The old United Nations internal justice system had finally given out, and for the first time, staff had fair and independent judges to whom they could take their problems, and whose decisions would be binding on management, Geoffrey Robertson of the “Redesign Panel” said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Providing an update on the Organization’s revamped system of justice administration, of which the Internal Justice Council is a key component, Mr. Robertson, first President and Appeals Judge of the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, said the year-old administration of justice system, modelled on similar bodies in other international public organizations, was designed to respond to charges of nepotism and bureaucracy, in play since the Organization’s founding. Appointments had been based, not on merit, but in favour of sons and daughters, according to critics, and staff had suffered under an unjust, broken and dysfunctional system.
He went on to say that the Organization had never had a proper system of internal justice, adding that, in its place had been bullying, harassment, unfair dismissal and reprisals for whistle-blowing on corruptions, among other things. Noting that idealistic staff members had given up employment in many countries around the world to work at the United Nations, he said that had become a big issue over the last few years. The Secretary-General himself had set up the “Redesign Panel” of five distinguished jurists with the aim of reviewing and changing the system to make it fair for all staff. The underlying question was how to appoint independent judges within that system.
The five-member Panel had recommended to the General Assembly judges who were of “conspicuous integrity, independence and ability”, he continued. It had advertised for the positions in Le Monde, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and other papers worldwide, resulting in 250 applications from judges with 10 to 15 years in their national jurisdictions. The Panel had selected 40 candidates from that pool, finally nominating two for each available position. A few months ago, the General Assembly had made the necessary appointments on the basis of the Panel’s recommendations.
On 1 July, for the first time in the Organization’s history, independent judges had taken their seats, he said, adding that hearings were now being held in the Headquarters building, in Geneva and, importantly, in Nairobi, where so many United Nations employees were on tasks throughout Africa. Judges had undertaken several hearings in July alone.
Accompanying Mr. Robertson on the podium were Kate O’Regan, Chairperson and Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Jenny Clift, Head of Technical Assistance and Cooperation in the International Trade Law Division of the Office of Legal Affairs in Vienna; and Sinha Basnayake, former Director of the General Legal Division in the Office of Legal Affairs.
Ms. O’Regan explained that, among the tasks of the Internal Justice Council was to identify suitable candidates for positions as judges on two new internal tribunals. In October 2008, the Council had selected two names for each vacant position. It had advertised widely, receiving nearly 250 applications from sitting judges around the world, finally identifying nearly 40 candidates to be short-listed and interviewed in The Hague. Their names had then been sent to the General Assembly.
A second task of the Internal Justice Council had been to draw up a code of conduct for the judges, which it was preparing for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Its third task was ongoing –- to provide views on the administration of justice system. So far this week, Council members had met with a range of players in the world system, including the judges and registrars. It was also meeting with the Presiding Judge of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal, the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, the Staff Union, the Ethics Office, the Ombudsman and delegations. The Council would go to Geneva in December and Nairobi in 2010 before preparing its report to the General Assembly on the system’s implementation.