Budget Committee Rejects Draft Decision to Withdraw Current Personal Status Rules for Determining Staff Benefits and Entitlements

GA/AB/4150
24 March 2015
Sixty-ninth Session, 33rd Meeting (AM)

Budget Committee Rejects Draft Decision to Withdraw Current Personal Status Rules for Determining Staff Benefits and Entitlements

Delegates Also Consider Costs of United Nations Nelson Mandela Prize

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today rejected a draft decision that would have had the Secretary-General withdraw his bulletin laying out the United Nations current rules for the personal status of staff members used to determine their benefits and entitlements.

The proposal by the Russian Federation generated discussions that revolved around such principles as the Secretary-General’s prerogatives in organizational matters, equality of United Nations employees, national sovereignty, and transparency, culminating in a recorded vote of 43 in favour and 80 against, with 37 abstentions.

Under the current rule in effect since July 2014, set forth in document ST/SGB/2004/13/Rev.1, the personal status of staff members is determined by the laws established by the competent authority where the status was established.  Prior to that, the status was determined by the laws of the staff members’ country of origin.

Speaking prior to the vote on the draft, titled “Human resources management” (document A/C.5/69/L.9), Yukio Takasu, Under-Secretary-General for Management, said the Secretary-General had the responsibility to see that the Organization’s values were maintained at all times through staff regulations promulgated.  Tens of thousands of men and women of different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religions worked for the Organization and were entitled to equal treatment.  The previous way of determining entitlements, based strictly on nationality, had created some discrepancies and had led to lawsuits at cost to the United Nations.

The representative of Mexico, who voted against the draft decision, said the bulletin did not establish an international standard for marriages, domestic partnerships, or similar types of unions, or the legal arrangements in which people participated in the exercise of their freedom.  The Secretary-General’s actions did not encroach upon the competencies of national laws regulating those types of acts.

In a similar vein, the representative of the United States said the draft undermined the Secretary-General’s authority and would create legal uncertainty about the extent of that authority, as well as uncertainty on future administrative change.

The representative of Australia, also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, said the decision was not just about process or the Secretary-General’s authority but was also about the broader issue of discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.

Countering those views, the Russian Federation’s representative said his country was not challenging the Secretary-General’s role.  However, the changes under consideration must be made in consultation with Member States, and usually had financial implications.  A staff member’s nationality should be taken into account when determining entitlements.  The past arrangement had achieved a delicate balance, in that regard, which the relevant United Nations bodies had found to be non-discriminatory.  On the other hand, the new arrangement discriminated against several Member States, as it did not consider their legislative and judicial systems, and denied the General Assembly the opportunity to discuss its substance.

Saudi Arabia’s representative said he supported the draft on moral grounds, as the Kingdom held that same-sex marriage was immoral.

Explaining his delegation’s abstention, the representative of Indonesia said he supported the Secretary-General’s prerogative on administrative matters but felt the need for greater consultations among Member States on matters of such importance.

Also today, the Committee considered the Secretary-General’s statement (document A/C.5/69/19) on the programme budget implications of draft resolution A/69/L.55 on the Statute of the United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize and the related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/69/826).

Introducing the Secretary-General’s statement, Johannes Huisman, Director of the Department of Management’s Programme Planning and Budget Division, said the draft’s implementation would require additional resources of $97,600 for awarding of the first Prize this year to two individuals at a ceremony in New York.  Thereafter, the Prize would be awarded every five years, and resource requirements for the subsequent awards would be presented in the context of the proposed programme budget for the respective biennium.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee, said that body had no objection to the extra amount, which took into account $4,000 that had been identified for absorption within the approved appropriation under section 28 of the 2014-2015 programme budget.  The Secretary-General, however, should make every effort to absorb the extra funds requested under that section.  Noting further that the award ceremony was scheduled for September 2015, he said that appeared to be inconsistent with the proposed Statute on the Prize, which would have the ceremony held on Nelson Mandela International Day, 18 July 2015.

