Press Releases

    GA/AB/3605
    16 March 2004

    Staff Bulletin Clarifying Family Status for Entitlement Purposes Subject of Fifth Committee Debate

    Composition of Secretariat, Proposals to Strengthen Internal Investigative Functions also Discussed

    NEW YORK, 15 March (UN Headquarters) -- A staff bulletin issued by the Secretary-General in January to clarify the family status of staff for the purpose of United Nations entitlements became the focus of debate in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning, as it took up several reports on human resources management.

    Of particular interest to the participants of the discussion was the paragraph of the bulletin, according to which “a legally recognized domestic partnership contracted by a staff member under the law of the country of his or her nationality will also qualify that staff member to receive the entitlements provided for eligible family members”.

    Many delegations supported the position of Iran, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, whose representative wondered if the document was consistent with the existing rules and regulations of the United Nations and insisted that it was the prerogative of Member States to supplement or amend those rules.  Whereas no decision had been taken by the Assembly to change the long-established scope of the family definition for the purposes of entitlements, there was no justification for the approval of expenses pertaining to the possible implementation of the bulletin, he said.

    Several other delegations, including Canada, speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, said that the bulletin was not an issue for the General Assembly to act upon, because it dealt with an administrative issue within managerial purview of the Secretary-General as chief administrative officer. The issue was not whether Member States agreed or disagreed with any particular family model or relationship, but rather whether the United Nations should continue to apply national norms. By basing itself on national norms, the United Nations practice reflected the cultural and religious diversity of Member States.

    Also within the framework of the human resources management discussion, speakers addressed the issues of gender balance within the United Nations and equitable representation of Member States.

    Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed concern that the composition of the Secretariat at the decision-making level remained skewed to the detriment of Africans. In that connection, the representative of Tunisia said that recruitment practices within the United Nations also needed to take into account the potential of women in Africa.

    Japan’s representative expressed serious concern over the fact that the report on the composition of the Secretariat did not contain enough information on the level of under-representation of Member States, as providing only the number of under-represented and unrepresented Member States did not meet the request of the General Assembly. The analysis of the level of under-representation of Member States should be the basis for discussion of the issue in the General Assembly and help measure the performance of the Office of Human Resources Management under the results-based budgeting system.

    Also this morning, as the Committee addressed the proposals to strengthen the investigative function within the Organization, several delegations supported the recommendations of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which called for increased investigative training for managers, development of written procedures and the promotion of an independent investigation function within the United Nations system.

    Ireland’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated states, however, expressed concern about the recommendation that called for dividing incidents to be investigated into high- and low-risk categories, the latter to be investigated internally. All cases of illegal or irregular behaviour should be reported to the Oversight Office and the Human Resources Department, who could then, in consultation with the programme managers, determine the most appropriate means of investigation according to the nature of the case.

    The representative of Saudi Arabia also did not concur with an attempt of the report to establish a legal definition of “less serious matters”, which did not involve serious criminal conduct. Any violation of United Nations financial and staff rules and regulations was misconduct and subject to disciplinary action, including -- depending on severity -- criminal law.  Programme managers should refer all misconduct cases to the professional investigative authorities and not entrust an investigation to local staff.

    The representative of Australia, speaking also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, stressed the need to ensure proper accountability, saying that the goal should not be to centralize oversight functions to a cadre of professional investigators. Instead, it was necessary to involve the departments, offices, funds and missions in order to entrench a culture of accountability and entrench a culture of accountability and ensure the long-term integrity of the Organization.

    The documents before the Committee were presented by the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, Dileep Nair, and the Office of Human Resources Management Officer-in-Charge, Sandra Haji-Ahmed.

    Statements were also made by representatives of the United States, Indonesia, Syria, Kuwait, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Turkey, as well as the observer of the Holy See.

    The Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 16 March, when it is expected to take up the audit of the Investment Management Service of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund and the Capital Master Plan.

    Background

    The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning was expected to take up several reports related to human resources management and strengthening investigation resources within the Organization.

    The first document before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting a report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on strengthening the investigation functions in the United Nations (document A/58/708). The Secretary-General was requested to review the practice of involving United Nations programme managers in investigations so as to ensure their independence in administrative and managerial functions and to establish proper guidelines, taking into consideration the practice of internal control.

