Speakers Voice Concern About Whistle‑Blower Protection, Managerial Accountability, as Fifth Committee Discusses United Nations System for Resolving Staff Disputes

GA/AB/4254
13 November 2017
Seventy-second Session, 14th Meeting (PM)

Speakers Voice Concern About Whistle‑Blower Protection, Managerial Accountability, as Fifth Committee Discusses United Nations System for Resolving Staff Disputes

Delegates expressed concern today about protection for whistle‑blowers and managerial accountability as well as staff’s lack of knowledge of dispute mechanisms at their disposal as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) examined the Organization’s track record for resolving conflict for tens of thousands of employees worldwide.

The Organization’s system for administering justice comprises formal and informal mechanisms to resolve disputes, including both a Dispute and Appeals Tribunal staffed by professional judges, the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, the Management Evaluation Unit, as well as the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Meditation Services.

On effective protection from retaliation, the delegate from Switzerland, also speaking for Liechtenstein, stressed the importance of an environment in which staff members felt safe reporting misconduct, or lodging a case with tribunals or appearing as a witness before them.  Observing that the latter two cases were still excluded from protection against retaliation, he called on the United Nations to remedy that situation. 

The representative of the United States echoed that sentiment, emphasizing that the United Nations could not be a transparent and accountable organization without adequate protection for those who reported wrongdoing, stressing, “there should be no fear of retaliation at the United Nations”.

Ecuador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that during the reporting period, no decision had been made on the accountability of managers whose decisions had been found to be grossly negligent and had led to litigation and financial losses, underscoring that such issues must be further analysed and addressed.  Moreover, she noted with concern the widespread lack of knowledge among staff members of the internal system of justice, as well as the high degree of self‑representation before the United Nations Dispute Tribunal despite the availability of free legal assistance. 

She went on to point out that most cases were related to benefits and entitlements, appointment matters and separation from service, and said the Group of 77 encouraged the positive trend of informal dispute resolution and emphasized the role of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services to prevent and resolve workplace conflict.

Japan’s representative, highlighting the importance of a culture of direct communication between management and staff, said that many cases before the justice system were a result of poor communication or misunderstandings about human resources policies.  He noted that while the number of requests for the services of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance and the Management Evaluation Unit had increased between 2015 and 2016, the number of applications and appeals received by the Tribunals had decreased.  “The system appears to be stabilizing”, he said. 

The representative of the European Union, meanwhile, supported efforts made to resolve cases without the need for litigation and recognized that the informal resolution of disputes was a crucial element in the administration of justice, which improved access to the justice system while reducing the need for expensive and time‑consuming procedures, benefitting both staff and management.  In that context, he was encouraged to see the increased use of informal mechanisms and the expansion of outreach activities undertaken by the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services.

Introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on that Office’s activities for 2016, Johnston Barkat, Assistant Secretary‑General and Ombudsman, noted that this year marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Secretariat’s informal dispute system, with a caseload that had reached 2,600 cases last year.  Such findings had reinforced the need for regular and frequent visits by the Office to hardship locations to provide support to staff and demonstrate the Organization’s caring. 

At the outset of the meeting, Alayne Frankson‑Wallace, Executive Director of the Office of Administration of Justice, presented the Secretary‑General’s report on the matter, noting that the caseload of the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals remained substantial, and in the case of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, was growing. 

Babou Sene, Vice‑Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administration and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) presented that Committee’s corresponding report.

In other business, Johannes Huisman, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts of the Department of Management, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on the use of the commitment authority and request for a subvention to the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, which contained a request for the Assembly to approve a $5.93 million subvention that would fund the Court’s activities for the biennium 2018‑2019, thus making up for a lack of voluntary funding.

Mr. Sene, presenting the Advisory Committee’s corresponding report, said appropriating that entire amount would undermine the voluntary nature of the Court’s current funding arrangements.  As an alternative, he said, the ACABQ recommended granting authority to spend no more than $2.3 million for 2018 to supplement any voluntary financial resources.  He added that, with no pledges or contributions forthcoming, the Secretary‑General’s personal engagement was needed to increase the level of voluntary contributions.

