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UN Week – 11/7/2011

December 1, 2011

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

by John and Douglas Carey

Contents of this issue: justice at the UN; Ombudsman Office; legal aid; recourse for non-staff persons.

           On November 1st, remarks made in the General Assembly’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee by the US Minister Counselor for UN Management and Reform, Stephen Lieberman, included the following:

“The General Assembly, through its resolutions 61/261, 62/228 and 63/253, decided to establish ‘an independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of Administration of Justice.’ These resolutions represent a landmark achievement for the Administration of Justice at the United Nations, constituting a major milestone in the reform of the United Nations. The resolutions, among other things, created a new formal system of justice consisting of two new judicial bodies, the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, and an expanded and reinvigorated system administered by the Office of the Ombudsman for informally resolving staff disputes with staff. These measures, along with other innovative reforms, have brought the United Nations’ internal justice system into the 21st Century. The new Administration of Justice system is already having a significant positive impact on the transparency, fairness, efficiency, and accountability of the United Nations personnel system.

“My delegation,” said Lieberman, “is impressed by the professionalism and productivity of the new system, and wants to particularly thank the Judges and all of the UN staff who worked on these issues for their tireless efforts. Collectively, they have all contributed to making the new system a success. However, the system is still evolving and there remain problems to be addressed. Indeed, the General Assembly anticipated that there would be such problems when it established the new system, and indicated that the progress in implementing the new system would need to be carefully monitored. To that end, the General Assembly decided that it would conduct a comprehensive review of the implementa-tion of the new system at its 66th Session, after the system had been in place for some two years. This agenda item, and thus this review, have been allocated to both the Fifth and the Sixth Committees.

“The Secretary General’s report covers  * * * proposals requested by the General Assembly to address a number of outstanding issues. These include issues relating to a recourse mechanism for non-staff members to obtain relief regarding their disputes with the Organization and for staff funded mechanisms to support the Office for Staff Legal Assistance. The Report also includes a request for substantial additional resources to strengthen key areas in the system.

“The report provided by the Internal Justice Council (A/66/158) addresses many of the same issues. However, we note that it also addresses the outstanding issues of a code of conduct for the judges of the tribunals as well as a mechanism for dealing with allegations of misconduct by the judges.

“The report on the Office of the Ombudsman highlights a number of developments relating to the activities of the Office during the past year including in regard to the establishment of regional branches of the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services, and the implementation of new initiatives to encourage recourse to informal resolution of disputes. The report also includes a request for additional resources.

“We think that all of these recommendations deserve careful consideration. We look forward to receiving the views of the Sixth Committee on the legal aspects of issues that the Secretary General has identified in relation to the statutes of the Tribunals and the rules of procedure, and other matters raised by these reports. * * * In this respect, we recall the expectations and hopes repeatedly expressed by all concerned that the new system would encourage more reliance on informal dispute resolution and reduce reliance on litigation in the formal part of the system.

“In the current fiscal crisis, while fully respecting the need to adequately resource the new system, it is incumbent on the Secretary General and Member States to carefully scrutinize all requests to ensure that they are fully justified and reflect the best use of the limited resources of the Organization. In that respect, we look forward to working closely with our colleagues in the Secretariat and the Committee in conducting a thorough and careful review of the Secretary General’s requests.

“While we are still studying the reports, we would like to take this opportunity to make a few preliminary comments. Initially, we welcome the Secretary General’s proposal for a recourse mechanism for individuals who are not United Nations staff. We believe that, in principle, the proposal provides a fair, effective and efficient recourse mechanism for such individuals. We look forward to the discussion of that proposal as well as the Secretary General’s proposals for a staff funded mechanism for Office of Staff Legal Assistance.”

          While the concept of Ombudsman is familiar at the UN and in some companies, and legal aid systems are widespread. What is truly novel, if not unprecedented, is the notion that non-staff persons can have recourse to the internal justice system of an organization they do not belong to.

          That’s all for this November 7th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send your own views on these or other UN-related questions to

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