ADR in a Multicultural Political Setting: A Look at the U.N. Joint Appeals Boards

Article excerpt

In this article, Stephen Baldwin focuses on the "internal law" system of the United Nations and., specifically, on the workings of the U.N. Administrative Law Unit (ALU) and the Joint Appeals Board (JAB). Baldwin's analysis of these dispute resolution bodies encompasses a number of aspects, from the procedural to the political and highlights how the U.N.'s "extraordinary diversity" imposes unique challenges on its dispute resolution process.

Most current discussion of the United Nations as an institution tends to focus on extremes. What we might call "youthful idealism" views occupy one end of the continuum and are colored by the Charter's ringing preamble and text and, perhaps, distant high-school class visits to the East River's soaring monolith. On the other extreme is the cynical western press text: that the U.N. is at best confused and weak, at worst venal, sinister, and darkly undemocratic.

The truth is that the U.N. functions, and functions quietly, humanely, and quite well, in a number of areas that largely receive favorable attention only by the Third World that benefits from them. In addition, capitalizing on, rather than suffering from, its enormous multicultural base, the United Nations has begun to lift itself a respectable level away from a lowest common denominator managerial style in a number of areas, beginning with handling its own internal affairs. One such area is its management of basic employer-employee relations.

The Joint Appeals Board (JAB) of the U.N. secretariat is only a part-but an essential part-of a complex system of administrative law and dispute resolution that governs employees at the U.N. Employer-employee relations of the U.N. must accommodate an extraordinary level of diversity:

... (O)ther (than a few manual workers recruited locally) employees of an international organization-those carrying out clerical, executive or administrative duties, and variously, described as officials, agents, staff members, members of the Secretariat, etc-are not subject to any municipal system of law. International administrative tribunals, which have been set up to judge disputes between them and the organizations, have almost invariably held that they are subject to the internal law of the organization.1

This article describes the "internal law" system and focuses on the central role of the JAB.

In accordance with the organization's large, complex, and constantly-changing staff rules, administrative decisions that affect staff members in various ways are delegated to and made by representatives of its chief administrator, the secretary general.

When a staff member wishes to contest or appeal a particular decision, his or her first recourse is to request review, in writing, within two months of receiving notification of the decision in question.2 This request, which is directed to the secretary general, normally goes to a small (currently three-lawyer) office called the Administrative Law Unit (ALU), which may have jurisdiction over upward of 300 cases a year, worldwide, since its jurisdiction extends well beyond the New York headquarters.

At this stage, every effort is made to settle the issue by means other than proceeding to the next formal step-submission of a formal filing of appeal to the Joint Appeals Board (JAB); perhaps 100 cases actually proceed to the JAB stage.3 Very recently, however-beginning in approximately mid-to-late 1997-a "new climate" arose within the entire administration of justice. This new environment, featuring an "open-door" approach to dealing with disputes or potential disputes even before they become susceptible of mediation, has already resulted in a 40% reduction of disputes in 1998.4

The ALU has a number of ways to effect resolution of conflict at its early stage, limited only (but significantly) by:

a) a statutory inability to make financial decisions directly;

b) the small size of its staff; and

c) the imagination, energy, and goodwill not only of its own staff, but those of other offices with which it must deal in these efforts. …