4 April 2007
General Assembly
GA/10585

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Plenary

93rd Meeting (PM)


GENERAL ASSEMBLY APPROVES FIRST SERIOUS OVERHAUL OF UNITED NATIONS


INTERNAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN 60 YEARS

 


Action Also Taken on Funding for After-Service Health Insurance Benefits,

Security Management, Tsunami Relief Operations, Judges’ Salaries, Among Others


The General Assembly this afternoon approved the first serious overhaul of the administration of justice within the United Nations in 60 years, deciding to establish “a new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system”.


Stressing the importance of increased transparency in decision-making and increased accountability of managers, the Assembly, by the terms of one of several texts adopted on the recommendation of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today, recognized that the new system should improve performance and have a positive impact on staff management.


Placing great emphasis on informal resolution of disputes before they escalate to unnecessary litigation, the draft envisioned strengthening the Ombudsman’s Office through the establishment of a Mediation Division at Headquarters and identification of possible new posts in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.  It also outlined a fundamentally different two-tier formal system of justice, rendering binding decisions and ordering appropriate remedies.


The Joint Appeals Boards and the Joint Disciplinary Committees would be replaced with a new, decentralized first-instance Dispute Tribunal.  The second tier of justice would be represented by a United Nations Appeals Tribunal.  The Assembly also acknowledged the need for a process of management evaluation that would be efficient, effective and impartial, while reaffirming the importance of the general principle of exhausting administrative remedies before formal proceedings are instituted.  The system would be coordinated by a newly established Office of the Administration of Justice.


General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa ( Bahrain) said that, by adopting the draft, the Assembly had taken a significant step forward in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Organization.  The United Nations promoted justice and equality around the world and represented the rule of law to its members.  Therefore, it required a system of justice, which was independent, transparent, professional and adequately resourced. 


Stressing the importance of the measures adopted today, she also emphasized the need to keep up the momentum.  Swift approval of additional reports that had been requested from the Secretary-General, along with the necessary resources, was essential to ensure that the new system came into effect in a timely manner.


“While understanding that today is only an initial step to this very important reform, it is indeed a crucial step,” she stated.  The reform of the administration of justice system should not be viewed in isolation from the total package of United Nations reform.  The Assembly’s adoption of the resolution would reaffirm its commitment and determination to see a better United Nations. 


Another resolution adopted today addressed the matter of after-service health insurance benefits of United Nations staff, the accrued liability of which was expected to approach $5 billion in 25 years.  The Assembly recognized the need to specifically identify the sources of accrued liabilities and requested information on financing options and sources, as well as possible long-term strategies and measures to reduce the Organization’s costs.


It also approved several cost-containment measures, including more restrictive eligibility requirements and changes of the cost-sharing basis for staff recruited on or after 1 July 2007, as well as a special account to record after-service accrued liabilities and an account for related transactions.  Pending validation of the liabilities and an audit by the Board of Auditors, the Assembly decided to revert to that item as a matter of priority at its sixty-third session.


The Assembly also adopted a text on the Organization’s strengthened and unified security management system, which addressed the operations of the Department of Safety and Security, along with such issues as cooperation with host countries and cost-sharing arrangements among United Nations entities.  It called, among other things, for a comprehensive safety and security policy framework and a review of existing safety programmes.  Also by its terms, the Assembly authorized the Secretary-General to enter into commitments totalling some $23.5 million for the implementation of the first phase of the standardized access system at the United Nations and two International Tribunals, without prejudice to the implementation of projects previously approved.


By other texts adopted today, the Assembly also addressed a review of tsunami relief operations, conditions of service of international judges, the programme of work of the Joint Inspection Unit, and a donation of funds of the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) to the Government of that country.  The Assembly deferred consideration of several items on the Fifth Committee’s agenda until the second part of its resumed session.


