Fact-Finding by the United Nations Secretary-General


Originally published in E. Fawcett, and H. Newcombe, United Nations Reform: Looking Ahead After Fifty Years, Science for Peace/Dundurn Press, Toronto, 1995, pp.138–154.

Executive Summary

In order to help prevent an international crisis, manage a conflict or settle a dispute, the UN Secretary-General must acquire detailed and timely information on the situation at hand. The extensive experience of the Secretary-General in fact-finding has been reviewed for this study. While the Secretary-General's past record is impressive, much more could be done if an independent, wide-ranging and timely system for information gathering and analysis were developed. Particularly for early warning and preventive diplomacy, an advanced capability is crucial. In the new international era, where the United Nations is playing a central role, the Secretary-General needs new financial and technical resources and a nucleus of in-house expertise which could: (i) monitor events world-wide and (ii) create teams, boosted by experts volunteered by governments, for on-site visits. In addition, advanced observation technologies could be used to enhance the quality and quantity of information for peace-keeping and peace-making. The adoption by the General Assembly of the 1991 Declaration on UN Fact-Finding represents a significant step in the evolution of the statutory authority of the Secretary-General. Nations may be more forthcoming in accepting visits by UN teams in the future and the Security Council may also call for it—or demand it—more often.


"Connaissance est force."

"The pool of information available to the Secretary-General is wholly inadequate."
          — UN Secretary-General, Annual Report 1991


In the post-Cold War world, the United Nations has found itself with new missions, expanded roles and growing responsibilities.1 The trend is expected to continue over coming years because, in an interdependent world with many unresolved problems and new challenges, a world no longer dominated by a mammoth superpower struggle that severely curtailed international efforts at peacemaking, the UN offers a unique source of authority, talent and experience. Admittedly, the UN has shortcomings and many limitations, but nevertheless it remains the foremost avenue in the minds of many for advancement towards a world based on respect for international law and order.

A focal point in UN activities to keep the peace is the Office of the Secretary-General. For nearly a half century, the UN Secretaries-General have built up, through experience, precedence and a flexible interpretation of the UN Charter, responsibilities that include preventive diplomacy, early warning, crisis management, peacekeeping and conflict resolution. The Security Council, which has primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security, and the General Assembly, which may discuss and make recommendations on these matters, often entrust the Secretary-General with the detailed planning and implementation of the international operations envisioned in their resolutions.

The range of tasks carried out by the Secretary-General and his Secretariat staff in the field of peace and security is truly awe-inspiring.2 In the past five years, the Secretary-General has: verified the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and Cuban forces from Angola; supervised the cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war; overseen Namibian transition to a independent, democratic nation, climaxing 70 years of international involvement; assisted in the implementation of the Central America peace plan (including the disarmament and demobilization of the Contras); provided for the protection of UN efforts for Kurdish and other refugees in Iraq; verified Iraq's declarations about its weapons of mass destruction and is overseeing their elimination; supervised elections or referenda in Nicaragua, Haiti and the Western Sahara (pending); won the release of hostages in the Middle East, monitored human rights nation-wide in El Salvador; tried to ease the Civil War in former Yugoslavia; kept the peace in Cyprus while promoting a lasting settlement; guarded supply routes in Somalia; and administered Cambodia during its transition period before supervising successful but suspenseful elections. Table 1 at the end of the paper describes instances, from the foundation of the UN up to the end of 1991, when the Secretary-General has alerted the Security Council to a potential threat to international peace and security.

In any operation carried out by the Secretary-General, a reliable and independent capability to gather information is essential. Currently he has a variety of information-gathering means, but on the whole the financial and technological resources at his disposal are incongruous with the demands that these complex operations entail.

The Scope of Fact-Finding

In many cases, information gathered by the UN Secretary-General relates directly to the security and vital interests of nations, as well as to international peace and security. Thus the information can sometimes be very sensitive and must often be kept secret. The Secretary-General often requires what would, by some definitions, be called intelligence.

