LEGAL COMMITTEE WOULD HAVE STATES SUBSCRIBE TO UNCITRAL REGIMES AND HELP EXPEDITE WORK OF WORLD COURT

11 November 1999
GA/L/3132

LEGAL COMMITTEE WOULD HAVE STATES SUBSCRIBE TO UNCITRAL REGIMES AND HELP EXPEDITE WORK OF WORLD COURT

11 November 1999

Press ReleaseGA/L/3132

LEGAL COMMITTEE WOULD HAVE STATES SUBSCRIBE TO UNCITRAL REGIMES AND HELP EXPEDITE WORK OF WORLD COURT

19991111

Also Discusses Amending Administrative Tribunal Statute To Raise Standards for Judges and Ensure Their Independence

Draft resolutions in support of the work of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) were approved without a vote this morning by the Sixth Committee (Legal).

According to the draft on UNCITRAL, introduced by the representative of Austria, the General Assembly would hail progress made by the Commission this year in finalizing various trade law texts, and urge States to become party to the conventions it produces. It would call for higher priority to be given to the Commission’s work, in view of the increasing value to global economic development of the modernization of international trade law.

In particular, Member States would be invited to nominate persons to work with the private foundation established to encourage private- sector assistance to the Commission. An appeal would also be made for voluntary contributions to the Commission’s trust funds for travel assistance to representatives of developing countries and for holding seminars and symposia.

A draft on strengthening the International Court of Justice was introduced by Mexico. By that text, the Assembly would express its appreciation to the Court for the measures adopted to operate an increased workload with maximum efficiency. It would invite States that appear before the Court to consider favourably the guidance offered by the Court concerning submission of written pleadings and, whenever possible, to help expedite the proceedings.

Also this morning, a draft resolution amending the Statute of the Administrative Tribunal of the United Nations was introduced by the representative of the United Kingdom. She said the draft was intended to raise the standards and the stature of the seven-member expert group that adjudicates employment disputes between the United Nations and its staff members. According to the amendments, Tribunal Members would be required to be independent judges of high moral character, with the

Sixth Committee - 1a - Press Release GA/L/3132 29th Meeting (AM) 11 November 1999

qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to high judicial office or to be jurisconsults of recognized competence. Their term of service would be lengthened from three years to four.

Noting that the Statute was silent on the subject of the independence of Tribunal Members, the United Kingdom representative drew attention to the proposed provision that members not engage in any activity likely to interfere with their judicial functions or to affect confidence in their independence. The President of the Tribunal could excuse a member from the exercise of a function when that question arose.

Another amendment would allow the whole Tribunal to consider cases in which an initial three-judge panel had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, or where the panel considered that the case raises a significant question of law. In this morning’s debate, the representatives of Sri Lanka and Niger both questioned the need for unanimous decisions.

The representatives of France, Ireland, Guatemala, Italy, Niger and Greece also spoke on that draft. The President of the Administrative Tribunal also made a statement.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow, Friday, 12 October at 10 a.m. to consider a report on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and wider appreciation of International Law. The Committee is also expected to take action on two draft resolutions: the first on follow-up to the 1999 centennial of the first Peace Conference; and the other on the United Nations Decade of International Law.

Committee Work Programme

The Sixth Committee (Legal) met this morning to discuss a review of the Statute of the Administrative Tribunal of the United Nations. There is no documentation on the agenda item. [The Tribunal -- a seven- member expert group -- adjudicates employment disputes between the United Nations and its staff members.]

A draft resolution on the issue (A/C.6/54/L.13) which is sponsored by France and the United Kingdom, would have the General Assembly amend Article 3 of the Tribunal’s Statute, with effect from 1 January 2000. According to the amendments, the Tribunal would be composed of seven independent judges of high moral character, who have the qualifications required in their respective countries to be appointed to high judicial office or to be recognized as competent jurisconsults. Members would be appointed for four years and could be reappointed once.

The draft further states that the judges should not engage in any activity likely to interfere with their judicial functions or to affect confidence in their independence, nor participate in any cases in which their impartiality might reasonably be doubted. Just as “Tribunal members” would henceforth be called “judges”, references in the Statute to “Executive Secretary” would be amended to read “Registrar”.