And finally, the Assembly, on an exceptional basis, authorized the Secretary-General to enter into commitments of up to $190,000 from the Organization’s regular budget for the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), subject to full reimbursement upon receipt of voluntary contributions by the Institute.  At the same time, the Assembly reaffirmed that regular budget resources would not be used to finance the activities of INSTRAW, in accordance with its Statute, and appealed to Member States, as a matter of urgency, to contribute voluntary funds to honour existing pledges in support of the Institute.


The Assembly will meet again at a date to be announced.


Action on Drafts


The reports of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) were introduced by its Rapporteur, DIEGO SIMANCAS ( Mexico).


The Assembly first adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution on the Joint Inspection Unit (document A/61/654/Add.1), by the terms of which it took note with appreciation of the Unit’s programme of work for 2007 and decided to consider it jointly with its report at the first part of its resumed sessions, starting from the sixty-second session.


The Assembly then turned to a draft resolution on the Administration of Justice (document A/61/832), by the terms of which it would decide to establish a new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of internal justice, consistent with relevant rules of international law and the principles of the rule of law and due process, “to ensure respect for the rights and obligations of staff members and accountability of managers and staff members alike”.  Stressing the importance of increased transparency in decision-making and increased accountability of managers, the Assembly would recognize that the new system should improve performance and have a positive impact on staff management.


The Assembly would also decide to continue consideration of the item during its sixty-second session as a matter of priority and with the objective of implementing the new system of administration of justice no later than January 2009.


Presenting the text, General Assembly President Sheikha HAYA RASHED AL KHALIFA ( Bahrain) said the Assembly had taken a significant step forward in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Organization by approving the first serious overhaul of the United Nations system of administration of justice in 60 years.  The United Nations promoted justice and equality around the world and represented the rule of law to its members.  Therefore, it required a system of justice, which was independent, transparent, professional and adequately resourced. 


“We owe it to the 55,000 staff of the UN Secretariat, funds and programmes, who, in the case of employment disputes, only have recourse to the Organization's own justice system,” she said, thanking the delegates in both the Fifth and Sixth (Legal) Committees, as well as the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which had worked tirelessly, with focus and commitment over the last few weeks to establish a more effective system of internal justice.  She also thanked the members of the independent external panel of legal experts –- the Redesign Panel –- that had proposed the radical overhaul of the system.  The Secretary-General and his staff had helped to facilitate those important deliberations.


The existing system, in place since the late 1940s, had been designed for a different era, when the Organization had only a few thousand staff in a handful of locations, she stated.  It relied on voluntary input of staff themselves, participating in ad-hoc boards and committees, with only limited authority to advise the Secretary-General.  Over time, the backlogs and delays had become significant, and the independence and credibility of the system had been seriously compromised.  The existing system served nobody well -– “not the staff, not the managers and, ultimately, not the Organization or the Member States”.  The Redesign Panel had rightly recognized that and made bold proposals for change.


Today’s draft, she continued, outlined the key features of a fundamentally different system.  Those included a more robust informal system, with emphasis on resolving a large number of disputes before they went to “litigation”, as well as a strengthened Ombudsman function for the Secretariat and its funds and programmes that would be integrated, yet decentralized, with capacity to conduct mediation services.  Also envisioned was a professionalized two-tier formal system, comprising a first-instance tribunal and an appellate body rendering binding decisions and ordering appropriate remedies, as well as a stronger capacity for providing legal assistance and guidance to staff; a series of measures to improve managers’ accountability and correct faulty decisions; and a new office for the administration of justice, headed by a senior official who would take ownership of the system and coordinate all its elements.


Those measures were important, she said, but it was necessary to keep up the momentum to make sure that the new system was created in a timely and efficient manner.  A swift approval of additional reports that had been requested from the Secretary-General, along with the necessary resources, was essential to ensure that the new system came into effect in a timely manner.


“While understanding that today is only an initial step to this very important reform, it is indeed a crucial step,” she said in conclusion.  The reform of the system of the administration of justice should not be viewed in isolation from the total package of United Nations reform.  By adopting the resolution, the Assembly would reaffirm its commitment and determination to see a better United Nations. 