South Africa’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, agreed that scheduling the award ceremony in September rather than in July was inconsistent with the proposed Statute of the Prize and would have additional financial implications.

Also speaking today were the representatives of South Africa (in his national capacity), Algeria (on behalf of the African Group), Latvia (on behalf of the European Union), Finland (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein), France, Sri Lanka, Belarus, United Kingdom, Germany, China, Singapore, Brazil and Malaysia.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 27 March, to conclude the first part of its resumed sixty-ninth session.

United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize

JOHANNES HUISMAN, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, Department of Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s statement on the programme budget implications of draft resolution A/69/L.55 on the Statute of the United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize (document A/C.5/69/19).  Pursuant to articles 2.1, 2.3 and 2.4 of the proposed Statute, the first Prize would be awarded in 2015 to two individuals — one female and one male — at an awards ceremony in New York.  He said that, should the General Assembly adopt that draft, additional resources of $97,600 for 2015, would arise under section 28, Public information, representing a charge against the contingency fund for the biennium 2014-2015.  In accordance with the Statute, the Prize would be awarded once every five years.  The resource requirements for subsequent awards would be presented in the context of the proposed programme budget for the respective biennium.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, presenting the views of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in its related report (document A/69/826), had no objection to the estimated $97,600 required for 2015, which took into account $4,000 that had been identified for absorption within the approved appropriation under section 28 of the 2014-2015 programme budget.  However, he recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to make every effort to absorb the extra requirements requested under the section.  Otherwise, the extra expenditures for implementing the draft should be reflected in the second performance report for the biennium.  Noting further that the award ceremony was scheduled for September 2015, he said that appeared to be inconsistent with the proposed Statute on the Prize, which would have the ceremony held on Nelson Mandela International Day, 18 July 2015.

KINGSLEY MAMABOLO (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the establishment of the Prize was a symbol of the international community’s recognition of the extraordinary life and legacy of a man who had contributed to promoting the United Nations aims.  Bestowing the Prize every five years gave the world the opportunity to pay tribute to those, like that great figure of history, committed to the service of people, human values and democracy.  While the Group recognized the need for adequate preparation for the first award of the Prize, it concurred with the Advisory Committee that scheduling the award ceremony in September 2015, rather than on Nelson Mandela International Day on 18 July, was inconsistent with the proposed Statute of the Prize and would have additional financial implications.  The Group had taken note of the proposed $101,600 required to implement activities planned for the Prize in 2015 and that an estimated $4,000 of that requirement was expected to be absorbed within the approved 2014-2015 programme budget.  He called for all mandates approved by United Nations intergovernmental bodies to be given adequate resources from the regular budget for their implementation.

ABDEL HAKIM MIHOUBI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said consideration of the matter formed a major part of the interests of the continent in honour of the individual who had dedicated his entire life to contributing to the Organization’s objectives.  The Group had taken note of the proposed $101,600 requirement to implement planned activities and that an estimated $4,000 was expected to be absorbed within the approved 2014-2015 programme budget.  The Group believed that the awarding of the Prize on 18 July was feasible and consistent with the proposed Statute.   The Group sought to examine in detail that requirement and other elements to ensure planned activities were fully funded and implemented.  He assured the Committee of the Group’s readiness to engage in constructive deliberations with the aim of concluding the item in a timely fashion.

EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa) reiterated his country’s appreciation to all Member States for their solidarity and support for the life and memory of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.  The establishment of the Prize was recognition of Mr. Mandela’s extraordinary legacy as a man who contributed to the promotion and values of the United Nations.  He noted with concern the delay in preparation for the first award of the Prize and supported the Group of 77 and China in calling for the award ceremony to be scheduled on 18 July.  South Africa was ready to engage constructively on the negotiations on the item in order to honour the legacy of the late President.