According to the draft, a new article in the statute would provide for a panel of three judges to sit in any particular case, except that, where the panel was unable to reach a decision unanimously or considered that the case raised a significant question of law, it might refer the case for consideration by the whole Tribunal. The quorum for a hearing by the whole Tribunal would be five members.

The Committee is also expected to take action on two other draft resolutions: one on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the other on the International Court of Justice.

According to the draft on the Report of UNCITRAL (document A/C.6/54/L.4), the Assembly would take note of that report and emphasize the need for higher priority to be given to the Commission’s work in view of the increasing value to global economic development of the modernization of international trade law. The draft commends the Commission for the progress in its work on receivables financing, electronic commerce, privately financed infrastructure projects and the legislative implementation of the Convention on Foreign Arbitral Awards.

The Assembly would appeal to Governments to reply to the UNCITRAL questionnaire on the legal regime governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. It would also invite them to nominate persons to work with the private foundation established to encourage private sector assistance to the Commission.

While calling on United Nations bodies to bear in mind the need to avoid duplication of the Commission’s work, the Assembly would recommend that the Commission continue to maintain close cooperation with other organizations active in the field of international trade law.

The Assembly would appeal to the United Nations Development Programme and other bodies responsible for development assistance, to support UNCITRAL’s training and technical assistance programmes and to coordinate their activities with the Commission. An appeal would also be made to Governments and relevant United Nations bodies to make voluntary contributions to the trust fund for travel assistance to developing countries to ensure full participation in UNCITRAL’s sessions.

Finally, the 53-power draft would stress the importance of bringing into effect the conventions emanating from the work of the Commission, and would urge States to become parties to them.

The draft is sponsored by Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.

By a draft resolution on strengthening the International Court of Justice (A/C.6/54/L.5), the Assembly would express its appreciation to the Court for the measures it has adopted to operate an increased workload with maximum efficiency, and invite it to keep its working methods under periodic review. The text also invites States that appear before the Court to consider favorably the guidance offered by the Court in the Secretary General’s report [the text refers to a paragraph on submission of written pleadings, which proposes, for example, filing written pleadings simultaneously rather than consecutively, and limiting the annexes to the pleadings.]

The draft is sponsored by Mexico.

Statements Made

PHAKISO MOCHOCHOKO (Lesotho) noted that this year, the Administrative Tribunal and its members were celebrating the Tribunal’s fiftieth anniversary. The Tribunal had made a significant contribution to the functioning of the United Nations system.

HUBERT THIERRY, President of the Administrative Tribunal, said the Tribunal’s function was to settle disputes between United Nations employees and the Secretariat, as well as disputes related to their jobs and careers. Certain specialized agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), also came under the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.

The Tribunal did indispensable work, he said, adding that it was scarcely conceivable that the disputes it handed should be submitted to any national jurisdiction. To do so would be to challenge the whole notion of the independence of international civil servants. The task of the Tribunal was difficult. It applied its own legal jurisprudence, which was noteworthy for the blend of concepts it borrowed from staff rules, civil administrative law, as well as common law. It gave equal treatment to all, and due process was a common theme of its decisions.

Since its establishment he said, the Tribunal had issued 900 judgements, many of which had been published and all of which would soon be accessible on the Internet. What seemed remarkable was that, on the whole, it had won the confidence of staff and Member States alike as evidenced by the constant increase in the number of cases brought before it. He illustrated: in the 1950s, the Tribunal had rendered 80 judgements; in the 1960s, 54; in the 1970s, 118; in the 1980s, 218; and from 1990 to August 1999, it handed down 459 judgements.

The opinion of the International Court of Justice could be sought on Tribunal decisions, he noted. When that had been done, the decisions of the Tribunal had been confirmed by the Court. No decision of the Tribunal had ever been overturned. Furthermore, the Tribunal rendered justice without obstructing the work of the Secretariat administration.

SUSAN DICKSON (United Kingdom) introduced the draft resolution on the Tribunal. She made an oral revision, adding the words “before it renders judgement” to the provision for referring a case to the full Tribunal. The Tribunal was a necessary and valuable part of the United Nations system; its work had enormous consequences for the United Nations as a whole.

