Sixth Committee (Legal) — 74th session

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

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/74/100/Add.1)

The General Assembly had this item on its agenda at its fifty-fifth to fifty-ninth and sixty-first to seventy-third 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, 71/266, 72/256 and 73/276 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 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 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, 71/266 and 73/276).

Consideration at the seventy-fourth session

At the 2nd plenary meeting of its seventy-third session, on 20 September 2019, the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the General Committee, referred the agenda item to both the Fifth and the Sixth Committees.

Consideration of the item in the Sixth Committee

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 17th meeting, on 17 October 2019, as well as in informal consultations held on 17, 18, 23 and 24 October and 4 November. Informal informal consultations also took place on 5 and 6 November 2019. The Sixth Committee considered the legal aspects of the report of the Secretary-General on the administration of justice at the United Nations (A/74/172), the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (A/74/171), and the report of the Internal Justice Council (A/74/169), which included, in annexes, the disposal flows of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal, as well as the views of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and the United Nations Dispute Tribunal pursuant to paragraph 43 of resolution 73/276. Following past practice, the views of the Sixth Committee on specific issues relating to the legal aspects of such reports were reflected in a letter from the Chair of the Sixth Committee transmitted to the Fifth Committee (see A/C.5/74/10, annex).

Statements were made by the representatives of: the Gambia (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union, (also on behalf of its member States; the candidate countries North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, 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 this statement), New Zealand (also on behalf of Australia and Canada), Mexico, the United States of America, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Delegations welcomed the reports of the Secretary-General as well as the Internal Justice Council ("IJC") and underlined the importance of the efficient functioning of the administration of justice system, which was established ten years ago. Some delegations highlighted key principles that the administration of justice should be based on, including professionalism, independence, transparency, decentralization as well as the principles of access to justice and due process.  Accordingly, several delegations welcomed efforts to improve transparency and raise awareness of the internal justice system. In particular, the "staff member's guide to resolving disputes" was well received. Nevertheless, it was recognized that further work needed to be done in publicizing the workings of the internal justice system.

Some delegations commended the Management Evaluation Unit for its critical role in resolving requests before they reach the litigation stage. In addition, several representatives recognized the important work of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance ("OSLA") in providing legal guidance to United Nations staff worldwide. Furthermore, various delegations supported the work of the UN Ombudsman and Mediation Services ("UNOMS"), especially the identification of trends and systemic issues underlying workplace conflicts.

Several delegations also highlighted the indispensability of effective protection against retaliation in the system of administration of justice. Support was expressed for the recommendations of the IJC addressing this issue. It was also suggested to continue reviewing and adapting, as necessary, the Secretary-General's policy against retaliation.

In addition, the approval by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board of a model policy on sexual harassment for United Nations system entities was welcomed. It was added that during 2018 the number of sexual harassment investigations had increased significantly.

Several delegations thanked the Secretary-General for launching five initiatives to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non-staff personnel. Some delegations commended the work of the UNOMS in this field. They considered its pilot project offering access to informal dispute-resolution services to non-staff members as a step in the right direction and supported the proposal to continue the project. Other delegations generally welcomed initiatives, within existing resources, aimed at the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non-staff personnel. Also, several delegations welcomed the Secretary-General's proposal to explore more cost-effective means, such as the engagement of a neutral entity ensuring tasks of arbitration support.

Regarding the formal system of justice, many delegations expressed concern about the backlog of pending cases on the docket of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal. Therefore, it was suggested to review the rules of procedure of the Dispute Tribunal in order to identify opportunities to increase its working speed. Other delegations noted that they were not convinced of the legal necessity for statuary amendments. In any case, the work of the Dispute Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal was also recognized. For instance, it was remarked that, amongst others, the case disposal plan had led to an expeditious resolution of long pending cases.

Several delegations welcomed the new judges at the two Tribunals. At the same time, it was hoped that the General Assembly would swiftly remedy the situation that had resulted in having two presidents at the head of the Dispute Tribunal. For example, a procedure to prematurely end the mandated term of office of a duly elected president of both tribunals was proposed.

Taking into account the considerable number of self-represented applicants before the Dispute Tribunal, several delegations welcomed the creation of the toolkit for self-represented applicants. Further work to understand the trend of self-representation was recommended. A request to learn about the results of the survey included in the toolkit was also made.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   17th meeting (17 October 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   34th meeting (11 November 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 34th meeting, on 11 November 2019, 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.5/74/10.

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-fifth session (2020).