Human Resources Management:  Action on Draft Decision

YUKIO TAKASU, Under-Secretary-General for Management, speaking prior to consideration of the draft decision titled Human resources management (document A/C.5/69/L.9), said that as the United Nations’ Chief Administrative Officer, the Secretary-General had the right to revise his Bulletin entitled “Personal status for purposes of United Nations entitlements” (document ST/SGB/2004/13/Rev.1).  Indeed, it was his responsibility to see that the Organization’s values were maintained at all times through staff regulations promulgated.  Tens of thousands of men and women of different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religions worked for the Organization and were entitled to equal treatment.  The previous way of determining entitlements, based strictly on nationality, had created some discrepancies and had led to law suits at cost to the United Nations.  Under the authority of article 101 paragraph 1 of the Charter, the Secretary-General had decided to align the approach with legal obligations and the Organization’s core values, taking into consideration the views of Member States.  The Assembly recognized the value of diversity of people working in the Organization.  He hoped that the Assembly recognized the Secretary-General’s authority.  No one in the Organization should be discriminated against.

Speaking before the vote, JĀNIS MAŽEIKS (Latvia), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Secretary-General’s Bulletin in no way contravened Assembly resolution 58/285.  The legal advice on that presented to the Secretary-General, and which was shared with the Committee, was crystal clear on the issue:  the Bulletin did not amend the Staff Rules and Regulations in any way, did not seek to define nor redefine any terms within those Rules and Regulations, and was well within the purview of the Secretary-General.  Resolution A/RES/58/285 was the product of very careful and at times divisive negotiations 10 years ago.  The language used in that resolution was agreed upon, by all Member States of the Committee, and was clear in noting the practice at that time of the Secretary-General in determining the personal status of United Nations staff.  The Member States of the Union would vote against the draft decision and encouraged everyone to do the same.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said that the draft decision attempted to undermine the role of the Secretary-General.  The clear change he made to his Bulletin was an administrative decision, and made on the advice of the Office of Legal Affairs.  The change would have no bearing on domestic laws of Member States and would have no serious budgetary implications, contrary to the assertions of the Russian Federation.  The draft would create legal uncertainty about the extent of the Secretary-General’s authority and create uncertainty on future administrative changes.  Thus, it undermined the authority of the Secretary-General.

CAITLIN WILSON (Australia), also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, expressed deep disappointment with the proposed decision seeking to overturn the Secretary-General’s authority as Chief Administrative Officer for the United Nations.  In issuing the Bulletin, the Secretary-General acted within his legitimate authority and on the advice of the Office of Legal Affairs.  The decision was not just about process, nor about the Secretary-General’s authority.  It was also about the broader issue of discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.  She condemned all forms of discrimination in all its manifestations and it was, therefore, deeply disturbing when the United Nations, tasked with overseeing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was asked to adopt a decision with discrimination at its very heart.  For those reasons, she strongly urged all countries to oppose the unprecedented proposal.

KAI SAUER (Finland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said that as Chief Administrative Officer of the United Nations, the Secretary-General had a clear authority to issue administrative instructions on the implementation of staff rules and regulations.  The draft decision, even as orally amended, gave no details or explanation as to why the Bulletin should be withdrawn.  Furthermore, the Secretary-General had the duty to ensure equal treatment of all staff members and the bulleting was essential to ensure that.

HANNAH BODENMANN (Switzerland), also speaking for Liechtenstein, said both delegations would vote against the draft decision, which she said undermined the authority and competence accorded to the Secretary-General under the Charter.  It was not part of the role of the Assembly to deal with internal administrative matters of the Organization.  That was true as the Bulletin had no impact on national legislation.  She regretted that a vote had been requested in a committee which worked on the basis of consensus.

AHLEM GHARBI (France), endorsing the statement of the European Union, expressed regret that consensus had not been found and that a recorded vote had been requested.  As Chief Administrative Officer, the Secretary-General had every right to make a change to his Bulletin, which had been approved by the Office of Legal Affairs.  That change on how entitlements would be determined did not affect domestic laws, but only how staff would be treated while working at the Organization.

