arguing that the Secretary-General is not aggressive enough in his efforts to protect human rights abroad. The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Kenneth Roth, wrote in the group’s latest annual report that Ban was “notably reluctant” to put pressure on abusive governments and fought human rights violators with “one hand tied behind his back.” [17] HRW, among other groups, sharply rebuked Ban for neglecting to mention the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in China, and for remaining silent on abuses in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

On other issues, the verdict remains unclear. Though he called out for democracy in the Middle East, for instance, the peace process in that region, which he prioritized early in his term, still remains stalled. Despite the palpable disappointment following the Copenhagen Accord on global warming, a few journalists have, in retrospect, credited Ban for mediating onerous negotiations at preceding UN Climate Change Conferences in 2007 and 2009. [19] In some respects, the time may be soon or too politicized for final judgments on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.


The Security Council recommended the reappointment of the Secretary-General on Friday, 17 June 2011. On 21 June, the General Assembly unanimously reelected him for a second term by voice vote. Now that Ban has won his second term, it is up to the Secretary-General to prove whether he can rise above the criticisms of his first.


[1] “Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters,” SG/SM/13622, 6 June 2011, United Nations Department of Public Information.

[2] Security Council Report, Special Research Report 24 May 2011, 2.

[3] United Nations Charter, Chapter XV, Article 97-100.

[8] CNN Wire Staff, “Ban Ki-moon says he’ll seek second term as U.N. secretary-general,” 6 June 2011,CNN .

[9] Goldberg.

[12] Jacob Heilbrunn delivered such a scathing appraisal in a 2009 Foreign Policy article titled “Nowhere Man.”

[15] Ban eventually admitted remained works “in progress.” “Ban Ki-Moon’s 2nd term bid,” Global Memo, 6 June 2011 .

[16] “Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters.”

[17] Christine Kim.

[18] Christine Kim, Mark Seddon.