Delegates Conclude Debate about Crimes against Humanity, Begin Consideration of Report on Treaty Framework
As the Sixth Committee (Legal) took up the Secretary‑General’s annual reports on the administration of justice at the United Nations today, speakers welcomed the increased number of cases disposed by the Dispute Tribunal, while also highlighting the work of the Management Evaluation Unit in resolving issues before they proceeded to litigation.
Before the Committee were the reports of the Secretary‑General, “Administration of justice at the United Nations” (documents A/75/162 and A/75/162/Add.1), “Activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services” (document A/75/160) and the report of the Internal Justice Council, “Administration of justice at the United Nations” (document A/75/154).
The representative of Jamaica praised the enhanced efficiency displayed by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal in 2019, pointing out that the body disposed of 389 cases that year compared to 285 in 2018. He also observed that the overwhelming majority of requests for management evaluations submitted to the Secretariat did not proceed to the Dispute Tribunal, acknowledging the work of the Secretariat’s Management Evaluation Unit in this regard.
The representative of the Netherlands echoed those sentiments, welcoming the increase in judgments delivered by the Dispute Tribunal despite a significant remaining backlog of cases. She also called for the continuation of a pilot project that offers non‑staff members access to informal dispute‑resolution services, stressing the importance of having a strong, efficient internal administration of justice system accessible to both staff and non‑staff.
The representative of the Russian Federation voiced his support for the efforts of the Dispute Tribunal and the Management Evaluation Unit, highlighting the importance of resolving cases at a stage earlier than litigation and reducing the backlog of cases before the Dispute Tribunal. However, he emphasized, it was important to ensure that the methodology used to appoint judges adequately ensured that different regions and legal systems were represented.
The Committee also took up the report of the Secretary‑General, “Review of the regulations to give strengthening and promoting the international treaty framework effect to Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations” (document A/75/136), with delegates underscoring the issue of treaty translations and highlighting new challenges and solutions — due to the COVID-19 pandemic — that arose for treaty registration.
The representative of Italy, also speaking for Argentina, Austria, Brazil and Singapore, recalled the report highlighted that the obligation to register treaties was not being met with universal compliance, but instead remained geographically imbalanced. However, he also pointed out that provisions allowing for the electronic registration of treaties have proved essential during the pandemic, as ordinary obstacles to the process had been exacerbated by limitations on in‑person meetings and access to physical resources.
Moldova’s representative also highlighted the value of electronic registration, saying that an online registration tool would ease the registration and publication of international treaties. She reminded the Committee that English and French translations of registered treaties are provided as a courtesy to States, with the Secretariat undertaking this task when no such translation is provided. She called for this practice to be reconfirmed, as it contributes to the dissemination of international law.
However, the representative of El Salvador observed that translation practice resulted in delayed registration for a large number of unilateral notifications issued by States during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Acknowledging multilingualism as a core value of the United Nations, she suggested that the Secretariat translate registered and published treaties into any one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
At the top of the meeting, the Committee concluded its debate on crimes against humanity, as delegates continued to discuss the merits of codifying the International Law Commission’s draft articles into a comprehensive convention.
The representative of Senegal stated that the draft articles are a credible, relevant basis for a future convention and called on all delegations to begin an inclusive, open debate on how to quickly overcome all major impediments to elaborating such an instrument.
The representative of the Philippines, however, said that a convention based on those draft texts was a conceptual leap that required further consideration, underlining that such review was part of a process that could not proceed in haste. (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3618.)
The representatives of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Monday, 19 October, to conclude its discussion on strengthening and promoting the international treaty framework and to begin discussion of the rule of law at the national and international levels.
Administration of Justice at the United Nations
The representative of the European Union delegation said efficient functioning of the administration of justice is key to deliver on the principle of rule of law within the United Nations system. While welcoming the positive trend in the backlog reduction of old cases on the Dispute Tribunal docket, she said more progress is needed to avoid a piling up of pending cases, given the expected receipt of 300 new cases annually. The recommendations of the Internal Justice Council could contribute to improving the accountability, transparency and efficiency of the internal justice system. Thanking the Secretary‑General for the five initiatives to improve the prevention and resolution of disputes involving non‑staff personnel, she said the pilot project gives access to the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services for non‑staff personnel. However, she also noted pointed out that the majority of non‑staff cases, amounting to 62 per cent, are from field operations.
The representative of the United States expressed his appreciation for the efforts of the Dispute Tribunal and the Appeals Tribunal of the United Nations as they continued their work through the difficult working conditions posed by the global pandemic. This spirit of creative adaptation must continue and translate into further efficiency and resiliency in the future. Also of note was the progress made on reducing the backlog of cases before the tribunals, he said, acknowledging that the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services provide an opportunity for neutral dispute resolution to thousands of staff. Welcoming the publication earlier this year of a digest of the judicial decisions of the tribunals, he said the transparency of the system is critically important so that staff, their representatives, and the General Assembly can better understand how the tribunals are carrying out administrative justice.
The representative of Jamaica expressed his support for efforts to ensure that well‑established principles of law – such as separation of powers and judicial independence – govern the management of the administration of justice. He praised the United Nations Dispute Tribunal for its enhanced efficiency during 2019, as the body increased its overall number of disposed cases from 285 in 2018 to 389 in 2019. He also highlighted the work of the Secretariat’s Management Evaluation Unit, noting that the overwhelming majority of requests for management evaluations submitted to the Secretariat did not proceed to the Dispute Tribunal. Also welcomed was the Secretary‑General’s request to provide the General Assembly with an overview of, and recommendations on, the conditions of service and appointment requirements for members of the Internal Justice Council, which would increase the transparency of the nomination process for judicial candidates.