    Having contacted 59 departments, offices, funds, programmes and missions for information on their practices in 2002, the OIOS found, among other things, that few investigations were done despite the yearly increase in serious matters reported to the OIOS by the offices. Also, none of the offices reported having any formal training programmes other than that provided by the Oversight Office. Written procedures were not common, although the guidelines developed by the OIOS had been formally endorsed by United Nations system oversight bodies.

    The report notes that in its report on the question (document A/56/282), the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) strongly recommended both training and procedures for those responsible for performing investigations. The responses received appear to indicate that the recommendation has yet to be implemented. The Oversight Office reaffirms the importance of the recommendations and will further implement the key principles embodied in those recommendations.

    In the report, the OIOS proposes undertaking appropriate activities in coordination with other United Nations oversight bodies and relevant departments to develop a policy on the role of programme managers in investigative activities. Other proposals include training those responsible, including security officers and other personnel assigned to conduct basic investigations, preparing procedures for the handling of less complex matters and the development of the independent investigation function in the United Nations system. It also proposes that a follow-up review be conducted, the results of which would be reported to the Assembly at its fifty-ninth session.

    On human resources management, the Committee had before it this year’s annual report on the composition of the Secretariat (document A/58/666), which covers the period from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2003 and provides information on the demography and the system of desirable ranges for the geographical distribution of staff. As requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 57/305 of 15 April 2003, the report contains a brief analysis of the status of unrepresented and under-represented Member States, the measures taken to achieve gender balance in the Secretariat, statistics on the composition of project personnel, General Service and related staff, and the implementation of human resources action plans.

    According to the document, as at 30 June 2003, the total number of staff of the United Nations Secretariat and units with special status -- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), United Nations University, the secretariat of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, the Registry of the International Court of Justice, and the International Trade Centre UNCTAD/World Trade Organization (WTO) -- holding appointments of one year or more amounted to 37,705. Of this total, 15,082 staff paid from various sources of funding are assigned to the Secretariat, and 22,623 are assigned to other entities of the United Nations. Some 7,543 staff encumbered the 8,799 posts authorized in the regular budget for 2003, which are in the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS).

    A limited number of staff of the Secretariat -- 2,491 -- is recruited under the system of desirable ranges, subject to geographical distribution. They are appointed by the Secretary-General for a period of at least one year to posts in the Professional and higher categories funded under the regular budget.  Pursuant to the request in section II, paragraph 30, of resolution 57/305, and in spite of the efforts made, the level of unrepresented and under-representation of Member States remains at 27. Taking into consideration the admission of the two new Member States, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and Switzerland, there was in fact a 5.8 per cent reduction among unrepresented and under-represented Member States.

    As at 30 June 2003, 17 Member States were unrepresented, compared with 16 in June 2002: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, the newly admitted Member State of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, Republic of Moldova, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

    A total of 10 Member States were under-represented, compared with 11 in June 2002:  Brazil, Greece, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia and the newly admitted Member State of Switzerland.  Nineteen Member States were overrepresented: Argentina, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Uganda and Ukraine.  All other Member States are within range.

    Regarding countries’ representation at the senior and policy-making levels, the report states that for staff at the D-1 grade and above, the ratio of staff from developing countries changed from 47.9 per cent in 1999 to 45 per cent in 2003; for staff from developed countries, the ratio moved from 47.6 per cent in 1999 to 46.8 per cent in 2003; and for staff from countries with economies in transition, the ratio evolved from 4.4 per cent in 1999 to 8.1 per cent in 2003.

    At the D-2 grade and above, the ratio of staff from developing countries evolved from 49.1 per cent in 1999 to 46.2 per cent in 2003; for staff from developed countries, the ratio went from 45.4 per cent in 1999 to 47.9 per cent in 2003; and for staff from countries with economies in transition, the ratio evolved from 5.6 per cent in 1999 to 6.0 per cent in 2003. At the grade of Assistant Secretary-General and above, the ratio of staff from developing countries changed from 57.5 per cent in 1999 to 56.1 per cent in 2003; for staff from developed countries, the ratio moved from 40 per cent in 1999 to 36.6 per cent in 2003; and for staff with economies in transition, the ratio evolved from 2.5 per cent in 1999 to 7.3 per cent in 2003.

    During the period from 1 July 1998 to 30 June 2003, the number of female staff members at the D-1 grade and above increased by 19, or 20.6 per cent, from 92 to 111. The percentage of female staff in posts subject to geographical distribution has risen from 31.2 per cent to 41.8 per cent over the decade. The comparable percentage for female staff in posts with special language requirements has increased from 34.8 per cent to 40.1 per cent.