Sierra Leone’s representative, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said dire financial difficulties had seriously challenged the Court’s operations.  Despite fundraising efforts, the Court had received only $150,000 for 2017 and nothing for 2018‑2019.  Considering that subvention was only a temporary measure, he said his Government would keep working closely with Member States and others to preserve the Court’s legacy by promoting accountability and ensuring a long‑term sustainable means of funding, while at the same time maintaining the Court’s judicial independence and independent legal personality.

Also speaking today was the representative of Canada, also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at a time and date to be announced in the Journal.

Administration of Justice

ALAYNE FRANKSON‑WALLACE, Executive Director of the Office of Administration of Justice, presented the Secretary‑General’s report on the administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/72/204), noting that the report offered broad views on statistics spanning from the inception of the system in 2009 until 2016.  A review of caseload statistics for the management evaluation function indicated that the caseload of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal remained substantial, and in the case of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, was growing.  Since 2011, an increasing percentage of requests for management evaluation received by the Management Evaluation Unit had come from staff in peacekeeping missions, she underscored, adding that in 2016 it was nearly 71 per cent.  Staff in peacekeeping missions in the field continued to constitute the Office of Staff Legal Assistance’s single largest client group, and in 2016, 37 per cent of all requests for legal assistance came from staff in the field. 

She said that the subject matter categories of applications filed before the Dispute Tribunal included benefits and entitlements, appointment‑related issues and separation from service.  There continued to be a substantial number of self‑represented staff members appearing before the Dispute Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal, and efforts to resolve applications in the formal system through informal means continued.  A discernible link between decisions that affected large numbers of staff members and recourse by staff members to the formal system continued to be observed in 2016, and was reflected in the presence of group or cluster cases.  The report provided responses to specific requests by the General Assembly and the Fifth Committee related to a wide range of subjects, she said, drawing attention to the Assembly’s decision to consider the issues related to resource requirements for improving the functioning of a transparent, professional, adequately resourced and decentralized administration of justice system. 

Turning to the report of the Internal Justice Council on the administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/72/210), she highlighted that the report included the Council’s views and recommendations on the system of administration of justice, and it corresponded to the Secretary‑General’s report regarding recommendations for additional resources.

JOHNSTON BARKAT, Assistant Secretary‑General and United Nations Ombudsman, presenting the Secretary‑General’s report on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/72/138), noted that this year marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Secretariat’s informal dispute system, with a caseload that had reached 2,600 cases in 2016.  In the area of prevention, he said the Office had intensified its efforts worldwide to promote informal resolution of workplace disputes and help staff and managers better address workplace conflict.  It also had expanded its strategic use of data and analytics through the use of focus groups as well as surveys in 38 Secretariat departments and peacekeeping missions across 19 countries.

“Over 60 per cent of staff surveyed experienced workplace conflict which they felt impacted their productivity and well‑being and levels of stress above what they considered acceptable,” he said.  Such findings had reinforced the need for regular and frequent visits by the Office to hardship locations to provide support to staff and demonstrate the Organization’s caring.  Emphasizing the preventative role of intervention efforts to resolve workplace concerns at an early stage, he said most of the more than 1,600 dispute resolution cases in 2016 originated in peacekeeping missions, special political missions and offices away from Headquarters.  Consistent with past trends, the predominant concerns among staff related to job and career, evaluative relationships, and compensation and benefits.

“By dealing with the concerns of managers and staff on a daily basis we are able to test the pulse of the Organization, provide much‑needed support and pave the way for systemic change,” he said, emphasizing the wide range of challenges faced by staff members, including hardship, security threats, job security, dealing with change and transitions, and risks to physical and psychological health.  Going forward, it would be critical for the United Nations to ensure that staff members were properly equipped to serve, that their rights were preserved and protected, and that their well‑being was being promoted and safeguarded.  Noting that his term as Ombudsman was coming to an end, he said that, as the designated informal pillar of the internal justice system, the Office was deeply committed to working with all concerned, including its partners in the formal system, to further common goals.