The term intelligence is avoided in UN discussions because, as one authoritative handbook for UN peacekeepers noted, it "implies undercover activities and the use of covert means for obtaining information about the parties in a dispute."3 No UN body or Member State has authorized the Secretary-General to gather information using clandestine or illegal means. While information obtained in such a manner might, at various times, be offered by a Member State, the Secretary-General must avoid giving even the impression of deliberate concealment of the methods used in his own information-gathering operations. Transparency in UN methods will always be necessary to maintain confidence and trust in the organization. At the same time a good system to maintain the confidentiality of information is also required.

Instead of "intelligence gathering", the term used in UN circles is "fact-finding", which can be taken as equivalent to information gathering, enquiry, inquiry or investigation.4 In the Declaration on UN Fact-Finding,5 endorsed by the General Assembly on 9 December 1991, fact-finding is defined as: "any activity designed to obtain detailed knowledge of the relevant facts of any dispute or situation which the competent United Nations organs need in order to exercise their functions." This broad definition gives wide scope to the fact-finding activities of UN bodies, the main limitation arising from the word "facts." Webster's Dictionary defines a fact as a "piece of information presented as having objective reality." A fact can be information about both physical and non-physical entities. This could include, for example, the location of a tank, the government policy or instruction that justifies the deployment of the tank in that position, and the intentions of the leaders in making those policies. Since it is harder to claim "objective reality" about intentions, the Secretary-General often has a limited range of possible fact-finding areas. He must not risk the prestige of his office by making unsubstantiated statements or basing his actions upon rumours or conjecture. Facts need to be supported by evidence. In the practical world of international diplomacy, a fact is a statement that cannot be easily contested.

Facts presented by the Secretary-General have on occasion been disputed, but he is widely regarded as an objective source of information. A criticism more often made about the holders of the office is that they are too cautious in stating the facts, desiring not to offend or alienate any Member State, and careful not to present conclusions that cannot be easily substantiated. Sometimes it is necessary to read between the lines of the conclusions of a UN report to determine where blame lies. The current Secretary-General, however, appears to be less inhibited in this respect and he does, on occasion, make bold and challenging statements to the Security Council and other international bodies.

Ironically, the UN often performs some of its most valuable services when the world knows least about what it is doing. At the early stages, simmering disputes are often not public knowledge and are not covered by the media. At these times, actions by the Secretary-General are often kept secret. If his mission is successful, then there is little or no news; in the event of failed efforts leading to conflict, the events take front page. It is often in situations where disputes have not been the subject of public attention that the Secretary-General's inquiries and actions can be most effective.

Figure 1 presents a conceptual view of the fact-finding process, in which information is first collected, then sifted through and analyzed, on a continuous or case-by-case basis, before the facts are established. If there are conflicting claims, as is often the case, then an effort may be made to investigate more thoroughly. In many cases, witnesses must be interviewed, and third parties consulted before a coherent picture is formed. During the process, information must constantly be evaluated to determine if it is relevant to the Secretary-General's mandate. Some information obtained in the course of fact-finding may turn out to be irrelevant, superfluous or even none of the Secretary-General's business. This must be minimized or avoided where possible. The Secretary-General may use fact-finding to assist him in carrying out any variety of functions, as listed in Figure 1. The legal and political sources of his authority for fact-finding are also listed.

UN fact finding process


The 1991 Declaration on UN Fact-Finding

The 1991 Declaration on UN Fact-Finding adopted by the General Assembly provides the Secretary-General with an enhanced and explicit mandate for fact-finding that goes beyond the conduct of ad hoc missions requested by a state or a UN body for a specific purpose: it encourages him to carry out continuous monitoring for the larger UN goal of maintaining peace. In Section IV, the Declaration states: "The Secretary-General should monitor the state of international peace and security regularly and systematically in order to provide early warning of disputes or situations which might threaten international peace and security." The Declaration, adopted unanimously, represents a milestone in the development of UN fact-finding, especially as it relates to the Secretary-General. After decades of heated debate over the extent of the Secretary-General's authority, including steadfast opposition from the Soviet Union to fact-finding free from the Security Council veto, the Secretary-General has now been given an explicit and wide-ranging mandate to monitor situations as he sees fit.

