- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007


The U.N. General Assembly last week approved a radical overhaul of the organization’s internal justice system, a change that could leave the Secretariat with far less control over the outcomes of grievances within the sprawling organization.

The world body unanimously approved the plan, which would simplify the system into two tiers: for disputes and appeals.

Just as importantly, U.N. officials in human resources and management would no longer have the power to reject a verdict unfavorable to the organization, nor would they be able to spike a case that has been approved by the ombudsman. In addition, a mediation unit will be set up to handle less fractious disputes.

Drafters, including two panels of legal specialists, agreed with the need to overhaul the current system in which grievances such as sexual harassment, wrongful dismissal or failure to promote take up to five years to adjudicate.

Because of complex legal agreements with its host countries, U.N. staffers may not take their grievances to national courts, but must rely on the internal justice system that was created in 1948. The draft accepted by the budget committee of the assembly rejects several of the Secretariat’s concerns to create a less politicized, more impartial system of justice.

“The existing system served nobody well, not the staff, not the managers and ultimately, not the organization or the member states,” General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed al Khalifa said in a rare speech to member states.

The $37 million overhaul adopted by the general assembly still must be fully funded, providing for extensive legal training, the hiring of judges and staff, and the creation of tribunals in U.N. duty stations around the world.

“If you count the money the U.N. is paying now to settle grievances and pay [bad managers] to leave, and all the people on paid leave until their case is heard, the new system will cost less than what we’ve got now,” said Emad Hassanin, the vice president of the Staff Union, which commissioned its own redesign.

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