Draft resolution submitted by the Chair of the Fifth Committee following informal consultations

Under the terms of the draft resolution, the Assembly would once again emphasize the importance of the principle of judicial independence in the system of administration of justice, stress the importance of ensuring access for all staff members to the system of administration of justice regardless of their duty station and reaffirm its decision contained in paragraph 4 of its resolution 61/261 to establish a new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice consistent with the relevant rules of international law and the principles of the rule of law and due process to ensure respect for the rights and obligations of staff members and the accountability of managers and staff members alike document A/C.5/74/L.9, paras. 3, 4 and 6).

The Assembly would welcome the ongoing outreach efforts and urge the Secretary-General to continue to implement the outreach strategy, especially in the field (document A/C.5/74/L.9, paras. 7 and 19). The Assembly would also note the ongoing efforts to continuously strengthen the policy on protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations (see ST/SGB/2017/2/Rev.1) and, in this connection, it would request the Secretary-General to report in the context of his report to the seventy-fifth session progress made in protecting staff members who lodge cases before the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal against retaliation ( document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 9). The Assembly would also reiterate that retaliation against complainants or staff appearing as witnesses constitutes misconduct, (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 10); encourage the Secretary-General, in his capacity as the Chair of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, to promote protection against retaliation across the system (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 11); and underscore the inherent and explicit authority of the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals to issue protective orders, requesting the Secretary-General to report on the application thereof (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 12).

With respect to the informal system of administration of justice, the Assembly would reaffirm the importance of the informal dispute resolution process in the Organization, requesting the Secretary-General to include recommendations to address the current underservice of staff in the field in his next report (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 14) and to continue to provide detailed information on the mediation activities of the Office, including measures to increase the utilization of these services (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 16). The Assembly would further stress the importance of improving management performance and staff communication and note the need for the Organization to develop and employ a holistic managerial approach, requesting the Secretary-General to provide information in that regard of his next report (document A/C.5/74/L.9, paras. 17 and 18). It would also request the Secretary-General to provide in his next report detailed information on his five ongoing initiatives to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non-staff personnel (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 20).

With a view to informing the discussion at its seventy-fifth session, the Assembly further requested the Secretary-General to submit new proposals on reviewing formal policies and issuances concerning dispute resolution with consultants and individual contractors (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 21); and prepare an overview on the functioning of the pilot project to offer access to informal dispute-resolution services to non-staff personnel up to the time of reporting, and the results of the pilot project on resolving disputes with respect for the principles of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 22).

With respect to the formal system, while recognizing the ongoing positive contribution of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance to the system of administration of justice, the Assembly would renew its request that the Secretary-General continue to ensure the accountability of managers whose decisions have been established to be grossly negligent, according to the applicable Staff Regulations and Rules of the United Nations, and which have led to litigation and subsequent financial loss, and to report to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session ( document A/C.5/74/L.9, paras. 23 and 24). The Assembly would also commend the Secretary-General for the creation of the toolkits for self-represented applicants, requesting the Secretary-General to continue to monitor the issue of self-representation and to report thereon (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 25).

Further, noting with concern the dual presidency of the Dispute Tribunal and its impact on case disposal, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to examine recommendations 11, 12 and 13 contained in the report of the Internal Justice Council, with a view to improving the accountability of the Tribunal, for consideration during its seventy-fifth session (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 26). The Assembly would also welcome recommendation 9 on judicial efficiency and accountability contained in the report of the Internal Justice Council, and urge the Dispute Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal to review and amend their respective rules of procedure subject to the approval of the General Assembly, with a view to streamlining and harmonizing their approach to case management, including by ensuring that the first judicial action in a case is taken no later than 90 days from the date on which an application is filed (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 27).

Regarding the Tribunals' case management, the Assembly would note the large number of pending cases and of ageing cases at the Dispute Tribunal, requesting the Secretary-General to continue to report on the implementation of the related case disposal plan at its seventy-fifth session; (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 28). The Assembly would further request the Secretary-General to invite the Internal Justice System to provide its views on the implementation of the system of administration of justice, including the timely delivery of judgments, and to continue to track the data on the number of cases received by the Management Evaluation Unit and the Dispute Tribunal in order to identify any emerging trends and to include his observations on those statistics in future reports (document A/C.5/74/L.9, paras. 29 and 30).

The Assembly would also request that the judicial directions of the Dispute Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal that are of general application be posted online and thus made available to all stakeholders, and that the Secretary-General report thereon to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 31).

Finally, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to provide an overview of and recommendations on the conditions of service and appointment requirements of the members of the Internal Justice Council, in particular professional qualifications, for consideration by the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session (document A/C.5/74/L.9, para. 39).

For further information on the action taken by the Fifth Committee on the item, please see the Report of the Fifth Committee on the item (A/74/433) or consult the Fifth Committee website.

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