The Declaration stops short of giving the Secretary-General the right to pass legal judgments or assigning blame after establishing the facts. Nevertheless, he will need to analyze gathered information vis-à-vis his many responsibilities and to decide on a course of action - some options are listed in Figure 1. Under specific resolutions and agreements, the Secretary-General may be given additional authority to interpret an agreement, as well as to establish the facts, in order to verify compliance or even to lay the blame on one state or another.6 In Article 99 of the UN Charter, he is explicitly authorized to "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten international peace and security." The Article has seldom been explicitly invoked in the Security Council — relevant cases are described in Table 1 — but the Secretaries-General have reasoned that Article 99 carries with it the power to carry out wide-ranging inquiries and good offices functions, a power that is enhanced by the explicit wording in the Declaration.

Uses of Information

Fact-finding may be used before, during and after a conflict. Figure 2 presents a conceptual view of the roles of the Secretary-General (or any other entity) in the maintenance of international peace and security. The seven roles, listed in Figure 1 and illustrated in Figure 2, are based on a chronological view of a generalized conflict.

Figure 2. A conceptual view of the Secretary-General's roles in the
field of peace and security, as they relate to the stages of conflict

Stages of Conflict

Ideally, the Secretary-General should be able to detect and defuse a dispute before it ignites into armed combat or escalates to higher levels of intensity. This activity of the Secretary-General, called preventive diplomacy, requires early knowledge of developing disputes and the cooperation and good will from involved parties, as well as tacit or formal support from members of the Security Council. In order to minimize the chances that a conflict will erupt, the Secretary-General may request permission from the Security Council to establish a preventive deployment of UN peacekeeping forces. One such force was deployed in Macedonia in 1992, in a successful effort to prevent the expansion of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina to other volatile regions of the former Yugoslavia. In cases where the Secretary-General feels the necessity of alerting more powerful bodies, he may issue an early warning of impending danger to a greater authority such as the Security Council, the General Assembly or certain Member States. Because early knowledge of a conflict has not been readily available in the past, good examples of preventive diplomacy and early warning are hard to come by. Preventive diplomacy was used in resolving the UK-Iranian dispute over Bahrain (1970) and early warning was used to some extent in both the Congo (1960) and the Vietnam War. The Secretary-General's confirmation of aggression in Korea on 25 June 1950, coming a half-day after North Korea launched its attack, is an example of "late" warning, but one which still proved useful in encouraging a prompt and united response from the Security Council. As with Korea, the Secretary-General usually becomes aware of fires once they have been lit for all to see.

In cases of conflict/crisis management, he may offer his good offices for conciliation, mediation or facilitation. Often he will send identical letters to the heads of state of the warring parties calling for restraint, as U Thant did during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). He may put forward specific proposals for the parties to consider. Important plans were presented by the Secretary-General in the cases of the Status of West Irian (1962-63), the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the Congo crisis (1962), the Vietnam War (1965) and the Falkland Islands dispute (1982), among many others. To increase his effectiveness, he often appoints a personal or special representative to gather information in the area, to make contacts with officials and to help him prepare his proposals. When the parties are ready to consider a cease-fire, the Secretary-General may suggest one of the most useful tools to keep armed clashes at bay: peacekeeping. Peacekeeping operations may be set up under Security Council authorization for observation and supervision or to act as a buffer between parties. In both cases the operations serve as confidence-building measures, and can provide a steady stream of information to the Secretary-General as well as allowing diplomats the time to settle the dispute peacefully.

Cessation of fighting is usually not enough to bring enduring peace. The Secretary-General has a duty to resolve the conflict at a deeper level so that fighting does not reoccur. This is conflict/crisis resolution, or "peacemaking" as it is sometimes called. It is sometimes a long, painstaking process requiring "patient diplomacy." Examples of recent successes include the independence of Namibia (1989–90), which had been a concern of the United Nations and its predecessor the League of Nations for 70 years, and Central America, where the Secretaries-General have long been active in the transformation of the region. In both regions, the Secretary-General stationed large teams of UN observers to enhance stability during the peacemaking process.

