Sixth Committee (Legal) — 72nd session

Administration of justice at the United Nations (Agenda item 146)

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/72/100/Add.1)

The General Assembly considered the item at its fifty-fifth to fifty-ninth and sixty-first to seventy-first sessions (resolutions 55/258, 57/307, 59/283, 61/261, 62/228, 63/253, 64/119, 64/233, 65/251, 66/237, 67/241, 68/254, 69/203, 70/112 and 71/266 and decisions 56/458 C, 58/576, 61/503 A, 63/531, 64/527, 64/553 and 65/213).

At its sixty-second session, the General Assembly established: (a) a two-tier formal system of administration of justice, comprising a first instance United Nations Dispute Tribunal and an appellate instance United Nations Appeals Tribunal; (b) the Office of Administration of Justice, comprising the Office of the Executive Director and the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, as well as the Registries for the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, the Registries to be overseen by the Principal Registrar; (c) a single integrated and decentralized Office of the Ombudsman for the United Nations Secretariat, funds and programmes with branches in several duty stations and a new mediation division; (d) the Internal Justice Council; and (e) the Management Evaluation Unit in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management (resolution 62/228).

At its sixty-third session, the General Assembly adopted the statutes of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and decided that the Tribunals would be operational as of 1 July 2009 and that all persons who had access to the Office of the Ombudsman under the previous system would also have access to the new informal system (resolution 63/253). The statutes have been amended at subsequent sessions (resolutions 66/237, 69/203, 70/112 and 71/266).

Consideration of the item in the Fifth Committee

At its seventy-first session, the General Assembly recalled its decision that the interim independent assessment, established to examine the system of administration of justice in all its aspects, should include consideration of the relationship between the formal and informal systems and whether the aims and objectives of the system set out in resolution 61/261 were being achieved in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The Assembly noted with appreciation the findings of the Interim Independent Assessment Panel that the system had made a good start and was an improvement over the previous system, and that the aims and objectives of the system had been achieved to a very great extent. The Assembly endorsed recommendations 9, 13, 15, 33, 35 and 36 of the Panel, aimed at further improvement of the system, and requested the Secretary-General to ensure their implementation within existing resources and to report thereon and on measures taken to strengthen protection from retaliation in his future reports. The Assembly decided to consider the issues related to resource requirements for improving the functioning of a transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice at the United Nations at its seventy-second session. The Assembly also requested the Secretary-General to provide comprehensive information concerning remedies available to non-staff personnel for discussion on the matter at its seventy-second session (resolution 71/266, sects. I and IV).

At the same session, with regard to the informal system, the General Assembly welcomed the promulgation of the revised terms of reference and guidelines for the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services. The Assembly encouraged the Office to intensify its outreach activities to encourage informal dispute resolution. It recognized the efforts of the Office concerning the informal resolution of conflict, noted with appreciation its activities to promote conflict competence within the Organization and requested the Secretary-General to provide more detailed information on the impact of conflict prevention training and on efforts to enhance cooperation between the formal and informal parts of the system in his next report. The Assembly welcomed the analysis of the root causes of conflict included in the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office (A/71/157) and urged the Secretary-General to address the systemic issues identified in the report in order to improve upon the policies and procedures of the Organization. The Assembly recognized that access to the Office is a challenge for staff in the field, encouraged the development of measures to address those challenges and requested the Secretary-General to report thereon at its seventy-second session (resolution 71/266, sect. II).

Also at the same session, with regard to the formal system, the General Assembly recognized the ongoing positive contribution of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance to the system of administration of justice. The Assembly reiterated that decisions taken by the Tribunals should conform with its resolutions on human resources management. It stressed the ability of the Tribunals to award costs against parties that manifestly abuse the proceedings and encouraged the Tribunals to proactively manage cases and/or to summarily dismiss cases under appropriate circumstances. The Assembly emphasized the importance of the publication of the judgments of the Tribunals in order to make the reasoning behind the decisions well known across the Organization and encouraged the exploration of better approaches when referring to personal data in judgments to protect the privacy of individuals who have no means to respond publicly. The Assembly extended the mandates of three ad litem judge positions and the incumbent judges in the United Nations Dispute Tribunal for one year, from 1 January to 31 December 2017. It requested the Secretary-General to continue to track data on the number of cases received by the Management Evaluation Unit and the Dispute Tribunal to identify any emerging trends and to include in future reports both his observations on those statistics and his views on the effectiveness of the Management Evaluation Unit. The Assembly noted the work of the interdepartmental working group on the delegation of authority with regard to disciplinary matters and indicated that it looked forward to receiving updates in the next report of the Secretary-General. The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to continue to ensure the accountability of managers whose grossly negligent decisions had led to litigation and subsequent financial loss, to review referrals and other potential options for accountability with the aim of ensuring its enforcement, and to report on both matters at the seventy-second session. The Assembly further extended the experimental period for the voluntary supplementing funding mechanism with respect to additional resources for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (by way of a payroll deduction not exceeding 0.05 per cent of a staff member’s monthly net base salary, in accordance with paragraph 33 of resolution 68/254) from 1 January to 31 December 2017, encouraged the Secretary-General to strengthen incentives for staff not to opt out of the voluntary supplemental funding mechanism, particularly in locations where the participation level was low and requested the Secretary-General to explore options to ensure the sustainability of the mechanism, to continue to collect and examine data relating to staff contributions to the Office and to report on both matters to the Assembly in his next report. The Assembly approved the Code of Conduct for Legal Representatives and Litigants in Person annexed to the resolution and the proposal of the Secretary-General to amend the statute of the Dispute Tribunal concerning eligibility criteria for the appointment of the judges and the statutes of both Tribunals concerning the authority of their Presidents to monitor the timely delivery of judgments (resolution 71/266, sect. III).

