Monday, 5 January 2009

UN System Will Lack Justice Come January 2009

by Government Accountability Project

The UN’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) has released a report criticizing the Secretary-General for failing to implement General Assembly mandated internal justice reforms in a timely manner. 

In 2007, the UN General Assembly committed to establishing a new, independent justice system to ensure the due process rights of staff members and hold managers and other employees accountable. It was originally envisioned that this new system would take effect on January 1, 2008, but the General Assembly extended this deadline to January 1, 2009 at the request of the Secretariat. 

Now it appears that the Secretariat will also miss the January 2009 deadline. According to the ACABQ’s report:

Since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 62/228 in December 2007, none of the 30 posts authorized for the Office of Administration of Justice (18 new posts and 12 redeployments) have been filled…As a consequence of the lack of staff in the Office, as well as the fact that the statutes of the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals have not yet been adopted, delays have occurred in such areas as the development of procedures for the transition phase, a code of conduct for legal practitioners, terms of reference for the registries and a training and communications plan for the new system of internal justice…The procedures related to the new mechanisms of the disciplinary process, including the reporting of misconduct, investigations, the due process rights of staff, the evaluation of investigation reports and disciplinary proceedings, have not yet been completed. (paragraph 5 and 16(d))

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Joint Disciplinary Committee – one of two main bodies in the current UN justice system – has reportedly submitted a resignation letter, effective December 31, the sunset date of the current system. According to this letter, “there is no valid reason to continue, even as a transitional measure, to rely on this obsolete system. Justice will be much better served by focusing all efforts on launching the new system as soon as possible, and bringing all pending cases before it.”

This effectively means that unless the Secretary-General takes immediate action to complete the reform process, there will be no functioning justice system at the United Nations on January 1. In other words, whistleblowers and other employees at the United Nations – the organization charged with promoting human rights – may have no venue whatsoever through which to defend their own rights. 

This could not come at a worse time, as the number of people seeking relief through the justice system has recently increased, with an “exceptionally large number of new cases filed in the first half of 2008.” (paragraph 8) The number of disciplinary cases at the United Nations, jumped from 72 in 2006 to 277 thus far in 2008. (paragraph 10

As the legal cliché "justice delayed is justice denied" suggests, a delay in justice tends to be most harmful to the victim in the case and violates a person’s right to a speedy trial. Therefore, it is critical that the international body meet the January deadline. In doing so, however, the Secretary-General must also adhere to the recommendations made by the Redesign Panel in its original report and address the concerns raised by the UN Staff Union and seconded byGAP.

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