BABOU SENE, Vice‑Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), presenting its corresponding report on the Administration of justice at the United Nations and activities of the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/72/7/Add.19), said that the Advisory Committee considered that the supplemental staff funding mechanism had provided sufficient funding to recruit a number of staff and recommended that the mechanism be regularized.  In view of the increased caseload of the Management Evaluation Unit, the Advisory Committee considered that the request for the additional capacity was justified and recommended approval of resources needed for a Legal Officer (P-3) position under general temporary assistance.  Regarding the Dispute Tribunal, the Advisory Committee recommended that the mandate of three ad litem judges be extended for one year, together with funding of the staff supporting them through general temporary assistance.  The Advisory Committee was of the view that the judicial and administrative work taking place between the Administrative Tribunal’s sessions should be compensated and therefore recommended the approval of $600 for each interlocutory motion adjudicated by an appeals judge and a stipend of $1,500 per month to the President of the Appeals Tribunal.

AMÉRICA LOURDES PEREIRA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted with concern the widespread lack of knowledge among staff members of the internal system of justice, as well as the high degree of self‑representation before the Dispute Tribunal despite the availability of free legal assistance.  Moreover, during the reporting period, no decision was taken vis‑à‑vis the accountability of managers whose decisions had been found to be grossly negligent and had led to litigation and financial losses.  Such issues must be further analysed and addressed, she said.  Noting that a majority of cases were related to benefits and entitlements, appointment matters and separation from service, she said the Group of 77 encouraged the positive trend of informal dispute resolution and emphasized the role of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services to prevent and resolve workplace conflict.  At the same time, the Group welcomed a decline in the number of pending applications and appeals, denoting the Tribunals’ efforts to speed up the treatment of cases.

She went on to note the Secretary‑General’s proposals for establishing new posts, additional permanent justices in lieu of the current three ad litem judges, and payment of interlocutory motions adjudicated by the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and the stipend to its President.  The Group also noted the Secretary‑General’s intention to convene a conference to mark the tenth anniversary of the administration of justice system in 2019.  She said the Group would consider each proposal on its own merit, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 71/266, which intended to provide resources to improve the administration of justice.  On financing the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, she said that, four years after the introduction, on an experimental basis, of a voluntary supplemental staff funding mechanism, lessons should be drawn with a view to putting into place sustainable financing for that Office.

Mr. FISHER (Switzerland), speaking also for Liechtenstein, welcomed progress made towards implementing the recommendations of the Interim Independent Assessment Panel, while noting room for improvement.  “A fair and efficient system of internal justice will ultimately lead to fewer cases and faster processing,” he said, expressing support for strengthening existing structures.  As such, the Office of Staff Legal Assistance played a fundamental role in securing equality of arms between staff members and the Administration.  He also underscored the importance of settling work‑related disputes with non‑staff personnel, noting that almost half the workforce had no access to the internal administration of justice system.  That problematic situation posed legal and reputational risks to the Organization, which should ensure a system by which all personnel categories had access to effective remedies.  Turning to effective protection against retaliation, he stressed the importance of an environment in which staff members felt safe reporting misconduct, or lodging a case with tribunals or appearing as a witness before them.  Observing that the latter two cases were still excluded from protection against retaliation, he called on the United Nations to remedy that situation. 

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, stressed that the system of the administration of justice was one of the cornerstones of a well‑functioning United Nations, and in that context, steps must be taken to ensure that the system embodied the principles of independence, transparency and professionalism.  The European Union supported efforts made to resolve cases without the need for litigation and recognized that the informal resolution of disputes was a crucial element in the administration of justice, which improved access to the justice system while reducing the need for expensive and time‑consuming procedures, which benefitted both staff and management.  In that context, the bloc was encouraged to see the increased use of informal mechanisms and the expansion of outreach activities undertaken by the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services.  Further, the European Union believed that improvements to the system of justice were to be viewed in the context of wider human and budget resource requirements and called on the General Assembly to ensure that any changes were justified in terms of real need and clear qualitative outputs.

KEISUKE FUKUDA (Japan) noted that while the number of requests for the services of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance and the Management Evaluation Unit had increased between 2015 and 2016, the number of applications and appeals received by the Tribunals had decreased.  “The system appears to be stabilizing,” he said emphasizing that the resources necessary for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance should be covered by financial contributions from its beneficiaries.  Highlighting the importance of a culture of direct communication between management and staff, he said that many cases before the justice system were a result of poor communication or misunderstandings about human resources policies.