The Security Council has the authority, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to demand and enforce compliance with its decisions. The two main instances of such enforcement action were in Korea (1950–53) and Iraq (1990–). The Secretary-General had only a minor role in UN operations during the Korean War, but in the aftermath of the Gulf War he was given significant responsibilities, which included the development of plans for UNSCOM, a Special Commission to inspect and supervize the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM collected information using a variety of means, including American U–2 photoreconnaissance aircraft, and also received intelligence reports from nations. After UNSCOM had developed an effective information gathering and analysis system, UNSCOM information was eagerly sought after by these same nations.

Peacebuilding activities are designed to assist states to develop and maintain the infrastructure which is necessary for peace. They include economic and technical aid, assistance through development, education and health programs.

In a given conflict the Secretary-General may proceed from one role to another. The Congo crisis provides a good example. In January 1960 Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold made a tour of Africa, "characteristically meeting trouble halfway by going out to look at the problems of its emergent states".7 During his visit to the Belgian Congo and other African nations, he observed the complete inadequacy of preparations for independence. Being anxious about what might happen, and eager to help ease the transition, he dispatched Ralph Bunche, a top Secretariat official, to the Congo. At the Independence Day celebrations on 1 July 1960, Bunche read out the Secretary-General's message, which promised that "the United Nations stands ready, when called upon, to afford the Government of the Congo the fullest measure of [development] assistance." Bunche stayed on to discuss such assistance. Thus Hammarskjold was attempting to play a preventive role. However, chaos broke out within days, with mutinies in garrisons throughout the country and with a secession led by the President of the Katanga province. Belgium dispatched paratroops, against the will of the Congolese leaders, to protect Belgians and other Europeans. The Congolese government cabled the Secretary-General for military assistance. Hammarskjold called for a meeting of the Security Council, where he described the situation and suggested that UN forces be sent, which they were. Thus Hammarskjold, explicitly invoking Article 99, played a warning role by bringing the matter to the attention of the Security Council. As the forces were being dispatched, focus shifted to crisis management and "peacemaking". Tragically, Hammarskjold lost his life in a mysterious air crash while travelling in the region to negotiate an end to the crisis. A year later, Acting Secretary-General U Thant proposed his Plan of National Reconciliation, which, after many ups and downs, formed the basis of the final settlement. UN forces were withdrawn from the Congo in 1964, after the Secretary-General observed that law and order had been largely restored.

The Secretary-General's An Agenda for Peace

In his 1992 report, An Agenda for Peace, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali reaffirmed that conflict prevention must be, "based on timely and accurate knowledge of the facts" and "an understanding of developments and global trends." He called for increased resort to fact-finding and requested Member States to provide information and promised, "to supplement his own contacts by regularly sending senior officials on missions of consultations in capitals." A group of states, incorporating Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Nordic countries, made a submission to the Secretary-General in which they pointed out that, "Member States have a duty to inform the United Nations of potential threats to the peace." They further called upon the United Nations," to rationalize and enhance its capacity to collect, analyze and disseminate information" on such threats. The time has now come to move from a recognition of these needs and benefits to institutional implementation of a fact-finding unit within the Secretariat with sufficient resources to gather and analyze wide-ranging information in a timely manner.

Eventually, the Secretary-General should be given broad authority (by the Security Council or by states in an international treaty) to conduct inspections in connection with certain types of disputes in the territories of nations without giving the states the right of refusal. The possibility of an Open Skies regime, using aerial and satellite reconnaissance, under the UN can also be considered for the long term.


Fact-finding can help preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution in a number of ways. First, the mere announcement of a fact-finding mission can ease tensions and lessen false propaganda. Second, the impartial determination of the facts can clarify contentious issues and aid parties to reach agreement. Third, by accepting the conclusions and interpretations of the UN Secretary-General, a nation can save face when it might otherwise not feel capable of accepting the facts, however valid they may be, as presented by an antagonist. Finally, facts reported or publicized by the Secretary-General can allow UN bodies or individual Member States to apply pressure on a delinquent state. The main problem with UN fact-finding is that once the facts are established, there is an expectation and a responsibility for the UN to act, and Member States are not always ready to undertake bold initiatives.

