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PRESS CONFERENCE BY PANEL ON UNITED NATIONS INTERNAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

20 July 2006

The United Nations did not have an efficient, effective, independent and well-resourced internal justice system, and a fundamental overhaul of its internal justice system was needed, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, by members of the panel of experts appointed by the Secretary-General to explore ways to redesign the system.

Outlining the panel’s major recommendations, submitted to the Secretary-General today (see Press Release ORG/1470), panel member Diego Garcia-Sayan (Peru) said the panel had, in the last six months, interviewed several stakeholders, including senior managers, individual staff and staff unions. The panel of experts, also known as the “Redesign Panel”, had also travelled to such places as Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Santiago and Haiti. Joining Mr. Garcia-Sayan, were fellow panellists Mary Gaudron ( Australia), Louise Otis ( Canada), Ahmed El-Kosheri ( Egypt), Kingsley Moghalu ( Nigeria) and Sinha Basnayaka ( Sri Lanka).

Among the major changes proposed by the panel at the informal level, he said, was the strengthening of the Ombudsman’s Office, including its capacity to mediate conflicts within the Organization and prevent conflicts from developing to the point that required consideration by the formal justice case system. In that regard, the panel had proposed the merger of different ombudsman offices throughout the United Nations system.

At the formal level, he said the panel had concluded that the system based on the Joint Appeals Board/Joint Disciplinary Committee did not work, as it was too costly, too cumbersome in its procedures and involved too many people. In that regard, the panel had proposed the abolition of the Joint Appeals Board/Joint Disciplinary Committee and its replacement with a professionalized judicial body of first instance, with authority to issue binding decisions, with the United Nations Administrative Tribunal as an appellate tribunal, and the establishment of a standing, professionalized office of counsel to provide legal advice and representation for staff members. The panel envisaged that the new system could be working by 1 January 2008, he added.

Stressing the link between the panel’s work and the Organization’s overall reform, Mr. Moghalu said it was the panel’s view that the current culture in the Organization existed, because it was not underpinned by a culture of accountability, which could not exist without a properly functioning justice system. A new system was, therefore, indispensable for the success of the overall reform package.

On the decentralization of the system, he said the panel had found that staff members in the field were cut off from what was going on and often had no clue about their rights in the system. In that connection, the panel had proposed that the new United Nations dispute tribunal would be based not only in New York, Geneva and Vienna, but also in a number of other regional duty stations, such as Santiago and Bangkok.

In the current system, staff members were assisted by volunteers, some of whom were lawyers, he continued. In that regard, the panel had proposed a standing office, funded by the Organization, so that any staff member could receive professional legal advice and assistance. That office would be based in the major duty stations, as well as in some larger peacekeeping operations. As most of the Organization’s staff worked in the field, the panel had kept field staff in mind as a priority in the redesign proposals.

How closely did the panel’s recommendations track with those of Jeffrey Robertson’s group? a correspondent asked.

Responding, Mr. Moghalu explained that the New York Staff Union had decided to engage a group of experts headed by Jeffrey Robertson to advise it. Jeffrey Robertson’s group had worked on behalf of the Staff Union and had submitted its report to the Redesign Panel, which greatly valued its input. By the time the panel had received the proposals, however, it had almost completed its work. The Staff Union’s report was basically along the same lines of the Panel’s recommendations. Many of his recommendations had already been addressed in the Redesign Panel’s proposals.

The Redesign Panel had also considered the management’s views, he said. The panel saw itself as working for the Organization, where as the Robertson group had worked for the Staff Union.

Mr. Garcia-Sayan added that the panel had had several working meetings with Member States, including the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States and Japan. Everybody felt the current system was too inefficient and expensive.

Responding to another question, Ms. Gaudron said the panel had proposed a system that was close to a proper national justice system. In that regard, the panel had proposed public hearings and the pronouncement of judgments in English and French, or other official languages when necessary, published on the United Nations Intranet and the Internet. Over time, a consistent jurisprudence, applicable throughout the entire system, would be developed.

Mr. El-Kosheri added that, among its recommendations, the panel had thought it was in the best interest of the Organization to have class action.

Would charges be public and would the press be able to attend hearings? a correspondent asked.

Mr. Gaudron said the panel had had in mind a significant alteration to the present disciplinary proceedings. Instead of the present system, in which management could propose summary dismissal, the executive heads of office would have the power to impose disciplinary measures in consultation with a panel on misconduct. Thereafter, the staff member would have the immediate right to go to the tribunal to seek suspension of action on grounds that were better defined than at present.

Responding to another question, she said there would be no one judge who was in total command of a particular domain. The panel would expect that the publication of recent decisions would result in a consistent jurisprudence throughout the system. The panel had not developed a system of justice out of

“thin air”, but had tried to embody the sort of jurisprudence that currently existed for most international organizations, including the World Bank.

In terms of speed, she noted that, with full-time judges, decisions would be issued more quickly. The problem of delay related to the availability of volunteers in the joint consultative bodies. The panel envisaged much shorter procedures. The panel had also proposed a system of registrars experienced in case management and case-tracking, in order to ensure that things were done on time. The panel had also suggested time frames for each of the steps in the proceedings, as well as the use of modern court management software.

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For information media • not an official record



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