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United Nations: New Tribunals to Handle Staff Complaints

(June 26, 2009) On June 22, 2009, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke at the swearing in of judges for two new tribunals. Ban's hope that the new system will boost accountability will be tested when the tribunals begin operations on July 1. The two bodies, The U.N. Dispute Tribunal and the U.N. Appeals Tribunal, are the first two-level judicial system at the U.N. The goal is to deal with internal disputes “more quickly, fairly and transparently,” according to Michele Montas, speaking for Ban. The tribunals were approved in December 2008, following years of discussions, and have a total of 15 judges. (Ban Voices Hope That New UN Internal Justice System Will Increase Accountability, UN NEWS CENTRE, June 22, 2009, available at

The tribunals will be used to resolve internal disputes, including sexual harassment claims by U.N. employees. It will replace a system in which workers' complaints were filed within their departments. After departmental investigations, two different panels considered the cases and made non-binding recommendations to the Secretary-General, who then issued a decision. That decision could be appealed. Workers at the U.N. have complained that the system favored high-level employees and was very slow to resolve cases. (Steve Stecklow, Changes to Internal Justice Coming, WALL STREET JOURNAL, May 21, 2009, available at

Under the new system, some departments will still conduct preliminary investigations of cases. Mediation will be a part of the new system, which stresses informal dispute resolution. Formal disputes can still, however, be filed with the new tribunals, but the Secretary-General will not have a role in resolving them. It is not yet known whether the speed with which cases are handled will increase. (Id.)