Also at its seventy-first session, the General Assembly stressed that the Internal Justice Council could help to ensure independence, professionalism and accountability in the system of administration of justice and requested the Secretary-General to entrust the Council with including the views of both the Dispute Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal in its reports. The Assembly invited the Sixth Committee to consider the legal aspects of the report to be submitted by the Secretary-General, without prejudice to the role of the Fifth Committee as the Main Committee entrusted with responsibilities for administrative and budgetary matters (resolution 71/266, sect. IV).

Consideration of the item in the Sixth Committee

At the seventy-first session, as set out in a letter from the Chair of the Sixth Committee (see A/C.5/71/10, annex), the Sixth Committee considered the legal aspects of the reports of the Secretary-General and of the Internal Justice Council on the administration of justice at the United Nations and the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services. The Committee also had before it the report of the Interim Independent Assessment Panel on the system of administration of justice at the United Nations and the report of the Secretary-General on the findings and recommendations of the Interim Independent Assessment Panel and revised estimates relating to the programme budget for the biennium 2016-2017. The Sixth Committee drew the attention of the Fifth Committee to a number of specific issues relating to the legal aspects of those reports.

Consideration at the seventy-second session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 11th and 21st meetings, on 9 and 25 of October 2017 (see A/C.6/72/SR.11 and 21).

Statements were made by representatives of El Salvador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)) [in English], the European Union (also on behalf of its Member States) (the candidate countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilization and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, aligned themselves with the statement), Jamaica (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)), Switzerland, Mexico, Guatemala and the United States.

Delegations welcomed the reports of the Secretary-General, the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services, and the Internal Justice Council (the “IJC”) and reiterated their satisfaction with the progress achieved by and the positive impact of the administration of justice system since 2009. While some delegations recalled that the administration of justice should be adequately resourced and based on key principles, including professionalism, independence, transparency, decentralization, as well as the principles of legality and due process, some also expressed their support to the protection of human rights of United Nations staff members, underlining that adequate measures would help the United Nations become a better employer for the purpose of attracting and retaining the best employees.

A number of delegations expressed support for the Office of Staff’s Legal Assistance, emphasizing its vital task through representation, advice and other legal services. Delegations also stressed the importance of the Management Evaluation Unit (MEU) to prevent unnecessary litigation before the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (the “UNDT”) and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (the “UNAT”) and commended it for the high number of complaints disposed of every year. Several delegations emphasized that the informal resolution of conflict was a crucial element of the internal system of administration of justice. Delegations also called for better incentives to resort to informal conflict resolution, and in this regard, commended the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services. Some delegations further underlined the important role of the Internal Justice Council to ensure independence, professionalism and accountability.

While some delegations commented that the UNDT and the UNAT had been actively carrying out their functions, some expressed concerns about the IJC’s observation regarding the inordinate length of time from filing to judgment, and the relatively high rate of overturn by the UNAT.

Support was expressed for the recommendation of the IJC to establish an explicit system-wide policy for the protection of both parties and witnesses before the UNDT and the UNAT for retaliation.

As regards the legal protection of non-staff personnel, while some delegations thanked the Secretary-General for his efforts to collect information regarding the remedies currently available to the different categories of non-staff and the number of disputes brought over in the last year contained in Annex II of his report (A/72/204), they also requested additional information and analysis in relation to the United Nations system as a whole.

Some delegations noted the progress made through the Secretary-General’s revised bulletin on protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations. They also noted the IJC’s observation that there still existed a substantial fear of retaliation among staff, expressing the view that this issue may merit further exploration. They also called for more information on the system of referrals in light of the IJC’s recommendations.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   11th meeting (9 October 2017, 3:00pm – 6:00pm)

Video   21st meeting (25 October 2017, 3:00pm – 6:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 21st meeting, on 25 October 2017, the Committee received a report on the results of the informal consultations and authorized its Chair to send a letter to the President of the General Assembly with a request that it be brought to the attention of the Chair of the Fifth Committee and circulated as a document of the General Assembly. The letter was circulated as an annex to the document A/C.5/72/10.

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-third session (2018).

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