Announcing that Ireland had joined as a sponsor to the draft, she said that all the proposals in the text were designed to raise the standards of the Tribunal. First, the draft would identify Tribunal Members as “judges” and set out appropriate qualifications for them. The term of office would be changed from three to four years. The Statute had hitherto been silent on the matter of independence of members. Therefore, the draft provided for a requirement of independence and impartiality in the performance of their functions, to bring the Statute more in line with modern instruments. She added that the “Executive Secretary” would be renamed the “Registrar”, and would be called upon to act impartially and be responsible to the Tribunal.

FRANCOIS ALABRUNE (France) was happy to note that the Tribunal had gained the trust of Member States, as well as staff of the Secretariat. The Tribunal’s authority was respected by all, he said. To strengthen the authority of the Tribunal, France had proposed the provisions for Tribunal candidates to have recognized legal qualifications and to serve for four years. He said that all decisions of the Tribunal should be unanimous. France and the United Kingdom were ready to consult with others on their proposal.

JAMES KINGSTON (Ireland) said Ireland was honoured that three of its nationals to date, Justice Mella Carroll, Justice Frank Spain and a currently serving member, Judge Kevin Haugh, had served on the Tribunal and thus assisted in advancing the smooth and fair administration of the Organization. His country had been a firm proponent of measures taken to increase the independence and standing of the Tribunal. Accordingly, he commended the proposal to amend the Statute to further reinforce its independence, along the lines suggested at last year’s General Assembly by France and the United Kingdom.

In particular, he supported the proposal that judges on the Tribunal possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to high judicial office or be jurisconsults of recognized competence. He also welcomed the proposal to lengthen their terms of office, while limiting their service to two terms.

He highlighted the proposal to allow the three-member panel of the Tribunal to refer cases to the entire Tribunal. It would add to legal certainty in the Tribunal’s rulings. Ireland also preferred gender- inclusive or gender-neutral language in the draft resolution and in the Statute itself.

JOHN DE SARAM (Sri Lanka) said his delegation was grateful for the amendments proposed by the United Kingdom and France.

An internal administrative tribunal was necessary because of the immunity that the United Nations enjoyed from national jurisdiction, he noted. It was essential that the Tribunal be vested with the necessary status, formalities and institutional safeguards necessary to ensure that its impartiality was unassailable. Most important, he said such impartiality should be perceived as such.

Sri Lanka therefore supported the proposed amendments to the Statute. However, he said, he was puzzled by the proposal to express the desirability of unanimous decisions by the Tribunal. A dissenting judgement should be welcomed.

ROBERTO LAVALLE-VALDES (Guatemala) supported the draft. However, he added, it was up to the Tribunal to amend its own rules. In practice, the judges generally provided their services without pay and had to carry out other duties at the same time.

Concerning the provision for the President could excuse a member from the exercise of a function when there was a potential conflict of interest, he said the right to object should be enjoyed by both sides. Neither the Statute nor the Tribunal's rules of procedure indicated when parties were to be informed of the makeup of the panel. Its composition was only known once a party was notified of a decision of the Tribunal. It was necessary to further reform the rules to ensure that both parties would be informed in due time of the makeup of the panel.

ATTILA TANZI (Italy) thanked the sponsors of the draft, saying that its provisions would promote the work of the Tribunal.

BOUBACAR TANKOANO (Niger) said it would be better if the Tribunal’s decisions were arrived at by a simple majority.

MARIA TELALIAN (Greece) expressed appreciation for the Tribunal’s work which, she added, was viewed to be of the highest quality. Greece supported the proposals of the United Kingdom and France. The proposed amendments should help improve the standing of the Tribunal and its members and ultimately, the quality of its decisions, she said.

Action on Drafts

ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria) introduced the draft resolution on the report UNCITRAL. He announced that Thailand, Egypt, Armenia, Ukraine, Bolivia and Venezuela had joined as sponsors. He noted that a new preambular paragraph had been added to the draft to stress the importance of the Commission’s work.

The representatives of Bulgaria, Indonesia and Peru added their countries to the list of sponsors.

The Committee then approved the draft without a vote.

SOCORRO FLORES (Mexico) introduced the draft resolution on strengthening the International Court of Justice (document A/C.6/54/L.5) and expressed the hope that it would be approved by consensus.

The Committee approved the draft without a vote.

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For information media. Not an official record.