Budget Committee Highlights Role of Administrative Justice System, Encourages Informal Mechanism Use to Settle Disputes

18 October 2013
GA/AB/4077

Budget Committee Highlights Role of Administrative Justice System, Encourages Informal Mechanism Use to Settle Disputes

18 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/AB/4077
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

8th Meeting (PM)

Budget Committee Highlights Role of Administrative Justice System,

 

Encourages Informal Mechanism Use to Settle Disputes

 

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today aired its views on the evolving administrative justice system at the United Nations and the need to assess its effectiveness as Secretariat officials unveiled their annual reports on the system.

Several delegates stressed the role that an effective administrative justice system could play in managing the global Organization’s massive pool of employees and its myriad management reform initiatives.  They also highlighted the crucial part that informal dispute mechanisms could play in ironing out workplace differences.

Japan’s delegate, for example, urged the Secretariat to encourage the use of informal mechanisms to settle disputes while expanding the use of good management practices to prevent the eruption of problems that produced workplace disputes.  Fiji’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said efforts should be intensified to encourage the informal resolution of disputes and ensure respect for the rights, obligations and accountability of staff members and managers.

Regarding the Assembly’s request for an assessment of the justice system that came into place in 2009, and the Secretary-General’s proposal that the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) carry out this analysis, the United States’ delegate said he doubted whether JIU had the capacity to do so.  He said he respected the body’s work and the value it brought to the United Nations, but backed the use of an independent panel to carry out the assessment within the Organization’s existing resources.

Linda Taylor, Executive Director of the Office of Administration of Justice, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the administration of justice and drew attention to the Internal Justice Council’s eponymous report while John Barkat, United Nations Ombudsman, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services for the 1 January to 31 December 2012 period.  Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s accompanying report on both issues.

The representatives of Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein) and Philippines also made statements.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 21 October, to discuss human resources management issues.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to consider the issue of administration of justice at the Organization.  It had before it two reports by the Secretary-General:  Administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/68/346) and Activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/68/158).  It also considered a report of the Internal Justice Council titled Administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/68/306) and a report by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question’s (ACABQ) titled Administration of justice at the United Nations and activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/68/530).

Administration of Justice

LINDA TAYLOR, Executive Director of the Office of Administration of Justice, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/68/346).  The report, divided into six sections, included statistics on the functioning of the formal system of administration of justice for the calendar year 2012, as requested by ACABQ.  For the first time, it contained observations on the system’s operation, drawn from the experiences of various offices, departments and entities within the Organization.  Emerging trends would be reported in future reports.  The review of the formal system, found in Section II, laid out the Secretariat’s observations on the system’s operations since its inception on 1 July 2009 and during 2012.  These findings showed an increase in the caseload of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal (UNAT), the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA), the Administrative Law Section and the Office of Legal Affairs.  The observations also showed the important role of management evaluation in resolving disputes in the formal system, the success of informal dispute resolutions within the formal system, the negative impact of self-represented staff members in the formal system, and the importance of the OSLA’s role as a filter in the internal justice system.  The report also included nine annexes.

Ms. Taylor also drew the Committee’s attention to the report of the Internal Justice Council (document A/68/306), which included that body’s views on the operation of the current justice system and responds to specific Assembly mandates.  It looked at issues such as the delay in appointing members of the new Justice Council, the status of judges, the qualification of UNAT judges, the abuse of proceedings, the value of OSLA and the importance of its advisory and representation functions.

JOHN BARKAT, United Nations Ombudsman, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services for the 1 January to 31 December 2012 period (document A/68/158).  In 2012, the Ombudsman Office received 2,039 cases from around the world, of which 1,496 originated from staff and managers in the Secretariat.  As in previous years, most cases emanated from staff in offices away from Headquarters and in the field.  Staff in the Professional category continued to make up the largest group of users.  Career-related issues were the most prevalent concerns among staff and managers, followed by interpersonal issues, and then questions on compensation and benefits.

There was also a steady increase in the number of requests for mediation, with an average growth rate of 13 per cent since 2009, he said.  Last year, the Mediation Service opened 36 cases, of which 30 cases came from the Secretariat.  There was a jump in the number of cases refereed to mediation by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and he acknowledged the work of colleagues on the formal justice system to encourage the use of mediation.  The Ombudsman Office has made efforts to promote “conflict competence” through initiatives which would build skills in informal conflict resolution and raise awareness of the informal system’s availability.

In response to the Assembly’s repeated emphasis on providing equal access to all staff, the Ombusdman Office had made extra efforts to reach staff in the field, he said.  The combined efforts of the seven regional branches ( Bangkok, Entebbe, Geneva, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Santiago and Vienna), the use of on-call ombudsman and mediators, and a system of regular visits to the field let the Ombudsman Office better meet the demand for informal conflict resolution.  Yet insufficient staffing and travel resources for Secretariat ombudsman and mediators to serve staff in special political missions remained a serious concern.  The Ombudsman Office recognized the need for staff and management to better deal with the challenges in hardship duty stations.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced ACABQ’s accompanying report on the administration of justice system and the activities of the Ombudsman Office (document A/68/530).  The Advisory Committee recommended that the terms of reference for carrying out an interim independent assessment of the formal system of the administration of justice should provide for a substantive evaluation of the formal system.  This should envelop a review of the jurisprudence of the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals and an analysis of the conduct of the Tribunals’ work.

Regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal that the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) carry out the assessment, ACABQ noted that JIU may have some difficulties absorbing the assessment within its current workload and budget.  It also noted that the Board of Auditors may not be broad enough to cover all aspects of the assessment.  ACABQ also believed the assessment would benefit from the input of independent legal experts familiar with the internal labour dispute mechanisms. Acknowledging that such an assessment would have financial implications, the Assembly may want to reconsider its decision that an assessment be conducted with existing resources.

LUKE DAUNIVALU ( Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, supported Assembly-approved reforms.  The informal resolution of disputes remained essential in the administration of justice system to avoid unnecessary recourse to litigation.  Efforts should be intensified to encourage the informal resolution of disputes and ensure respect for the rights, obligations and accountability of staff members and managers.  The success of the current system must be kept under scrutiny to anticipate failures of the previous system, opening an avenue for the current system to become and remain modern, independent, transparent, effective, efficient and fair.  A reduction of the case backlog was important, and the Group would seek details on the disposal rates.

The decrease in new cases was surely an indicator that the new system was achieving its goals of delivering impartial and quick results, he said.  However, he was concerned that the surge of new applications was also an indicator of bad management and poor relations between staff and management.  He expected lessons learned would produce concrete results in managerial actions.  Pleased with Member States’ efforts to strengthen the system, the Group would seek updated information on specific mandates.  An independent, effective, transparent system was imperative to ensure due process within the Organization.

MATTHIAS DETTLING(Switzerland), speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, said the system could only be truly effective and efficient if the separation of powers was respected, effective legal remedies were made available, the level and distribution of resources were adequate system-wide, and the incentives and disincentives shaping a person’s decision to pursue litigation were appropriately balanced.  Improvements in the system must go hand in hand with improving human resources management.  After operating for four years, it was now time that an independent interim assessment of the system could inform Member States of its performance, including the scope of the system.

Turning to ad litem judges, he suggested that their terms be extended by two years, rather than one, giving more stability and taking some of the burden off Member States.  The overall caseload greatly related to the prevailing incentives and disincentives shaping a person’s decision to pursue litigation.  Abusive proceedings had a negative impact on the administration of justice, as they diverted resources from the legitimate proceeding and he welcomed the Internal Justice Council’s three options to avoid frivolous applications.  Since the OSLA played a key role in rendering legal advice, he invited staff members to share that Office’s costs with Member States.  The Secretary-General’s proposal of an automatic monthly payroll deduction with an opt-out clause was a viable mechanism.  He was concerned about disputes involving non-staff personnel and was interested in learning more about the nature of those disputes and the management practices in place to avoid or mitigate them in the absence of other effective legal remedies.

ERIKO YAJIMA KOYAMA( Japan) said resolving disputes through informal mechanisms should be encouraged.  It was important for the Secretary-General to strengthen the dissemination of good management practices in order to reduce or prevent underlying problems that gave rise to disputes in the workplace.  The current system should be subjected to an assessment.  Her delegation supported the provision of legal advice and guidance to staff by the OSLA, as it could be effective resolving disputes before proceeding to a tribunal.  However, legal representation for the staff should generally be arranged by staff themselves.

THEODORE STRICKLAND ( United States) said the administration of justice system was an essential element of an effective human resources management system, particularly relating to performance management.  Lack of an effective system would severely inhibit the viability of any other human resources reform initiatives.  While there had been significant improvements with the system, many substantial hurdles remained, including ensuring that the power of the dispute and appeals tribunals remained within their statutes and that resources were consistent with General Assembly mandates.  His delegation was interested in an independent assessment and wanted to explore further how the Secretary-General could form an independent panel within existing resources.

Turning to related matters, he said he was concerned with the current rules on representation and the current proposal for funding the OSLA.  He supported proposals for a staff-funded mechanism for OSLA, while recognizing that the proposed waiting period to use the Office’s services for staff members who opted back after originally opting out of the payroll deduction system raised an access-to-justice question that needed to be addressed.  The informal resolution of conflict was a crucial element of the system, but he remained concerned with performance management matters, such as the lack of guidance and acknowledgement of efforts by staff and inadequate mutual engagement in the process.  If the flaws of the current system were not addressed, they could be a factor in making the Organization increasingly difficult to manage and sustain.

NOEMI TAN DIAZ( Philippines) said the current system was evolving and trends emerging, including that jurisprudence was growing and leading to clearer guidelines on policy, procedure and interpretation of regulations.  Alongside good management practices, clarity and simplicity of language on rules, regulations, terms of contracts and appointments were essential for a preventive approach to disputes.  Her delegation had a number of concerns, including cases brought by staff arising from disability, accessibility, reasonable accommodation and assistive technology, and the lack of specialization in the distribution of work among staff in the Ombudsman Office across the areas of conflict resolution, systemic issues and conflict competence.  Her delegation was also interested in financing of the OSLA and accountability for actions in violation of rules and procedures of the Organization that led to financial loss.  As a result, she agreed with the proposal to have an interim assessment of the system by next year.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.