The text was adopted without a vote.


The Assembly then adopted, also without a vote, a draft decision on the financing of the United Nations Operation in Burundi (document A/61/547/Add.1). 


By its terms, the Assembly approved the donation of the assets of the Operation, with a total inventory value of some $2.8 million and corresponding residual value of $1.73 million, to the Government of Burundi and decided to keep the item under review during its sixty-first session.  It also endorsed the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report of ACABQ, and requested the Secretary-General to ensure their full implementation.


Turning to the 2006-2007 programme budget, the Assembly took up three draft resolutions and one draft decision contained in document A/61/592/Add.4. 


Before taking action on those texts, the Assembly President informed members that she had received a letter from the President of the International Court of Justice dated 3 April 2007.  In that letter, the Court’s President expresses the Court’s deep concern that the proposed action regarding emoluments would create inequality of judges, and requests that the Assembly consider postponing action on the text to a latter date.


The representative of Germany, on behalf of the European Union, reaffirmed the Union’s support for the work of the judges, prosecutors and all personnel of the Court and the International Tribunals and for their important work.  He also underlined that the work of judges of the different courts was equally important.  During the first resumed session, Member States had been able to reach consensus on making the salary system clearer and more transparent, and to remove certain anomalies.  The Union noted that the Court’s President had sent a letter to the General Assembly President, which had been brought to the attention of Member States yesterday.  That timing meant that it would not be possible to take the letter into account in deliberations on the item. 


Reaffirming the Union’s appreciation for dialogue between the Court and Member States, he reiterated its readiness to continue considering all aspects of, and viewpoints on, the conditions of service in the context of upcoming sessions.


The United States’ representative noted with concern the letter from the Court’s President about possible implications of the resolution for provisions of the Court’s statutes.  He urged the Secretary-General to consult with the Court’s President on the concerns raised in the letter and include additional information on the topic, as well as possible options for addressing the Court’s concerns in his report to the Assembly. 


Sierra Leone’s representative said that his delegation supported the two preceding statements.  He found the letter from the Court’s President very compelling and would support the suggestions made by the United States.


The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, draft resolution I on conditions of service and compensation for non-Secretariat officials, by which it would -- effective 1 January 2007 -- set the annual net base salary of the members of the International Court of Justice and the judges and ad litem judges of the Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia Tribunals at $133,500 per annum, with corresponding post adjustment.


At the same time, the Assembly would decide to maintain, as a transitional measure, the level of annual salary approved in its resolution 59/282 for the current members of the International Court of Justice and the Tribunals’ judges for the duration of their current term of office, “or until such a time as this amount is overtaken by the application of the revised annual salary system”.  Reaffirming the principle that the conditions of service and compensation for those officials shall be separate and distinct from those of the Secretariat officials, the Assembly would state that its current decision shall not constitute a precedent for any other category of judges working within the United Nations system, and that any decision regarding the service of any other category of judges shall be decided on a case-by-case basis.


Also by the text, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to revise and update the travel and subsistence regulations for the International Court of Justice, and to report thereon to the General Assembly, for its approval, at its sixty-second session.  The draft also addresses the Tribunal judges and International Criminal Court members’ retirement benefits, pension schemes and education grants.


The Assembly then turned to draft resolution II on the strengthened and unified security management system, adopting that text also without a vote.


By its terms, the Assembly would reaffirm the importance of a system-wide safety and security policy and the unity of command in this regard.


Emphasizing the need for a comprehensive safety and security policy framework at the United Nations, which should provide the basis for the threat and risk assessment, cooperation with host countries, cost-sharing arrangements and operations of the Department of Safety and Security, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to present such a framework at the first part of its resumed sixty-second session and conduct a comprehensive review of existing safety programmes at Headquarters and duty stations.  The Assembly would also note the intention of the Department of Safety and Security to gradually assume a leading role in crisis response and management, requesting the Secretary-General to provide detailed information on the project and its related costs in the budget proposal for 2008-2009.