The representative of the Russian Federation highlighted the need for regular reviews of the administration of justice system to promote its continued improvement. It was also important to ameliorate the system used to appoint judges to ensure adequate representation of different regions and legal systems. He welcomed efforts to reduce the backlog in cases before the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the role played by the Management Evaluation Unit in resolving disputes at an earlier stage. Due to COVID‑19 and the Sixth Committee’s heavy workload, he proposed that amendments to the draft resolution on the matter, other than technical updates, be postponed until the next session of the General Assembly so that the work of the judicial system not be negatively affected.
The representative of China, acknowledging the progress made in the internal justice system, highlighted the agreement between the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, giving Court staff recourse to the Organization’s internal justice system. Noting that United Nations staff members have no recourse to national courts, he said that both informal and formal internal justice systems must uphold the rule of law in order to ensure fairness and justice within the Organization. Welcoming the informal dispute settlement process and stressing the need to strengthen that approach, he encouraged the United Nations to find flexible and pragmatic ways to resolve disputes. Taking note of the pilot project offering informal dispute settlement for non‑staff personnel, he stressed it was vital to build a robust system for safeguarding the rights of staff. In addition, the persistent backlog of cases has become a major challenge, he observed, and the Organization must explore new measures to provide timely, high‑quality judgements.
The representative of the Netherlands, aligning herself with the European Union, pointed out that 2019 marked the tenth anniversary of the administration of justice at the United Nations. She noted the increase in judgments delivered by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal in 2019 and welcomed this development despite the significant remaining backlog. She also praised the work of the United Nations Ombudsman, including that of regional ombudsman offices, which provides a safe, accessible and cost‑effective way for all staff members to discuss any workplace concerns. Further, she expressed her support for the continuation of the pilot project offering non‑staff members access to informal dispute‑resolution services. It was important that there was a strong, efficient system for the internal administration of justice which was accessible by both staff and non‑staff.
Strengthening and Promoting the International Treaty Framework
The representative of Italy, also speaking for Argentina, Austria, Brazil and Singapore, said that the Secretary‑General’s report on strengthening the international treaty framework showed that the obligation to register treaties was not being met with universal compliance, but instead remained geographically imbalanced. However, provisions allowing for electronic registration of treaties have proved essential during the pandemic, as ordinary obstacles to registration have been exacerbated by limitations on in‑person meetings and access to physical resources. Further, the Secretary‑General’s report identified areas where further reform was possible, while also highlighting the important role the Treaty Section played in supporting Member States and enhancing legal certainty in international relations. He urged the Committee to use this agenda item as a forum to discuss further issues related to international treaties and treaty law going forward.
The representative of Finland, also speaking for Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Sweden, said that easily accessible registration and publication of treaties was an important element of the rules‑based international order. Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations provides that every treaty and international agreement entered into by any Member State after the entry into force of the Charter shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published. However, a significant number of treaties in force remain unregistered. Voicing appreciation for the ongoing efforts to improve the electronic treaty database, she noted diverging views between Member States on the responsibility of translating treaties into one of the official languages of the Organization. Acknowledging the heavy burden on the Secretariat because of the requirement that the full texts of all published treaties be translated into English and French, she emphasized that multilingualism is a core value of the Organization, and such translation is important for the transparency of international law and accessibility of treaties.
The representative of Argentina noted her support for the work of the Office of Legal Assistance and the Treaty Section and added her praise for contributions made by Member States to the Secretary‑General’s report regarding potential new reforms on this issue. The Sixth Committee must, however, discuss whether it is worth expending the effort to translate an increasingly large number of treaties. Acknowledging the practical limitations, she urged that these instruments be translated into any of the six official languages of the United Nations if they were not drafted in one of them. This would constitute a step towards linguistic equality while also producing savings for the United Nations and Member States.
The representative of Singapore, associating himself with Italy’s statement, said that a rules‑based multilateral system is essential to small countries such as his. Treaties are an indispensable tool in international relations and thereby contribute to upholding the rule of law. The current agenda item provided the General Assembly an opportunity to update the regulations concerning Article 102, he said, also calling on delegates to consider how these regulations could be further improved. Encouraging all Member States to share their best practices and ideas on a wide variety of treaty‑related topics, he said special attention should be given to making effective use of information technology to strengthen treaty‑related processes.
The representative of the Republic of Moldova said an online registration tool would ease registration and publication of international treaties, reducing geographical statistical imbalance of the number of treaties submitted for registration and benefiting States, practitioners and academia. To increase the number of registered treaties, the requirement of providing translation in English and in French is a courtesy for States and not an obligation. Should a translation in one of those two languages not be provided by States, the Secretariat kindly undertakes the translation, contributing to the dissemination of international law. Therefore, in case of a further amendment to article 5 of the Regulations, this course of action should be clearly reconfirmed. She also voiced support to the proposal of extending discussions on this topic. Widening debates to include States’ practices on reservations and declarations to treaties, withdrawal of signature or instruments of accession, or obsolescence of treaties would be helpful for States building up their treaty‑making practice.
The representative of El Salvador, voicing satisfaction at the valuable work of the Treaty Section, noted some persistent concerns regarding challenges in the facilitation of timely registration and publication. It was also necessary to reduce the costs involved. Turning to the question of translating treaties into English and French, she recalled the General Assembly resolution acknowledging multilingualism as a core value of the United Nations. Therefore, when registering and publishing treaties, they should be translated into any of the six official languages. However, during the COVID‑19 pandemic, this became a pressing issue, she noted, pointing to the large number of unilateral notifications issued by the States. Since these needed to be translated into French and English, it caused a delay with the registration which was unfortunate since their content was highly relevant.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Israel, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Iran, Armenia, Colombia, South Africa (also speaking for the African Group), Canada (also speaking for Australia and New Zealand), Switzerland, and Mexico, as well as an observer from the State of Palestine.