CHERITH A. NORMAN CHALET (United States) said her Government remained concerned that most of the cases brought before the administration of justice system continued to be related to benefits and entitlements, separation of service and appointment‑related matters.  “While we understand that not all disputes can be resolved without assistance from the dispute mechanisms, clearer communication and explanation of the Organization’s rules, regulations and administrative decisions can effectively prevent many disputes that result in litigation,” she said.  She emphasized that the United Nations could not be a transparent and accountable organization without adequate protection for those who reported wrongdoing, adding, “there should be no fear of retaliation at the United Nations”.  She went on to recognize the efforts undertaken by the Offices of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services in successfully mediating 89 per cent of cases referred to them by the Dispute Tribunal, other offices or self‑referral, although she noted the continued need to enhance outreach to staff, especially in the field, so that they better understood their rights and obligations under the Staff Regulations and Rules.

Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone

JOHANNES HUISMAN, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts of the Department of Management, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on the use of the commitment authority and request for a subvention to the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (document A/72/384).  He explained that the report addressed the use of a $2.8 million commitment authority for 2017, authorized through General Assembly resolution 71/272, to supplement the Residual Special Court’s voluntary financial resources.  Despite the Secretary‑General’s efforts, the Government of Sierra Leone and key donors to the Court, including the member States of the Oversight Committee as well as intensive fundraising efforts by the Principals of the Court, there were neither adequate voluntary resources for the Court nor prospects for additional voluntary resources.  Given that situation, he said the Secretary‑General was requesting the Assembly to approve a subvention of $5.93 million to fund the Court’s activities for the biennium 2018‑2019.

Mr. SENE, speaking again for the ACABQ, presented its corresponding report (document A/72/7/Add.20), saying that a decision to appropriate the entire amount of $5.93 million would undermine the voluntary nature of the Court’s current funding arrangements.  Moreover, after three consecutive requests for subventions, including the current request, the practice was no longer exceptional in nature.  However, given the need to ensure funding, the Advisory Committee recommended granting authority to spend no more than $2.3 million for 2018 to supplement any voluntary financial resources.  He added that, with no pledges or contributions forthcoming, the Secretary‑General’s personal engagement was needed to increase the level of voluntary contributions.

Ms. PEREIRA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador), speaking again for the Group of 77 and China, said consideration of the administrative and financial aspects of the Court remained one of the most important items on the Group’s agenda.  Recalling that General Assembly resolution 71/272 had authorized the commitment of $2.8 million for the Court in 2017, she noted the details of its use and the Court’s current financial status.  On fundraising activities, she expressed concern about the lack of future voluntary contributions and sustainable funding, which could negatively affect the delivery of the Court’s mandate.  Highlighting the unpredictable nature of voluntary contributions, she emphasized the need for a long‑term sustainable funding mechanism for the Court, preferably through Member State assessments.  The Group would be ready to examine staffing, logistical support and administrative arrangements during informal consultations.

SOPHIE PICHÉ (Canada), also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said the Court had played an essential role in helping Sierra Leone and its region by preventing the resurgence of conflict.  The Court had become a model for other tribunals by promoting the role of an impartial and functioning criminal judicial system in building a peaceful and just society.  Yet without adequate resources, the Court would be unable to continue its operation in 2018, she cautioned.  Canada, Australia and New Zealand looked forward to finding a solution that would enable the Court to achieve its mandate and continue to play its role.

FELIX ALIE KOROMA (Sierra Leone), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, recalled that it was agreed that the Court was to be funded by voluntary contributions from the international community, which had proven insufficient and unpredictable.  “Consequently, the dire financial difficulties have posed serious challenges to the operations of the Court,” he said.  To address its financial constraints, the Court and its Oversight Committee had been preoccupied with annual fundraising efforts.  Still, the Court had received only $150,000 for 2017 and no contributions nor pledges to pay for its 2018‑2019 budget of $5.9 million.  Taking into consideration that subvention was only a temporary measure, his Government would continue to work closely with Member States and other development partners to preserve the legacy of the Court by promoting accountability as well as ensuring a long‑term sustainable means of funding the entity, while maintaining its judicial independence and independent legal personality.  Further, his Government believed the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague should continue to provide logistical and administrative support to the Court, on a cost‑reimbursable basis.

For information media. Not an official record.