Calling UN’s internal justice system ‘ineffective,’ General Assembly approves overhaul

GA President Sheikha Haya

4 April 2007 – The General Assembly today responded to what it termed the “slow, cumbersome, ineffective and lacking in professionalism” United Nations system of internal justice, with its “flawed” administrative review, by mandating the first overhaul since its creation six decades ago with a pledge to redress these problems.

“We have taken a significant step forward in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of this Organization by approving the first serious overhaul of the United Nations’ system of administration of justice in 60 years,” declared General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.

She said the Assembly’s members asked for all elements of the new system to be fully functional by January 2009.

The President said the UN should model the standards it advocates. “Around the world, the Organization promotes justice and equality and represents the rule of law to its members. The Organization therefore requires a system of justice which is independent, transparent, professional and adequately resourced.”

The existing system of internal justice, in place since the late 1940s, was designed for a different era when the Organization had only a few thousand staff in a handful of locations, she said. “Over time, the backlogs and delays have become significant and the independence and credibility of the system seriously compromised.”

“The existing system serves no-one well - not the staff, not the managers and ultimately, not the Organization or the Member States,” she said.

Describing the changes, she said they will include a stronger informal system aimed at resolving a large number of disputes between staff and managers before they go to “litigation,” a stronger capacity for providing legal assistance and guidance to staff, and a series of measures to improve the accountability of managers and correct faulty decisions.

“While understanding that today is only an initial step to this very important reform, it is indeed a crucial step,” she said.

The General Assembly’s resolution recognizes that “the current United Nations system of administration of justice is slow, cumbersome, ineffective and lacking in professionalism, and that the current system of administrative review is flawed.”

It notes that the “overwhelming majority of individuals serving in the system of administration of justice lack legal training or qualifications.”

The Assembly expresses its decision to establish “a new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice consistent with the 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 the accountability of managers and staff members alike.”

Among other measures, it formally establishes a Mediation Division within the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman to provide formal mediation services for the UN system, and an Office of the Administration of Justice, headed by a senior management-level official, which will have overall responsibility for the coordination of the United Nations system of administration of justice.

The Secretary-General is asked to ensure that the Joint Appeals Boards, the Joint Disciplinary Committees, the United Nations Administrative Tribunal and other bodies, as appropriate, continue to function until the new system is operational with a view to clearing all cases that are before them.

The resolution requires the Secretary-General to prepare a series of reports to move forward on the issue which should be presented to the Assembly during the main part of its upcoming session later this year, as well as a report on cost estimates.

The resolution draws on the recommendations of a group of experts called the “Redesign Panel” set up to examine the issue. In its July, 2006 report, the Panel concluded that the administration of justice in the UN “fails to meet many basic standards of due process established in international human rights instruments.”

This must be corrected, the experts argued, “to avoid the double standard – which currently exists – where the standards of justice that are now generally recognized internationally and that the Organization pursues in its programmatic activities are not met within the Secretariat or the funds and programmes themselves.”

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