Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Can you practice what you preach? The administration of justice at the UN and due process


The UN’s justice system is a complicated and incoherent set of bodies which deal with disciplinary and labor related disputes between the organization and its employees (with a very restrictive definition of “employee”, I must say). It is no secret that the current system fails to comply with most of the judicial guarantees established on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report of a Redesign Panel set up in 2006 stated that:
“the administration of justice in the United Nations lags so far behind international human rights standards is a matter of urgent concern requiring immediate, adequate and effective remedial action” (A/61/205, para. 11)

“In summary, the structure of the formal justice system is both fragmented and overcentralized. It is slow, expensive and inefficient. It does not provide proper or adequate remedies and fails to guarantee individual rights. It promotes neither managerial efficiency nor accountability. It generally lacks transparency and fails to satisfy minimum requirements of the rule of law. It enjoys neither the confidence nor the respect of staff, management or Member States.” (A/61/205, para. 73)

Most of the recommendations of the Redesign Panel are in the process of been addressed. By resolution 62/228 of the General Assembly the Ombudsmen offices are being unified under the UN Ombudsman Office, a Mediation Division is in the process of being set up, and both regional and sub regional offices of the aforementioned entities will eventually be opened.

However, the final formal steps were completed last month with the adoption of GA resolution 63/253, which abolishes the Joint Appeals Boards (JAB) and Joint Disciplinary Committees (JDC) starting July 2009 and the United Nations Administrative Tribunal (UNAT) on 31 December 2009. It adopts the statutes of the newly constituted United Nations Dispute and Appeals Tribunals, which should start working on July too, and adopts transitional measures to be taken throughout this year.

I have not been able to find online the Resolution 63/253, so I do not know the details of the new formal system of administration of justice. However, the adoption of a two-tier formal system is a considerable improvement from the peer-review model of the JAB and JDC, and the one-tier model with no right of appeal of the UNAT. One of the promises of the new system is to reduce the length of the procedure, which under the current system is at least 3 years.

It only took 63 years for the UN to actually adopt a system for the administration of justice that reflects the human rights principles that it has been promoting since the adoption of the Universal Declaration. The question now is how much time it will take to make the system fully operational.

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