The Assembly would also underline that funding for safety and security, based on the cost-sharing arrangement among the United Nations Secretariat, organizations, funds and programmes at Headquarters and duty stations, should be clear, predictable and secure.  In that connection, it would recall the provisions of resolution 59/276, in which it called on all entities participating in the cost-sharing arrangements to provide prompt and secure funding, and for those in arrears to ensure prompt payment of outstanding sums.  It would also note with concern the disagreement leading to the non-participation of the World Bank in field-related security costs, which could hinder coordination of security operations.  To resolve this issue, the Secretary-General, in his capacity as the Chairman of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, would be asked to carry out consultations with the World Bank, as a matter of urgency.


With the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of United Nations staff and premises resting with the host country, the Assembly would also emphasize the role of host country agreements in defining this responsibility and, in this regard, reiterate its request to the Secretary-General -- contained in resolution 59/276 -- to report on the updating and revision of host country agreements, as well as different capacities of host countries to provide security to the United Nations.


The text also encourages the Department of Safety and Security to maintain training as a high priority and to continue its collaboration with various bodies in this regard; and asks for a comprehensive management audit by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), focusing on such issues as the structure of the Department of Safety and Security, recruitment procedures and interaction with other entities, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  By the draft, the Assembly would note with appreciation the efforts to achieve as wide as geographic balance as possible in the Department of Safety and Security, without compromising the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, and urge the Secretary-General to continue such efforts.  It would also urge him to continue his efforts to achieve greater gender parity in the Department of Safety and Security, inviting Member States to assist the Secretary-General in this regard.


The draft emphasizes the need to gain efficiency in the implementation of the approved projects through streamlining, setting benchmarks, meeting the time lines and strengthening accountability.  Also emphasized is the importance of taking full account of best practices and lessons learned, in order to facilitate the implementation of the first phase of the standardized access control system.  The Secretary-General would be requested to report on that project, including on any possible efficiency gains, at the Assembly’s sixty-second session, and to guarantee the highest level of protection of personal data available in the standardized access control system.  Also contained in the draft are the provisions for the use of the data related to representatives of Member States, other than Secretariat officials and experts on mission, as recorded in the access control system.


For the first phase of the standardized access control system, the Assembly would authorize the Secretary-General to enter into commitments up to $20.21 million under the 2006-2007 budget, $1.5 million under the budget for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and $1.98 million under the budget for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, without prejudice to the implementation of projects previously approved for the current biennium, to be reported in the context of respective second performance reports.  In the event that the implementation of the first phase of standardized access will have an impact on previously approved projects, the Secretary-General would be requested to report on such impact.


The Assembly then turned to draft resolution III on liabilities and proposed funding of liabilities under after-service health insurance benefits, by the terms of which the Assembly would recognize the need to specifically identify the sources of accrued liabilities.  It would request the Secretary-General to validate them by using current data, apply the actuarial methodology prescribed by the International Public Sector Accounting Standards and to submit a detailed report, with figures audited by the Board of Auditors, on the outcome of the validation and the status of liabilities, as well as additional information on financing options, no later than the main part of the sixty-third session.  Recognizing the complexity of the issue and the significant amount of liabilities, the Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to present long-term strategies, taking into account various financing options.


Further to the draft, the Assembly would approve changes to the after-service health insurance provisions for new staff recruited on or after 1 July 2007, aligning insurance eligibility and subsidy requirements to 10 years minimum participation in the Organization’s health insurance plans, eliminating the buy-in provision after 5 years of participation, and applying a theoretical pension of a minimum of 25 years of service as the basis of assessing retiree contributions, as opposed to using the actual number of years, when less than 25.  Other measures include the introduction of a minimum participation requirement of five years for after-service health insurance eligibility of dependents, or two years if the spouse has coverage with an outside employer or national Government, except where the dependent is newly acquired within this period and is enrolled within 30 days of the effective date of the dependent relationship.  The Secretary-General would be requested to report on measures aimed at reducing the Organization’s costs related to health-care plans.


