Sixth Committee (Legal) — 75th session

Administration of justice at the United Nations (Agenda item 152)

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/75/100/Add.1)

The General Assembly had this item on its agenda at its fifty-fifth to fifty-ninth and sixty-first to seventy-fourth 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, 73/276 and 74/258 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-fifth session

At the 2nd plenary meeting of its seventy-fifth session, on 18 September 2020, 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 6th and 19th meetings, on 15 October and 19 November 2020, as well as in informal consultations held on 19, 23, 27 and 29 October and 5, 6, 9 and 12 November. Informal informal consultations also took place on 9 and 10 November. The Sixth Committee considered the legal aspects of the report of the Secretary-General on the administration of justice at the United Nations (A/75/162 and Add.1), the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (A/75/160), and the report of the Internal Justice Council (A/75/154), which included, in annexes, the views of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and the United Nations Dispute Tribunal pursuant to paragraph 37 of resolution 74/258. 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.5/75/16, annex).

Statements were made by the representatives of South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union (on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries the Republic of North 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)), Canada [in English] (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), the United States, Switzerland, Jamaica, the Russian Federation, Mexico, China and the Netherlands.

In general, delegations welcomed the reports of the Secretary-General and the Internal Justice Council (IJC) and underlined the importance of an independent, impartial, transparent and professional system of administration of justice. Several delegations indicated their support for the system of administration of justice, and the continued functioning of the system in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was commended. A number of delegations welcomed efforts to advance the system of justice. In particular, the importance of improving the efficiency, transparency and coherence of the system was noted. The need to respect the rule of law principle and due process in dispute resolution was also recalled.

A number of delegations emphasized the importance of the informal system of justice. The potential of the informal system to resolve disputes early and avoid costly litigation was also noted. Several delegations particularly expressed their support for the work of the Office of the UN Ombudsman and Mediation Services (OMS). The progress of the Mediation Service and the roll-out of the civility campaign were particularly welcomed. A number of delegations condemned reports of harassment toward female managers, as well as discriminatory behaviours and expressed their appreciation to OMS for its attention to these issues. Some delegations welcomed the attention of OMS to staff mental health, and the importance of taking mental health into account to avoid labour disputes was noted. The work of the regional ombudspersons was also welcomed.

Regarding the formal system of administration of justice, a number of delegations highlighted the importance of the work of the Management Evaluation Unit (MEU). Several delegations also expressed their support for the work of Office of Administration of Justice (OAJ), the United Nations Disputes Tribunal (UNDT) and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (UNAT). Many delegations welcomed the measures taken to reduce the backlog of cases pending before the UNDT. However, several delegations highlighted the importance of further progress towards eliminating the backlog. Concern was expressed, moreover, regarding the number of cases before the tribunals that remained unassigned to judges. A number of delegations highlighted the need for transparency on the part of OAJ and the Tribunals, while several delegations welcomed the publication of a digest of the case-law of the Tribunals. It was also suggested that consideration should be given to how to improve geographical representation and representation of all major legal systems among judges of the UNDT and UNAT.

The steps taken by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to join the jurisdiction of the UNAT, by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to join the jurisdiction of the UNDT and by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to fully join the internal justice system were welcomed. Other entities in the UN system were called upon to join the internal justice system or to develop their own mechanisms for administration of justice. It was also proposed that the consideration of the amendments to the respective rules of procedure of the UNAT and UNDT, contained in annexes I and II of document A/75/162, be postponed until the next session of the General Assembly.

Several delegations indicated their support for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA), and measures taken by the Secretary-General to strengthen OSLA were welcomed. Support was expressed for the recommendation of the Internal Justice Council (IJC) that additional resources be allocated to OSLA, in particularly to its Nairobi and Addis Ababa offices. A number of delegations also voiced concern that self-representation remains high amongst applicants before the Tribunals.

Some delegations highlighted the need to further protect staff members against retaliation in the system of administration of justice and expressed support for the recommendations of the IJC on the issue.

A number of delegations expressed concern regarding the position of non-staff personnel, and the importance of ensuring that all individuals with an employment or other contractual relationship with the United Nations can seek legal redress for violations of their rights was emphasized. Some delegations thanked the Secretary-General for information on the five initiatives to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non-staff personnel. Further detailed information on the implementation of these initiatives was requested. Several delegations also indicated their support for the pilot project to provide access to the services of the Office of Ombudsman and Mediation Services (OMS) for non-staff personnel. Support was also expressed to make such access permanent and to consider additional resources required for high-quality service. Some delegations nonetheless stressed that most OMS cases initiated by non-staff personnel arise in field duty stations. Some delegations also looked forward to the findings of the ongoing study on the use of non-staff personnel.

Support was further offered for the proposals of the Secretary General on the conditions of service and appointment requirements for members of the IJC.

Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings

Video   6th meeting (15 October 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   19th meeting (19 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 19th meeting on 19 November 2020, 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.5/75/16.

Consideration of the item in the Fifth Committee

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

Under the terms of the draft resolution (A/C.5/75/L.9), 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 (A/C.5/75/L.9, paras. 3, 4 and 6).

The Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to ensure a strong culture of accountability throughout the Secretariat, in particular with proactive and transparent application of the United Nations three-pillared approach to the management of misconduct, namely prevention, enforcement and remedial action, and to ensure access to effective remedies for all categories of personnel (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 9).

Further, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to hold managers accountable when their decisions have been established to be grossly negligent according to the applicable Staff Regulations and Rules (see ST/SGB/2018/1) and have led to litigation and subsequent financial loss, and to undertake an analysis of the issue of publishing the results of action taken in response to the referrals for accountability by the Tribunals, such as in the compendium of disciplinary measures and to report thereon to the General Assembly at its seventy-sixth session (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 10).

The Assembly would welcome the ongoing outreach efforts and urge the Secretary-General to continue to implement the outreach strategy, including through virtual formats as appropriate, especially in the field and including all categories of non-staff personnel (A/C.5/75/L.9, paras. 8 and 20). In particular, the Assembly would note with appreciation the publication of the Digest of Case Law of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal for the period 2009-2019 (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 7).

The Assembly would also reiterate that retaliation against complainants or staff appearing as witnesses constitutes misconduct and would note with appreciation 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), as well as the efforts to continuously improve the framework for protection against retaliation. The Assembly would request the Secretary-General to provide information on the implementation of the policy for all categories of personnel covered in his next report. A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 13). The Assembly would further 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 (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 11). The Assembly would 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 (A/C.5/75/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 reinforce his efforts to address the underservice of staff in the field in and provide an update on the action take in his next report (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 16). The Assembly would also invite the Secretary-General to take the appropriate measures to implement, within existing resources, current multilingualism policies, in compliance with relevant rules and regulations, and would request the Secretary-General to provide, in the context of his next report, information on measures taken to ensure the availability of outreach documents in all official languages (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 21).

The Assembly would welcome the continued efforts of the Secretary-General to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non-staff personnel, based on his five initiatives, and his efforts to further explore cost-effective means to resolve disputes and would request the Secretary-General to report on progress, including the financial and administrative impact, to the General Assembly at its seventy-sixth session (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 18). The Assembly would encourage the Secretary-General to continue the pilot project whereby non-staff personnel are offered access to services provided by the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services within its existing resources, and would request the Secretary-General to report thereon in his next report (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 19).

The Assembly would note the efforts of the Secretary-General to promote knowledge and awareness of and action on racism within the Organization, and would request the Secretary-General to include information on racism and cases involving racial discrimination in the context of his next report on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 22). Further, the Assembly would encourage the Secretary-General to continue to provide information on trends and cases of discrimination within the Organization (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 23).

Further, the Assembly would welcome the continued analysis of the root causes included in the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services, urge the Secretary-General to continue to address the direct feedback and systemic issues identified in the report and request the Secretary-General to provide information on progress resulting from the action taken in the context of his next report (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 17). Accordingly, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to provide options to address the absence of a mental health component within the legal framework to process cases of harassment, discrimination and abuse of authority and to continue to take action to address the issue of upward harassment of female managers (A/C.5/75/L.9, paras, 24-25).

With respect to the formal system, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General 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 (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 28). The Assembly would also recognize the ongoing positive contribution of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance to the system of administration of justice and would 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 (A/C.5/75/L.9, paras. 30-31).

Regarding the Tribunals’ case management, the Assembly would welcome the progress made in reducing the number of pending and ageing cases before the Dispute Tribunal and would request the Secretary-General to continue to report on the measures taken to further address the backlog of cases, with priority given to cases that are pending from more than 400 days (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 26). The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to ensure the real-time case-tracking dashboard is made publicly available, would encourage the Dispute Tribunal to continue to make full use of telecommuting in the deployment of half-time judges so as to promote efficiencies and would decide that the practice of publishing the schedule and cause list for each half-time judge on the website of the internal justice system shall be extended to the full-time judges (A/C.5/75/L.9, paras. 27, 29).

Further, the Assembly would approve the proposed conditions of service and appointment requirements of the members of the Internal Justice Council as set out in annex V to the report of the Secretary-General on the administration of justice at the United Nations (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 36).

Finally, the Assembly would decide to consider at its seventy-sixth session the proposed amendments to the rules of procedure of the appeals Tribunal and the Dispute Tribunal, as set out in annexes I and II to the report of the Secretary-General on the administration of justice at the United Nations (A/C.5/75/L.9, para. 38).

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/75/668) or consult the Fifth Committee website.

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-sixth session (2021).

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