Besides the domain of peace and security, there are other important areas where the Secretary-General has significant fact-finding responsibilities, and where an increase in his fact-finding capability would be beneficial. Many of the points made in this paper can be applied to his activities in the social, economic, humanitarian, human rights and environmental fields.

In anticipating and resolving disputes in the international community, the office of the Secretary-General must have the financial, technical and human resources to gather, process and distribute information on a broad basis. While the track record is impressive, the Secretary-General could do much more if he/she had an autonomous, effective, wide-ranging and timely system for information gathering and analysis. For instance, the possession of advanced observation technologies and resources (including regular satellite imagery of "hot spots" 8) would enhance the quality and quantity of information. A modern data gathering and analysis system within the Secretariat would increase the Secretary-General's capacity for peacekeeping and peacemaking, and allow him to fulfill his new role of regular and systematic monitoring of the state of the world, thereby helping to identify and hopefully resolve threats to international peace and security as they arise.


1.^ The number of new UN peacekeeping missions put into the field has, for instance, more than doubled in the past five years, and the size and scope of certain missions (like UNTAC in Cambodia) is unprecedented. New roles assumed by the United Nations include supervision of elections in sovereign states and broader, integrated peacekeeping operations. The responsibility of the Security Council for maintaining international peace and security has been given new impetus (as well as presenting new dangers). And in 1991, the Secretary-General was explicitly given new responsibilities in the Declaration on UN Fact-Finding.

2.^ The Secretary-General is now directly involved in virtually every major dispute brought before the United Nations. In the first ten years, he was an important player in only one out of every four disputes. This observation is based on a survey of the disputes listed in Allsebrook, Mary (1986) Prototypes of Peacemaking, The First Forty Years of the United Nations (Longman: Harlow, Essex UK).

3.^ International Peace Academy (1984) Peacekeepers Handbook (Pergamon Press: NY).

4.^ The Charter of the United Nations uses the term "enquiry" (Article 33) while the Covenant of the League of Nations uses the term "inquiry" (Articles 12 and 17). These synonymous terms suggest that facts are examined, not simply gathered, in order to arrive at conclusions or recommendations. Fact-finding, as used in this paper, is slightly broader: it involves the development of conclusions and recommendations as well as the reporting of results. Fact-finding may incorporate observation and inspection and it is an essential part of supervision and verification.

5.^ The full title is Declaration on Fact-Finding by the United Nations in the Field of the Maintenance of International Peace and Security. The Declaration was endorsed in General Assembly resolution 46/59, which was adopted without a vote (i.e., by consensus).

6.^ This kind of legal discretion is not often given to the Secretary-General in the area of treaties, since the interpretation of treaties is seen as largely the prerogative of sovereign states and the International Court of Justice. However, he is frequently called upon to monitor compliance with resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly.

7.^ Economist (2 January 1960), "Mr. Hammarskjold, We Presume."

8.^ See Dorn, Walter (1987) "Peacekeeping Satellites: The Case for International Surveillance and Verification" Peace Research Reviews 10 (5 & 6) (Peace Research Institute - Dundas: Ontario, Canada).

Table 1. The Secretary-General Alerts the Security Council ^

This table describes the instances (up to the end of 1991) in which the Secretary-General (SG) has brought to the attention of the Security Council (SC) matters which in his opinion may pose a threat to international peace and security. Thus, the Secretary-General exercised the substance of the responsibilities conferred upon him by Article 99 of the UN Charter. [1] However, by a strict application of Article 99, formal invocation of the Article has occurred only three times, arising from the crises in the Congo (1960), Iran (1979) and Lebanon (1989).