NILUKA PRABHATH KADURUGAMUWA (Sri Lanka) said that he would not support the draft decision, which seemed to circumscribe the role of the Secretary-General.  However, he noted that his country’s vote was without prejudice to any substantive matters.

PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) stressed that the Russian Federation was not challenging the role of the Secretary-General.  However, the changes under consideration must be made in consultation with Member States, and usually had financial implications.  He said that the nationality of the staff member should be taken into consideration when making entitlement determinations.  The past arrangement had achieved a delicate balance, in that regard, which the relevant United Nations bodies had found to be non-discriminatory.  On the other hand, the new arrangement discriminated against a number of Member States, as it did not consider their legislative and judicial systems, and denied the Assembly the opportunity to discuss its substance.  The cultural settings of all Member States must be reflected.

BILAL TAHER MUHAMMAD WILSON (Saudi Arabia) said that he would be voting in favour of the draft decision on moral grounds as the Kingdom held that same-sex marriage was immoral.

ALEXANDER SHPAKOVSKY (Belarus) said the Secretary-General had gone beyond the Assembly resolution at the heart of the issue and the Bulletin undermined such attributes as social relations, sovereignty, and religious fundamentals of Member States.  The Committee had the opportunity to react to that on behalf of the Assembly.  The legitimacy and effectiveness of any document was based on the openness and transparency of the discussions behind it.  The Bulletin lacked intergovernmental consensus and would entail additional financial costs.  He would, therefore, vote in favour of the decision.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom), aligning with the European Union, said the unambiguous legal advice shared within the Committee was that the Secretary-General was responsible for the management of his staff.  At a time when the United Nations had embarked on vital reforms, the draft decision would be a retrograde step.  He encouraged Committee members to vote against it.

CHRISTIAN NELL (Germany), aligning with the European Union, said the Secretary-General had acted well within his purview when he issued the Bulletin.   The Secretary-General had the authority to administer his staff and had acted within that authority.  It was important for the Organization to support its Chief Administrative Officer.  Germany would vote against the draft and urged others to do the same.

JINGJING WU (China) said her country agreed with the position of the Russian Federation.

FELIPE GARCIA (Mexico) said that the Secretary-General’s Bulletin did not establish an international standard for marriages, domestic partnerships, or similar types of unions, or the legal arrangements in which people participated in the exercise of their freedom.  The actions by the Secretary-General did not encroach upon the competencies of national laws regulating those types of acts.  Therefore, Mexico supported the decision of the Secretary-General in which entitlements were granted to United Nations employees on the basis of the legal framework valid where the act took place, rather than that of the employee’s nationality.  The measure provided more certainty to United Nations personnel and their families, strengthening the Organization’s diversity.  Moreover, the decision of the Secretary-General promoted the elimination of discrimination for any reason.

Speaking after the vote, the representative of the Russian Federation said he respected the results but reiterated his objections.  The representative of Belarus also spoke along similar lines.

The representative of Singapore said the Secretary-General had authority over administrative issues.  However, the Assembly also recognized the need for consultations.  It would have been better if the Secretary-General had consulted Member States before issuing the Bulletin.

The representative of Brazil said his country had voted against the draft decision because the criterion adopted within the Secretary-General’s Bulletin was more equitable.  All United Nations staff were equal and as such were entitled to equal treatment.  Brazil was ready to participate in consultations to update staff regulations.

The representative of Indonesia said his country had abstained because it recognized the Secretary-General’s authority.  However, it also recognized the need for consultations on such a critical matter.  Furthermore, the issue also had a bearing on issues being discussed in other forums.

RAJA REZA BIN RAJA ZAIB SHAH (Malaysia) said he voted in support of the draft resolution, but reaffirmed the role of the Secretary-General as Chief Administrative Officer.  He expressed regret that a consensus could not be found and that there had been a recorded vote.

For information media. Not an official record.