Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Remarks by Maritza Struyvenberg

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Remarks by Maritza Struyvenberg

Article excerpt

On July 1, 2009, the United Nations saw the birth of a new system of administration of justice. The old system having been deemed slow, inefficient, and ineffective, the General Assembly decided in Resolution 61/261 of April 4, 2007, to establish a

   new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately
   resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice
   consistent with the relevant rules of international law and the
   principles of the rule of law and due process to ensure respect for
   the rights and obligations of staff members and the accountability
   of managers and staff members alike.

The new system is a two-tier system, with a first instance tribunal, the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT), and an appellate court, the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (UNAT). The UNDT operates with three Registries at three duty stations, Geneva, New York, and Nairobi, with one full-time judge at each Registry. It also has two half-time judges who rotate between the duty stations and, for the time being, three ad litem judges, also one at each of the three Registries. The UNAT has a Registry in New York and holds two-week sessions as the caseload requires, in Geneva, Nairobi, and New York. Thus far, it has met three times per year.

The Registries are located in the Office of Administration of Justice (OAJ), which is headed by an Executive Director. The Office provides substantive, technical, and administrative support to the Tribunals through their Registries. It oversees the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA), which assists staff members and their representatives in pursuing claims and appeals, and provides assistance, as appropriate, to the Internal Justice Council, which is an expert body primarily tasked with reporting on the implementation of the system to the General Assembly, and vetting and recommending candidates for judicial vacancies to the General Assembly for appointment.

A new addition to the formal system is the Management Evaluation Unit. It is tasked with reviewing all complaints, with the exception of disciplinary cases, before they are filed with the Dispute Tribunal. This mandatory review allows the administration to take corrective action, when appropriate, thereby reducing the number of cases that proceed to litigation.

In addition to its many accomplishments thus far, the system is faced with a number of challenges. Some of these challenges, and one specific accomplishment, are set out below.


The system has been functioning for almost three years now and has generally been deemed a success. In the course of its first 30 months of operation (July 1, 2009, to December 31, 2011), the UNDT received a total of 870 cases (including 312 cases transferred from the old system) and disposed of 601 cases, rendered 532 judgments, issued 1,606 orders, and held 682 hearings. The UNAT received a total of 284 cases (including cases transferred from the old system), rendered 190 judgments, issued 74 orders, and disposed of 199 cases. OSLA received 1,902 cases and closed or resolved 1,224 of them.

That said, the system still faces a number of challenges in implementing the mandate of the General Assembly as set out in Resolution 61/261, which will need to be resolved in the years to come.

Most important is the chronic lack of resources experienced by all components of the OAJ, which compels the Office to be creative and innovative. This lack is largely due to the fact that many needs were not sufficiently anticipated at the time the system became operational. For example:

--No funding was included in the initial budget of the OAJ--which was prepared in 2008 before the Office started to function--to cover travel expenses for the UNAT judges to be able to hold two to three sessions per year (which are required because of the large number of appeals);

--No provision was made for the creation of fully functioning courtrooms, including proper video and teleconferencing facilities, at the three duty stations, or for proper audiorecording facilities, preventing the Tribunals from keeping official records of hearings;

--Given that the UNDT is decentralized, insufficient provision was made to cover expenses for plenary meetings---once or twice a year--for the UNDT judges to meet in person and discuss issues related to the Tribunal;

--No funding was included in the budget for interpretation and translation. …

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