    On recruitment activities, the document states that during the period from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2003, 168 appointments were made under the system of desirable ranges. Of this total, 34 appointments were of nationals of under-represented Member States; 105 appointments were of nationals of Member States that were within range; 26 appointments were of nationals of States that were overrepresented as at 30 June 2003; two appointments were from newly admitted Switzerland; and one appointment was a Stateless person.

    Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General containing the list of staff of the United Nations Secretariat (document A/C.5/58/L.13). Issued in limited quantities, the list shows, by office, department and organizational elements, the name, functional title, nationality and grade of all staff members holding an appointment of one year or more as of 1 July 2003.

    A further Secretary-General’s report to be taken up today was on the Amendments to Staff Rules (document A/58/283).  Consistent with staff regulation 12.3, the report contains the full text of new rules or amendments to existing rules that the Secretary-General plans to implement as from 1 January 2004. The Secretary-General recommends that the General Assembly take note of the amendments.

    Introduction of Reports

    DILEEP NAIR, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced the report on strengthening the investigation functions in the United Nations (document A/58/708), saying that the document not only presented the status of how investigations were conducted, but also outlined suggestions for ways to improve the situation. The United Nations must be able to equip itself with an effective investigation function in order to reduce the risks that it potentially faced due to lapses in integrity.

    In the next 12 months, he said, the Oversight Office proposed to undertake a series of measures and to provide a follow-up report to the fifty-ninth session of the Assembly on the matter. In particular, the Office intended to develop a policy on the role of programme managers in investigative activities and draft proper written guidelines on the investigation function. It would also look into how basic investigative training could be provided to the offices, especially those considered high-risk operations. And finally, the OIOS would conduct site visits to high-risk missions and programmes and work closely with other oversight institutions to coordinate and advocate the most effective investigation practices.

    Statements

    MARGARET STANLEY (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, stressed the importance of independent investigation in matters of criminal activity, sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct. Disciplinary action and criminal prosecution must be pursued wherever warranted in order to hold individuals accountable and to give a clear message to all staff members that misconduct would not be tolerated. Transparency about the rules governing staff conduct and a serious commitment to resorting to appropriate disciplinary procedures, or, when necessary, legal prosecution, would be a major deterrent and would in due course lead to a marked decrease in the number of cases that required investigation. Good management practices were key to keeping illegal or improper conduct to a minimum.

    The organizational integrity initiative launched in May 2003 was an important step in promoting a culture of integrity and ethics within the United Nations, she continued. It was, therefore, in the interests of the Organization and Member states that each member of staff be committed to maintaining high ethical standards. It was also important to resolve differences of opinion where OIOS investigation conclusions were contested by programme managers. Such difference should be resolved by senior management and should not result in a decision to take no action.

    The Union welcomed the recommendations of the OIOS, she said, which called for increased basic investigative training for managers, development of written procedures and the promotion of an independent investigation function within the United Nations system.  However, the recommendation to divide incidents to be investigated into two categories was a point of concern. While category I listed a number of high-risk incidents that required independent investigation, category II encompassed so-called low-risk incidents, which would be investigated internally by the programme managers. She had serious concerns that the interpretation as to which category an alleged offence might fall could be subject to a conflict of interest on the part of the managers. Therefore, all cases of illegal or irregular behaviour should be reported to the Oversight Office and the Human Resources Department, who could then, in consultation with the programme managers, determine the most appropriate means of investigation according to the nature of the case.

    JESSICA THORPE (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, supported the approach described in the report and encouraged the OIOS to continue its good work in that area. Further work on the issue was warranted to address the problems identified in the report, including the lack of investigations training in the Organization.

    The proposal for serious cases to be investigated independently was a good one, she said.  However, the Committee would recall that the JIU and OIOS reports on the matter had originated from its call for proper accountability. Thus, the goal should not be to centralize oversight functions to a cadre of professional investigators. Instead, it was necessary to involve the departments, offices, funds and missions in order to entrench a culture of accountability and entrench a culture of accountability and ensure the long-term integrity of the Organization.

    The report’s recommendations were timely in calling for further training and development of procedures to improve the investigative capacity of United Nations offices. It would be important to ensure that new procedures were not onerous. If reporting requirements were too cumbersome, they could exacerbate the problem the report had highlighted of a lack of information-sharing on investigations with the OIOS. The delegations she represented appreciated the critical role that the Oversight Office would play in training and conducting investigations to foster accountability and integrity in the United Nations.

