Speakers in Sixth Committee Address Progress, Shortcomings in New United Nations System of Internal Justice

6 November 2013
GA/L/3471

Speakers in Sixth Committee Address Progress, Shortcomings in New United Nations System of Internal Justice

6 November 2013
General Assembly
GA/L/3471
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Sixth Committee

27th Meeting (PM)

Speakers in Sixth Committee Address Progress, Shortcomings

 

in New United Nations System of Internal Justice

 

Members Again Defer Turkic Cooperation Council’s Request for Observer Status

Commending progress and assessing shortcomings, the Sixth Committee (Legal) today took up the Secretary-General’s report on the administration of justice at the United Nations, and considered a request for observer status.

The Committee deferred a decision on the request for observer statusby the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States for the third year in a row.  It would take up the matter again in its sixty-ninth session.

Turning to the administration of justice at the United Nations, several delegations commended the new system’s professionalism and productivity.  Cuba’s representative, speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), highlighted the substantial reduction in the case backlog, pointing out that it now took an average of 12 months to dispose of a case in the current system, as compared to a disposal rate of five years in the previous system.  That change demonstrated that the new system of internal justice was delivering impartial and quick results.

Nonetheless, an observer from the European Union delegation expressed concern about the relatively high number of decisions and judgments by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal that had been appealed to the United Nations Appeals Tribunal.  Recalling the forewarning by the Appeals Tribunal’s judges, she said that if no action was taken, the steady influx of new cases would push the new system into crisis.  A backlog of appeals, which had plagued the old system, needed to be avoided.

Pointing out the under-resourcing of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, a number of delegates agreed with the representative of New Zealand, speaking also for Australia and Canada, who said there was merit in adopting an automatic payroll deduction to help fund the Office of Staff Legal Assistance to address the need for a legally appropriate way for staff to contribute to its funding.

Several delegations also underscored the need for an independent assessment of the system, a code of conduct for legal representatives, and the importance of granting privileges and immunities for judges in the two tribunals.

However, Switzerland’s representative expressed disappointment at the “little attention” paid by the Secretary-General to the matter of providing legal remedy for non-staff personnel.  “…[W]e are today facing a situation where an associate of Al Qaeda has a better chance of legally challenging targeted sanctions, imposed by the Security Council than a United Nations volunteer has of receiving compensation for sexual abuse,” he cautioned.

Also speaking today were representatives of United States, Tonga, Russian Federation, and Ghana.

The Sixth Committee will next convene on Friday, 8 November at 10:00 a.m. to hear the reports of several working groups and the introductions to a series of draft resolutions.

Background

The Sixth Committee (Legal) met today to take up the administration of justice at the United Nations.  It had before it for consideration the Report of the Secretary-General on the matter (document A/68/346), the Report of the Secretary-General on activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/68/158) and the Report of the Internal Justice Council (document A/68/306).

It would also hear the introduction of the draft resolution on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law (document A/C.6/68/L.14).

Further, it was set to take action on the request for observer status for the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States in the General Assembly (for background, see press release GA/L/3460).

Statements

EGLANTINE CUJO, Delegation of the European Union, expressed concern about the relatively high number of decisions and judgments by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal that had been appealed to the United Nations Appeals Tribunal.  The judges of the Appeals Tribunal had cautioned that, if no action were taken, the steady influx of new cases would push the new system into crisis.  An accumulation of a backlog of appeals, which had plagued the old system, needed to be avoided.  As well, the entire system should be consistent with a number of fundamental principles of rule of law and due process, including the right to an effective remedy, equal access to justice and the right to be heard.

Turning to the interim assessment addressed in the Secretary-General’s report, she welcomed any measures that would strengthen the system of administration of justice and improve its effectiveness.  The proposed terms of reference should adequately reflect the operational aspects to be examined.  As well, her delegation would like additional information from the Secretariat on how the entity was supposed to measure “cost effectiveness of the formal system”, and why other factors, such as the degree of satisfaction of those who were supposed to utilize the new system or ways to contain the submission of frivolous complaints, did not form part of the mandate for the interim assessment.

She reiterated the European Union’s readiness to discuss a code of conduct for legal representatives, to be prepared by the organs suggested in the report. She also stressed that there should be a common or unified code for all counsels who appeared before Tribunals.  Although conduct of staff members who represented applicants, either as Office of Staff Legal Assistance or otherwise, was already covered by staff regulations, that might not provide sufficient guarantees.

ALEXANDRA LENNOX-MARWICK (New Zealand), speaking also for Australia and Canada, acknowledged the positive role played by the Office of Staff Legal Assistance in the internal justice system and, noting its growing caseload, expressed a commitment to find a legally appropriate way for staff to contribute to its funding.  To that end, she saw merit in adopting an automatic payroll deduction, with an opt-out provision.

While she welcomed the consideration of a code of conduct for external legal services, she was mindful of the recommendation of the Internal Justice Council that there be one common code of conduct for all counsel appearing before the Dispute Tribunal or Appeals Tribunal.  Noting that different standards could potentially violate the principle that all parties in a dispute should be equal, she recommended that the feasibility of extending the code of conduct to cover all counsel be considered.  She also expressed concern regarding the risk posed by the lack of privileges and immunities for judges in the two Tribunals, and said the issue warranted further scrutiny.

