Sixth Committee (Legal) — 76th session
Administration of justice at the United Nations (Agenda item 147)
- Authority: resolutions 75/248
- A/76/99 — Report of the Secretary-General on administration of justice at the United Nations
- A/76/140 — Report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services
- A/76/124 — Report of the Internal Justice Council on administration of justice at the United Nations
Summary of work
Background (source: A/76/100/Add.1)
The General Assembly had this item on its agenda at its fifty-fifth to fifty-ninth and sixty-first to seventy-fifth 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, 74/258 and 75/248 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 of the item in the Sixth Committee
At the seventy-fifth session, as set out in a letter from the Chair of the Sixth Committee (see A/C.5/75/16, annex), the Sixth Committee considered the legal aspects of the reports of the Secretary-General and of the Internal Justice Council on 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 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-sixth session
At the 2nd plenary meeting of its seventy-sixth session, on 17 September 2021, 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 10th and 29th meetings, on 15 October and 18 November 2021, 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 8 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/76/99), the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (A/76/140), and the report of the Internal Justice Council (A/76/124), which included, in annexes, the views of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and the United Nations Dispute Tribunal pursuant to paragraph 39 of resolution 75/248. 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.5/76/19, annex).
Statements were made by the representatives of Morocco (on behalf of the African Group), the European Union (also on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries of Turkey, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, aligned themselves with the statement)), Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand (CANZ)), Sierra Leone, the United States of America, Mexico, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Cameroon.
Delegations generally welcomed the reports of the Secretary-General and the Internal Justice Council (IJC) and stressed the importance of an independent, impartial, transparent and professional system of administration of justice. The importance of the system for upholding the values of the Organization, maintaining its credibility with respect to the rule of law and ensuring the attractiveness of the Organization as an employer were highlighted, Several delegations recalled the importance of outreach and ensuring awareness of the system. A number of delegations commended the system for its continued functioning, particularly through the use of remote working methods, in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Several delegations emphasized the importance of the informal system of justice and expressed support for the work of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (UNOMS). The importance of the use of the informal system to avoid costly and lengthy litigation was recalled. In this respect, a number of delegations called for the increased use of mediation to resolve disputes. Several delegations highlighted the increased use of virtual methods of service delivery by UNOMS. The focus of UNOMS on addressing racial and gender discrimination, as well as on management issues arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, was also welcomed.
Regarding the formal system of administration of justice, several delegations underscored the importance of the work of the Management Evaluation Unit (MEU). A number of delegations also expressed their support for the work of the United Nations Disputes Tribunal (UNDT) and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (UNAT). The decrease in the number of applications to both MEU and UNDT was noted, and several delegations welcomed the high productivity of the system and the reduction in the backlog of cases pending before the UNDT. A further reduction in the backlog was encouraged. Some delegations expressed support for the half-time judge model and expressed the view that its implementation had enhanced the system. A number of delegations expressed appreciation for progress on the searchable database of judgments and orders of the tribunals, and the publication of the cause lists for individual judges was welcomed. The proposal of the Internal Justice Council to establish a 7-year term for the President of the UNDT was noted. Support was also expressed for the review of the jurisdiction setup of the United Nations common system.
Several delegations expressed support for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA), and measures taken to increase the number of OSLA legal officers were welcomed. However, concern was expressed at the continued rate of self-representation before the internal justice system and it was hoped that this situation would change in future. The need for self-represented applicants to have all the necessary information to be confident in a fair hearing was highlighted.
Some delegations also continued to highlight the importance of protection of staff members against retaliation in the system of administration of justice.
A number of delegations expressed renewed concern regarding the position of non-staff personnel, and the importance of ensuring that all United Nations personnel have access to fair and effective mechanisms to resolve work-related disputes was emphasized.
With respect to the five initiatives to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non-staff personnel, the Secretary-General was encouraged to provide further information in his next report. The concern was voiced that resolving disputes between the Organization and non-staff personnel arbitration might be too costly. In this connection, it was suggested that prevention and recourse to informal dispute-resolution mechanisms should be emphasized. A number of delegations welcomed the continuation of the pilot project allowing non-staff personnel to access UNOMS services, and support was expressed for the regularization of the pilot project.
Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings
Action taken by the Sixth Committee
At the 29th meeting on 18 November 2021, 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.5/76/19.
In the letter, the Committee underlined the importance of the independence of the judiciary and emphasized the need for knowledge of the internal system of administration of justice and for outreach activities, welcoming innovative approaches and solutions adopted to promote the value of informal conflict resolution and recalling the importance of activities to prevent and address misconduct, including in ensuring universal accessibility to the system of administration of justice.
The Committee also continued to underline the importance of transparency and consistency of jurisprudence and judicial directions, inviting the Secretary-General to provide further information on the forthcoming launch of a Caselaw portal.
The Committee further renewed its interest in improving the regulatory framework and noted with appreciation the activities undertaken by the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services to address the issue of systemic racism;
With regard to the informal system of internal justice, the Committee continued to emphasize that informal dispute settlement was a crucial component of the internal system of administration of justice, commending the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services for its operational developments against the backdrop of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and supported the consideration by that Office of a pilot project to increase utilization of mediation for workplace disputes. It also encouraged all stakeholders to continue to refine other recommendations for strengthening the use of mediation by all personnel categories of the Organization;
Turning to the formal system of internal justice, delegations again commended the Management Evaluation Unit, while underlining once more the need to provide the complaining parties with documents and other information relied upon by the Unit in deciding to sustain the decisions of line managers. Noting that the reasonable length of proceedings was an important attribute of an effective system of administration of justice, the Committee welcomed the output increase and backlog decrease in the work of the Dispute Tribunal, as well as the output increase in the work of the Appeals Tribunal. It also welcomed the fact that the real-time case-tracking dashboard was made publicly available for 2020 in all official languages. The Sixth Committee further requested that the Internal Justice Council, the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, the United Nations Dispute Tribunal, and the Secretary‑General include their views on recommendations 1 (modalities of appointment of UNAT & UNDT Presidents) and 3 (no dual functions as Judge) of the report of the IJC in the Secretary-General’s report for the seventy-seventh session.
The Sixth Committee also continued to address the issue of self-representation and voluntary supplemental funding mechanism of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, noting that it is a continued feature of the internal justice system. In that regard, it took note of the proposal of the Secretary-General to extend such mechanism from 1 January 2022 until 31 December 2024, advising that such an extension should be made without prejudice to a final determination as to whether expenditures incurred pursuant to the Office’s mandate constitute “expenses of the Organization” within the meaning of Article 17 (2) of the Charter of the United Nations.
With regard to remedies available to non-staff personnel, the Committee reiterated its long-standing views going back to the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly that the United Nations should ensure that effective remedies are available to all categories of personnel, including non-staff personnel, and recommending to continue the discussions on ways to provide non-staff personnel with access to fair and effective mechanisms for resolving work-related disputes. It also recommended that the Secretary-General provide, in his next report, additional information on the implementation of the five initiatives undertaken during the seventy-fourth session to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non staff personnel. The Committee further encouraged the continuation of the pilot project providing for access by non-staff personnel to the Office of Ombudsman and Mediation Services (UNOMS) within existing resources and requested UNOMS to include in its next report information regarding the expected resources that would be required to expand its mandate to cover non-staff.
On protection against retaliation, the Committee took note of the information provided in relation to staff members lodging cases before the Tribunals, and of the panel discussions held on retaliation policies. Reiterating the views it previously expressed in that regard, it requested that the reports prepared for the seventy-seventh session include further information on the progress made in the protection against retaliation for both staff and non-staff personnel;
Finally, the Committee considered it strongly advisable for the General Assembly to approve the amendment to article 48 of the Regulations of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, currently under consideration before the Fifth Committee, and the corresponding amendments to articles 2.9 and 7.2 of the statute of the Appeals Tribunal at the same time. It also recommended the approval of the amendments to articles 8.2 (a) and 9.2 (a) as well as 24, 25, 26 and 27 of the rules of procedure of the Appeals Tribunal, the text of which is reproduced in the enclosure to the draft letter.
Consideration of the item in the Fifth Committee
This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-seventh session (2022).