|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on United Nations Internal Administration of Justice System
A year after its inception, the United Nations revamped internal justice system had resulted in speedier, more judicious resolution of staff grievances over everything from work contracts to entitlements and promotions, and from discriminatory treatment to dismissals, senior United Nations administration of justice officials said today at a Headquarters press conference to mark the system’s first anniversary.
“The system stands as a milestone in strengthening the commitment of the Organization to the rule of law, to justice and to accountability,” said Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel. She stressed the Secretary-General’s commitment to upholding it and her belief that it would strengthen the United Nations.
In the past, said, Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for Management, United Nations personnel had often waited months to have their grievances addressed by a small cadre of staff who volunteered on the Joint Appeals Boards and Joint Disciplinary Committees, whose recommendations were binding only on the United Nations Administrative Tribunal.
Under the new system, judgements on management evaluation cases — intended to correct an improper decision or provide acceptable remedies in cases where the decision was flawed — were handed down within 30 days for claims at Headquarters and 45 days for those made in the field, she said. Moreover, all decisions were binding on the Secretary-General.
The result had been a huge influx in cases, she said, noting that through March, the Management Evaluation Unit had received 295 appeals from staff at all levels of general and professional service and had finished reviewing 243. The new system also supported greater accountability, requiring decision-makers to justify their decisions.
John Barkat, the Organization’s Ombudsman, said that by operating independently and keeping all case material confidential, the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services and its seven regional offices were better able to help staff find amicable solutions to workplace conflicts and preserve professional relationships.
In the first five months of 2010, that office handled 536 cases from the Secretariat, up about 70 per cent from the same period last year, he said. Eighty per cent of the 60 cases it dealt with from peacekeeping missions were resolved on the ground. “I see this increase in the use of our services as a great success because it signals that staff are embracing the new system and informal resolution in particular,” he said.
The United Nations system also comprises the Office of Administration of Justice, which services the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and United Nations Appeals Tribunal.
Andrei Terekhov, its Executive Director, said that to eliminate the backlog under the old system, the General Assembly had appointed three ad litem or temporary judges. He hoped that all old cases would be dealt with by July 2011. The Dispute Tribunal, which serves as a court of first instance for staff unsatisfied with the results of a management evaluation, had already received 500 cases, including 300 from the old system. It had disposed of more than 200 cases and rendered 200 judgements. “We believe this is a very impressive record,” Mr. Terekhov said.
Equally impressive, he said, was the performance of the Appeals Tribunal, an appellate set up to review staff appeals against judgements of the Dispute Tribunal, which had handled 100 appeals so far and rendered 60 judgements.
The Office of Staff Legal Assistance, which replaced the volunteer Panel of Counsel, was staffed by full-time legal officers. It had, in its first 10 months of operation, received almost 500 requests for assistance and had closed 400 cases, he said. Staff complained that its resources were still insufficient, but lauded it as a significant improvement over the old system.
On a question about criticism that the Secretary-General and the United Nations were failing to comply with judges’ requests for documents or for individuals to testify before the Tribunals, Ms. O’Brien said: “Is the Secretary-General disregarding, is he seeking to undermine, does he disrespect the Dispute Tribunal? No, unequivocally not. The Secretary-General respects the Dispute Tribunal decisions and has complied with many of the orders seeking production of documents”.
In one case, the Organization had suggested that a senior staff official highly engaged with the Haiti crisis be allowed to appear by video conference before the Tribunal instead of in person, she said. But in no other case had the Organization prevented or attempted to dissuade the Tribunal from allowing a senior staff from testifying, she added.
She said the Secretary-General and the Organization had the right to disagree with and appeal the Dispute Tribunal’s decisions, but they were required to and were fully complying with the Appeals Tribunal’s decisions once they were final.
She also dismissed a reporter’s claim that the Organization was undermining the process by making it difficult for staff to obtain reports about why they were fired. “It is incumbent on us to facilitate the work of the Dispute Tribunal with the necessary evidence, which we have done in a significant number of cases.” In a few exceptional cases requiring intense scrutiny of the entire process, the Organization had appealed the order requesting documentation. In some cases, it had done so to protect confidentiality. But she reiterated that the Organization would comply with all final decisions of the Appeals Tribunal.
Mr. Terekhov added that the backlog in handling cases was due, in part, to the fact that implementation of decisions of the Dispute Tribunal were suspended when such decisions were appealed, until a judgement was rendered by the Appeals Tribunal.
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