GENEVA, 7–8 JULY 2009, WHO
ANNUAL MEETING OF STAFF ASSOCIATIONS
The WHO Staff Association co-hosted with the EPO Staff Union
a two-day meeting, in parallel with the 107th Session of the ILO
Administrative Tribunal (ILOAT). The purpose of the meeting was
to exchange information and experiences on a number of issues
which centered on the protection of fundamental rights for staff
in the international organizations and to arrive at an action plan
to move the reform of the ILOAT forward.
Staff Representatives from twenty-five different International Organizations (IO) participated, for the most part clients of the ILOAT. These included both international organizations such as ECB, EPO, OECD, ESA, COE as well as UN and its specialized agencies — UNOG, ICTY, OSCE, FAO, WFP, UPU, ITU, WIPO, ILO, UNAIDS, IARC, WHO/HQ, WHO/EURO, IMO and FICSA.
The guest of honor was Professor C. F. Amerasinghe who spoke on “Judicial Reform within IOs and Consultation/Negotiation Rights for Staff.” Prof. Amerasinghe is an eminent person in the area of international civil service law. In addition to the reference work “The Law of the International Civil Service” he has served as a UNAT Judge. He presented his thoughts with regard to some aspects of judicial independence and in particular some of the current practice. He also addressed some issues related to fundamental principles and limitations to the current system of defining such principle solely through case law of ATs.
Guests speakers included Dr. Christina Knahr (University of Vienna). Dr Knahr is a member of the academic staff at the University — and is the co-author of a paper addressing UN Justice System reform. She presented an overview of the project and compared the original proposal to the current implementation. Ms. Hege Kjos — University of Amsterdam — who spoke on the IO Justice System Deficiencies. Ms. Alice Elsenburg — University of Amsterdam, co-author of a recent report which examines the awards practice of the ILOAT. This is compared to practice in national judicial bodies.
There were in depth discussions on the UN Justice Reform as well as the ILOAT reform. It was pointed out that the ILOAT Reform project was initially quite active but faded over time. It has not resulted in formal reform but it did result in some visible changes to the practice. It appears likely that discussion regarding the administration of justice will be restarted following the UN Justice reform.
Participants discussed the deficiencies at the ILOAT, some practical like the fact that six signed copies have to be sent. This minor point can become an incredible burden for a single applicant. Other issues more serious such as the absence of oral hearing, the impossibility of unions or staff associations to file complaints, the inconsistency of judgments, the costs awarding, the conduct of the internal redress processes which appear to be blindly followed by the ILOAT. Other major points were also discussed such as the judges of the ILOAT tending to ignore what life is like in an IO. The cases are looked at very narrowly, there is little consideration of the history of the organization, nor of the case itself. Cases depending on the credibility of testimonies given are, without the possibility of oral hearing, almost always management-biased. Witnesses are difficult to find and testimonies difficult to get, the ILOAT offers those people no protection. In some respects the ILOAT acts as a higher appeals board only looking at narrow law points: the power of discretion of the IO is far too often used to close cases. The ILOAT is also almost never commenting on the practice of the IOs which put very weak and useless legal arguments, making litigation more time consuming.
The staff associations and legal representatives raised concerns regarding the appeals processes. There are many eminent jurists who have commented on the lack of consistency of the internal appeals processes with due process norms. Some of these norms are based on fundamental rights. Legal Representatives have also raised concerns.
The lack of protection of fundamental rights has been raised as an issue by many staff associations and has been the subject of a number of academic and legal studies. The lacuna is very clear on some topics, but less clear on others. Whilst the consequences are readily apparent to many staff, it is rather difficult to demonstrate the problems. The organizations do not generally recognize the problems and have a tendency to respond in a manner which appears similar to what has been called «bluewashing» with regard to Global Compact. More work is needed to research the problems and to raise awareness. We need to find ways to overcome the reluctance to deal with the issue.
In conclusion, the participants all agreed that an awareness of the problems and the need to protect fundamental rights increased, It seemed likely that reform of the ILOAT system will be considered as a result of the UN Justice reform. A coordinated response is needed with an increased interstaff association co-operation. In the near future an information network will be set up to move the process forward.