Meeting Date



Trygve Lie
25 Jun 1950 North Korea attacks South Korea. US notifies SG of attack. SG obtains independent confirmation and details of attack from the UN Commission on Korea. At an emergency SC meeting, requested by the US (and boycotted by the Soviet Union), SG speaks first, stating that "military actions have been undertaken by North Korean forces" which were a "direct violation" of General Assembly resolution 293 (IV) and of the UN Charter. He said that the situation was "a threat to international peace ... I consider it the clear duty of the Security Council to take steps necessary to re-establish peace in that area." SC passes resolutions condemning attack as breach of the peace. On June 27, SC calls upon UN Members to furnish assistance to repel the attack. [Lie, pp.323–33]
Dag Hammarskjöld
7 Sep 1959 Laos alleges Vietnamese aggression and requests SG to send an emergency UN force. SG asks SC President to "convene urgently" a SC meeting, which President does under his own authority. US desires to introduce a draft resolution to establish a fact-finding body as a procedural matter, and thus avoid Soviet veto. At meeting, SG states he is not invoking Article 99, which would cause matter to be considered substantial, but is only reporting to SC on agenda item introduced by SC President. He states that he has insufficient knowledge to make judgement as to the facts. US Draft resolution is carried, over Soviet objections and fact-finding Committee is established. Committee reports indicate that Lao allegations are overstated. No UN force is sent. [UNYB 1959, pp.62–65]
  13 Jul 1960 Congolese government cables SG with a request for UN military assistance to protect against Belgian paratroops. These had been dispatched to protect Belgian interests (including inhabitants) in the former colony. The country is in chaos. SG requests urgent meeting of the SC for that evening on "a matter which, in my opinion, may threaten international peace and security." At meeting, he recommends a UN force be sent to Congo, so that Belgian forces could be withdrawn and to prevent other countries (esp. Soviet Union) from sending troops. SC authorizes him to send the UN force. ONUC, which at its peak numbers about 20,000 troops, is established to help keep law and order. [Cordier & Foote, vol. V, pp.16–27; UN Doc. S/4381; S/PV.873]
  22 Jul 1961 Fighting intensifies around Bizerta, Tunisia, between French forces (which occupy the city) and Tunisian soldiers and civilians. Tunisia had blockaded the French naval base at Bizerta. At the second SC meeting dealing with the Bizerta question, SG speaks to SC: "News reaching us from Tunisia indicates that the serious and threatening development which the Council took up for consideration yesterday continues, with risks of irreparable damage to international peace and security." In view of the "obligations of the Secretary-General acting under Article 99", he appeals to SC to make an immediate call for a cease-fire and return of all armed forces to original positions. SC adopts a resolution with these provisions by vote of 10–0, with France refusing to participate. [Cordier & Foote, vol. V, pp.526–530]
U Thant
29 Apr 1963 The Imam of Yemen is deposed in a coup d'état by republicans. The UAR recognizes new regime, while Saudi Arabia supports the Imam. Fighting breaks out. UAR sends troops. SG informs SC of his initiatives to ensure against "any development in the situation which might threaten the peace in the area." Explains that the three parties have agreed to the stationing of a UN observer mission (UNYOM) and will pay for it. UNYOM is established to observe disengagement and withdrawal of foreign forces, including supervision of a demilitarized zone. At 11 June 1963 meeting Thant warns that "disengagement may be jeopardized if the United Nations observation personnel are not on the spot." SC passed resolution approving observation force, which conducted operations until 4 Sep 1964. [Cordier & Foote, vol. VI, pp.328–30]
  20 Jul 1971 Awami League declares the independence of East Pakistan in March 1971. Pakistani President Yahya Khan requests army to suppress independence activities, resulting in bloodshed. U Thant maintains almost daily contact with India and Pakistan but refrains from calling SC meeting because both sides consider the conflict an internal matter. SG distributes a confidential memorandum to SC members, "warning them that the conflict could all too easily expand, erupting the entire subcontinent in fratricidal strife, and that the United Nations must now attempt to mitigate the tragedy." The memorandum was made public in August. SG describes it as "an implied invocation of Article 99." Yet SC does not meet in emergency session until the Indo-Pakistan War begins on December 3, four months after SG's warning. SC is unable to decide on action. SG confines himself to the humanitarian aspects of the problem, including the organization of international aid for refugees in India. [Thant, p.423]