The Assembly would also approve the establishment of an independent special account to record after-service health insurance accrued liabilities and an account for related transactions.  More comprehensive and analysis-based information would be requested on the results of the actuarial valuation of the after-service health insurance plan as of 31 December 2007 concerning:  the advantages and disadvantages for Member States of the “pay-as-you-go” option versus the option of funding those liabilities; the projections regarding the proportion of staff in peacekeeping operations who would be entitled to benefits; levels of charge as a percentage of salary costs to be applied against different funding sources, including the regular and peacekeeping budgets and extra-budgetary funds that would be sufficient to finance liabilities in a predictable manner without building up a reserve; the option of partially funding the liability; the option of full funding over a longer period than envisaged in the Secretary-General’s report; the proportion of the current accrued liability in relation to different categories of beneficiaries; and an after-service health insurance reserve fund and its investment strategies.


Stressing the importance of addressing the matter further, the Assembly would decide, pending the validation of the liabilities and audit by the Board of Auditors, to revert to it, as a matter of priority, at its sixty-third session.


That draft was adopted without a vote.


The Assembly then adopted, also without a vote, a draft decision on the future operations of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), by which it authorized, on an exceptional basis, the Secretary-General to enter into commitments of up to $190,000 from the Organization’s regular budget for the Institute, subject to full reimbursement upon receipt of voluntary contributions by the Institute.


By other terms of the draft decision, the Assembly reaffirmed that regular budget resources would not be used to finance the activities of INSTRAW, in accordance with its Statute, and appealed to Member States, as a matter of urgency, to contribute voluntary funds to honour existing pledges in support of the Institute.  The Secretary-General was requested to report on the financial situation of INSTRAW during the Fifth Committee’s second resumed session next month.


The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed the Group’s high appreciation for the important work of the International Court of Justice and reaffirmed the provisions of the Court’s Statute.  He took note of the concerns expressed in the letter of the Court’s President, saying that those concerns would be taken into account in the discussions on this matter in the course of consideration of the report on the agenda item during the sixty-second session.


Canada’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said the group had tremendous respect for the work of the Court and the quality of judges sitting on that important body.  The Assembly must uphold the highest standards and make sure that its actions were in accordance with the Court’s Charter.  The letter that had been received yesterday from the Court’s President raised a number of concerns in that regard, which should be adequately considered.  However, not acting on the draft today would have prevented the Assembly from taking action on the judges who were disadvantaged by the current system.  He was prepared to continue considering the matter during the sixty-second session.


The Assembly then took up a draft resolution on audit and investigative reviews of the tsunami relief operations conducted by the United Nations Secretariat, funds and programmes and the specialized agencies (document A/61/667/Addendum 1).


By the terms of that text, the Assembly would note the efforts of OIOS to coordinate a consolidated report, as requested by the Assembly in resolution 60/259.  It would also take note of the oversight activities of OIOS with regard to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Indonesia and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, noting that most of OIOS’s recommendations regarding the operations of those offices have been implemented.


Regretting the lack of cooperation with OIOS in preparing a consolidated report on internal audits and investigative reviews undertaken of the tsunami relief operation, the Assembly would again stress the importance of full implementation of legislative decisions.  It would decide to consider further the issue of cooperation and coordination between the United Nations funds, programmes and the specialized agencies, in particular relating to complex inter-agency programmes being implemented by a number of entities of the United Nations system.  It would recall further that the Board of Auditors conducted a horizontal review of the activities of the United Nations system in the aftermath of the tsunami and look forward to its consideration at its sixty-second session.


That draft was adopted without a vote.


Acting again without a vote, the Assembly adopted a draft decision by which it decided to defer consideration of several agenda items until the second part of its resumed session, including several reports of OIOS and concerning the Organization’s information and communications technology strategy. 


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