NIKOLAS JOHANNES STUERCHLER GONZENBACH(Switzerland), speaking also for Liechtenstein, said that although the new system for the administration of justice had been a significant improvement, many shortcomings remained.  He asked that several points be included in the letter that the Sixth Committee would be sending to the Fifth Committee on the matter.  Among them, the Committee should express support for an interim independent assessment.  The terms of reference should include the scope of the system, the relationship between the formal and the informal systems, as well as an assessment of the judicial contribution of the tribunals.  Furthermore, those who carried out the assessment should be equipped with necessary legal expertise.  He stated support for granting privileges and immunities of section 19 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations to the judges of both tribunals, emphasizing that doing so should be viewed as an expression of their independence.

Expressing disappointment by the “little attention” that the Secretary-General had brought on the matter of providing legal remedy for non-staff personnel, he said it was now the responsibility of the United Nations and Member States to find an adequate solution for those persons, regardless of the nature of their contract with the Organization.  “…[W]e are today facing a situation where an associate of Al Qaeda has a better chance of legally challenging targeted sanctions, imposed by the Security Council than a United Nations volunteer has of receiving compensation for sexual abuse,” he stated.

He went on to say that as a host State of the United Nations, his country, along with Liechtenstein, was greatly concerned by the issue of ensuring respect for the privileges and immunities in the Headquarters agreement concluded with the United Nations, as well as in the Convention on the Privileges, to which Switzerland had acceded last year.  In that regard, it was essential to have in place a sufficiently independent, transparent and efficient system to govern litigation with non-staff.  Failing that, the Organization ran the risk of national jurisdictions refusing to recognize its immunity from jurisdiction.

STEPHEN ZACK ( United States) said that while his delegation was impressed by the professionalism and productivity of the new system of administration of justice, a number of issues remained to be monitored, among them, ensuring that the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals did not exercise powers beyond those conferred under their statutes.  He expressed interest in an independent assessment of the entire system and its performance and impact on accountability and transparency at the United Nations, and hoped to explore further how the Secretary-General could form an independent panel to conduct the assessment in a cost-efficient manner. Continuing, noting that informal dispute resolution mechanisms were crucial to the system, he called on the Secretary-General to promulgate the revised terms of reference and guidelines for the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services as soon as possible.

TANIERIS DIEGUEZ LA O (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), welcomed the substantial reduction in the case backlog and the partial decrease in new cases received by the Management Evaluation Unit and the United Nations Dispute Tribunal.  Those changes indicated that the new system of internal justice was achieving its goals of delivering impartial and quick results.  As well, she noted that the average length of time it took to dispose of a case in the current system following its receipt by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal was approximately 12 months, instead of 12 to 14 months during the last year, or comparatively in the previous system of a disposal rate of five years in the previous system.

However, she said that while the Office of Staff Legal Assistance had been supporting staff with counsel, representation, guidance and other legal services, further proposals for a staff-funded scheme in the Organization should continue to be explored in order to complement the work of that Office.  Expressing concern about the proliferation of cases where persons hired by the United Nations did not qualify in the category of “official” of the United Nations or any of its specialized organs, she said those persons were excluded from the United Nations formal system of the administration of justice and from the labour process of each country, and were instead submitted to an arbitration process that went beyond the established labour legal system.

T. SUKA MANGISI (Tonga) emphasized that “[i]t is right that the United Nations, as the embodiment of our collective aspirations for a peaceful, fair and just global society, put into practice internally those values that we espouse externally.”  Noting the increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the system of administration of justice, he said that informal dispute resolution processes were crucial to its success.  He also expressed concern over the under-resourcing of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, pointing out that it was in the Organization’s best interest to fund the entire cost of that Office, including the additional resources it required.  In that context, he said that funding uncertainty was a corollary of many of the joint financing models proposed.

SERGEY A. LEONIDCHENKO ( Russian Federation) underscored the importance of the work of the Management Evaluation Unit, which made possible the settlement of disputes without recourse to the Dispute Tribunal.  However, he expressed concern at the backlog of cases in the two Tribunals.  That, along with the increase in their workload, could lead to delays in the provision of justice.  Thus, he expressed support for improving their working methods, and called for better use of resources in that regard.  He raised the issue of how to best represent staff interests, noting that the proposal for staff to contribute to financing the Office of Staff Legal Assistance through payroll deductions deserved attention.  In conclusion, he stressed that when addressing any practical issue, it was important not to lose sight of the purpose of the reform, namely, the establishment of an independent, transparent and decentralized system of justice.

Draft Resolutions

The representative of Ghana introduced a draft resolution on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law.  Although the text was similar to previous resolutions on the matter that the General Assembly had adopted in recent years, there were new elements that had been added, including additional paragraphs to the preamble.

More importantly, there were changes that took into account the serious financial situation which threatened the continuation of the United Nations Regional Courses in International Law and the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law.  As well, there was an oral amendment to clarify paragraph 18, noting appreciation to Ethiopia for hosting and to Thailand for agreeing to host the United Nations Regional Courses in International Law, which had been cancelled due to lack of funding.

Also before the Committee was a request for Observer Statues for the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States in the work of the General Assembly.  It was decided, without a vote, that the request be deferred until the Assembly’s sixty-ninth session.

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