INSIDE THE ARBITRATION COMMISSION
A VIEWPOINT FROM CHRISTEL ADAMOU
Are you interested in staff-related issues and dispute resolution?
In the affirmative, one seat in the UNOG Arbitration Commission
has fallen vacant and the Polling Board will soon organize
a renewal of membership to fill the seat. Read this article and find
out whether you wish to join the Arbitration Commission at UNOG.
Christel Adamou, elected member in the Arbitration Commission at UNOG since 1 April 2009, has changed duty stations in July. Her seat in the Arbitration Commission has thus fallen vacant and the Polling Board will soon organize partial renewal of the membership to fill her seat. Below, Christel shares her experience with the Arbitration Commission.
Could you explain what the
Arbitration Commission is about and
how it operates?
The Commission was established in 1983 by the Regulations on Representation of the Staff of the United Nations at Geneva. It consists of five members elected by the staff as a whole by universal suffrage, for a three-year mandate of office beginning on 1 April. Its function is to examine applications from staff members, collectively or individually, or any staff body to rule on any disputes concerning failure to observe the above-referred Regulations.
The members of the Arbitration Commission enjoy full independence. To guarantee their independence, candidates for the Arbitration Commission must not have been members of a staff body during the previous year. And no member of the Arbitration Commission may stand for election to a staff body during the year following the end of his or her term of office. It is important to stress that the members of the Arbitration Commission organize their work independently and shall not receive instructions or advice from the Staff Council or from any body.
Upon receiving an application, the Commission has three days to decide on the case and shall inform the applicants of its decision. Its written decision, stating the reasons, is then announced to the staff via broadcast within ten days. The decisions of the Arbitration Commission shall be binding, final, and shall serve as legal precedents.
Could you share your experience with
the Arbitration Commission?
In February 2009, the Polling Board broadcasted the renewal of the Arbitration Commission’s membership. Having a genuine
concern for alternative dispute resolution and staff-related issues, I immediately expressed an interest in participating in this body. By mid-March, I was informed of my election as of 1 April for a period of three years. In April, I met my new colleagues: they came from various professional backgrounds, all were fluent in French and English, the working languages of the Secretariat, some had previous experience in the Arbitration Commission, and the constituted panel was geographically and gender balanced.
For the new team the work was challenging and fascinating. The Arbitration Commission is the only body fully elected by the staff; with no representative appointed by the Administration or the Management. The role of the Arbitration Commission is to ensure that the elections had been properly conducted.
In addition we were fully conscious that expectations were high. Given the heavy responsibility entrusted to us we stove in the determination cases brought to us to be guided by some fundamental principles: meeting deadlines, adopting solid legal arguments, analytical skills, impartiality and independence, integrity, respect for diversity, and above all acting in total freedom from any political pressure. In the exercise of our mandate we never hesitated to request information from third parties.
As soon as we assumed office and dealt with the first appeal we acted as an integral and united body and stood guided by the core values of the organization. Between April and May a record number of appeals were filed with the Arbitration Commission. We reviewed each case within the tight deadline of three days as provided by the Regulations and communicated our decision to the staff within ten days via broadcast. In determining the cases the members of the Commission always expressed their views in a free manner and their contributions were always constructive. During that period not a single dissenting opinion was recorded.
Two such important tasks were identified: the drafting of the Rules of Procedure and Guidelines on how to submit an application to the Commission and the review of the three-day deadline within which a decision has to be taken. We felt that this short deadline was very constraining for the following reasons. First the cases coming before the Commission are confidential and sensitive. Often the members required additional information to enable to decide a case and this would take time. Secondly the members of the Commission are volunteers and discharge their duties on the Commission in addition to their normal workload. They do not get any support from the Secretariat or from anybody else. We even had to deal with the logistical arrangements for the holding of our meetings. For example finding an available room for our meetings was not an easy task. One can imagine how time consuming the whole process was and how time would simply fly.
We made progress in the way we drafted the rulings for the purpose of broadcast circulation. The rulings are broadcasted to approximately 3, 500 staff in Geneva, therefore, many staff requested more details on the facts and contentions, others just ignored the broadcasts. Having heard the staff, all rulings now include a brief summary of facts and contentions, in order to ensure that the staff at large receiving the broadcasts have a clear picture on why the application was submitted, how we analyzed the case and the reasons which led to our final ruling.
Finally, we looked at our outreach activities. Being aware that many staff are not familiar with staff bodies and the work of the Arbitration Commission, we started compiling the Arbitration Commission’s case-law in order to post the rulings on a new Website and ensure that the staff has access, even beyond Geneva’s borders, to the jurisprudence.
Have your expectations been met?
Yes, definitively. To put it briefly, I knew little about UNOG’s internal “politics”. Before joining the Arbitration Commission, I was not familiar with the Regulations on Representation of the Staff and I had never been a member of any staff body or party at UNOG. Through this experience, I learned a lot about the Staff Representation and its Regulations and even what’s happening “behind the scene”. I realized one can only learn from this kind of exposure. It also raised my awareness on how staff representation can weigh on UNOG’s internal activities and policy. Finally I was happy to make a contribution to the work of the Commission, beyond my normal duties.
Could you tell us about your
In June 2007 I joined the United Nations at Geneva to serve in the Administration of internal justice, in the now defunct Joint Appeals Board /Joint Disciplinary Committee Secretariat (JAB/JDC). As an Associate Legal Officer/Alternate Secretary, I assisted the Secretary of the JAB/JDC in preparing appeals and disciplinary cases for the examination of Panels and drafted their recommendation into reports for the Secretary-General’s final decision.
I feel very passionate about alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and education-training. With respect to ADR, I have been active in mediation and alternative dispute resolution since 2006. I am a US certified mediator and undertook several trainings in-house and in the public sector in Germany and Geneva. I have also acted as a goodwill mediator in Geneva.
When in January 2009 I left the JAB/JDC Secretariat to join UNOG Staff Development and Learning Section, I was hopeful to be elected the Arbitration Commission as I felt it matched my skills and my desire to gain more experience in dispute resolution while making a contribution to UNOG’s internal activities.
I have recently joined the newly established United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) in Nairobi to assist the Judges and the Registrar with staff-related issues in Africa. My seat in the Arbitration Commission is now vacant and needs to be filled until expiration of the mandate on 31 March 2012. The Polling Board will soon organize an election to fill the seat pursuant to the Regulations on Representation of the Staff in UNOG. I would like to encourage anyone interested in staff-related issues and dispute resolution to apply for this vacant seat. This is a unique opportunity to join a group of truly talented people and make your contribution to the good functioning and values of the Organization.