Kurt Waldheim
16 Jul 1974 Cyprus crisis is ignited when Greek Cypriot National Guard stage a coup d'état on 15 July against President Makarios, who flees from the Island. SG requests SC President to convene an emergency meeting, in view of the seriousness of the matter in relation to international peace and security and in view of the UN involvement in Cyprus. The permanent representative of Cyprus also requests meeting. SC endorsed continued UN peace-keeping efforts and authorized SG to attempt to mediate the dispute. However, it was only on 20 July, the day of the Turkish intervention that the Security Council passed a resolution calling for a cease-fire. [UNYB 1974, p.262]
  30 Mar 1976
16 Mar 1978
Lebanon In both cases, SG brings to the attention of the Security Council the gravity of the situation in Lebanon, transmits the communications that he has received, and offers his good offices. [UN Chronicle, April 1976 and April 1978]
  4 Dec 1979 US Embassy in Tehran is invaded by revolutionary students on 4 Nov 1979, with support of Iran's new government. On 9 Nov, after consultations, SC President calls for the release of the hostages. SG writes to SC President on 25 Nov 1979 drawing attention to the continuing crisis and requesting SC meeting, saying that it was his opinion that the crisis posed a threat to international peace and security. SC meets formally on 27 Nov. SG speaks first, calling upon US and Iran to exercise maximum restraint. In resolution of 4 Dec SC calls for release of hostages, restoration of diplomatic immunities and authorizes SG to "take all appropriate measures" to implement the resolution. On 31 December 1979 he travels to Tehran. The Iranian government paints his visit as a fact-finding mission to examine cruelties of the Shah's regime. SG's four-point proposal is rejected and he returns empty handed. [UNYB 1979, pp.307–312; S/13646]
  26 Sep 1980 From mid-May to mid-Sep SG receives accusations from both Iran & Iraq, indicating a deteriorating situation. Iraq invades Iran on 22 Sep, beginning the Iran-Iraq war. SG appeals to both parties on 22 & 23 Sep for restraint and a negotiated settlement. SG states in letter to SC Pres (25 Sep), that fighting had intensified and that the situation undoubtedly threatened international peace & security. SG suggests SC consultations. Mexico and Norway request formal meeting of SC. At meeting on 26 Sep, SG summarizes developments leading to the meeting. SC adopts resolution 479(1980) calling for a cease-fire and urging parties to accept mediation or conciliation. [S/14196; UNYB 1980, pp.312–314]
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar
15 Aug 1989 Fighting in Lebanon escalates especially in and around Beirut. There is danger of even further involvement of outside parties. In a letter to the SC President, the SG notes that violence in and around Beirut "had escalated to a level unprecedented in fourteen years of conflict." He states his belief that an effective cease-fire is imperative: "in my opinion, the present crisis poses a serious threat to international peace and security. Accordingly, in the exercise of my responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations, I ask that the Security Council be convened urgently ..." [S/20789]

1.^ Article 99 states: "The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten international peace and security." In preparing this table the following criteria, broader than those conventionally used to classify an invocation of Article 99, were used: (1) the Secretary-General must be the first to address the issue formally in the Council or be the first to call for a meeting (but not necessarily both); and (2) he must announce the existence of a threat to the peace. The criteria for a formal, explicit invocation of Article 99 are narrower.


Cordier, Andrew W., and Foote, Wilder (eds.), "Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations", vols. I–IV, Columbia University Press, New York, 1969–1974.

Lie, Trygve, "In the Cause of Peace: Seven Years with the United Nations", MacMillan, New York, 1954.

U Thant, "View from the United Nations", Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York, 1978.

United Nations, "Repertory of Practice of the United Nations Organs," Vol. I–VI (covering period 1946–1978), New York, 1956–.

UNYB (United Nations Year Book), annual 1946–, United Nations, New York.