    CANDICE EBBESEN (United States) took note of the reports findings and agreed that guidelines and training programmes needed to be established for the handling of investigations, especially when programme managers were conducting investigations or an entity lacked an internal independent investigations function. The United States wanted to know how many United Nations organizations and offices lacked an internal independent investigative capacity and what would be the financial implications of implementing OIOS’ recommendation to “provide advice on setting up independent investigation units in entities where they did not exist”.

    AHMED FARID (Saudi Arabia) concurred with paragraph 13 of the report that the independence of investigative functions was crucial to the investigation process. Unswayed by personal interest, the independent investigator could conduct inquiries, serving the best interest of the Organization. He did not, however, concur with paragraph 15 of the report, as it attempted to establish a legal definition of “less serious matters”, which did not involve serious criminal conduct. The paragraph recommended that security officers and other such staff could conduct investigations. There was no definition of simple theft. Theft was a felony and a serious crime. Any violation of United Nations financial and staff rules and regulations was misconduct and subject to disciplinary action, including -- depending on severity -- criminal law.  They were all violations and punishable in some form.

    Programme managers should refer all misconduct cases to the professional investigative unit within his office, and not conduct an investigation to local staff, he continued. A mechanism should be established to oblige programme managers to report to the investigative units all matters in which activities could result in misconduct.

    Introduction of Report

    SANDRA HAJI-AHMED, Officer-in-Charge, Office of Human Resources Management, introduced, on behalf of the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, three reports of the Secretary-General, including on the composition of the Secretariat. The annual report provided information on the demography of Secretariat staff and on the system of desirable ranges for geographical distribution. It also contained information on: the level of unrepresented and under-represented Member States; measures to achieve gender balance in the Secretariat; implementation of human resources action plans; and data on the composition of project personnel. She also introduced the reports of the Secretary-General on amendments to the Staff Rules and the list of United Nations Secretariat staff.

    Statements

    Ms. STANLEY (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, noted the changes the Secretary-General intended to make to the Staff Rules. Regarding the composition of the Secretariat, the Union was pleased to note that during the period 1 July 1998 to 30 June 2003, the number of female staff members at the D-1 grade and above had increased by some 20 per cent and that over the past five years the number of female staff in posts subject to geographical distribution had increased by about 3.7 per cent. The two most senior grades, however, namely, Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General, still had a low female staff representation. The Union welcomed, therefore, innovative efforts to reach the gender balance target in the Secretariat and welcomed further discussion on the impact of the initiatives at an appropriate time.

    She also expressed concern that, as of 30 June 2003, 17 Member States were unrepresented in the Secretariat in posts subject to geographical distribution, compared to 16 unrepresented Member States in June 2002. While as of June 2003 some European Union member States were overrepresented, others were still under-represented. She stressed the importance of ensuring the equitable geographical representation of all Member States in the Secretariat and thanked the Secretariat for organization national competitive examinations in those Member States who were inadequately represented in the Secretariat. She encouraged the Secretariat to recruit as many from the roster of successful candidates as possible.

    Continuing, she noted that some 1,597 Secretariat staff would reach the mandatory retirement age during the next five years. The Union hoped that the Secretariat would be able to take advantage of the situation to improve geographical and gender distribution, as well as to help reduce the average age of the Secretariat. 

    NONYE UDO (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group attached great importance to the issue of the composition of the Secretariat. Regarding geographical distribution of posts at the decision-making level, the Group remained concerned that the composition of staff at that level continued to be skewed to the detriment of Africans. The Group reiterated its concern over the growing trend of decline in the representation of African nationals in decision-making levels in the Secretariat and urged the Secretary-General to take timely measures to rectify the worrisome trend. In the meantime, the Group requested the Secretariat to provide a status chart of all programme managers, which should indicate their levels and nationality.

    On gender mainstreaming, Member States had consistently expressed concern over the under-representation of female staff in the Secretariat, especially at the decision-making levels. While noting that modest efforts that had been made to address the matter, the Group reaffirmed that concern and looked forward to the Secretary-General’s report on the comprehensive review of progress made toward redressing the gender imbalance in the Organization. The Group would also appreciate an interim report on the number of women by nationality that had been appointed to decision-making positions.  She stressed the need for expeditiously addressing those concerns and trusted that the Secretariat would be able to respond to concerns raised during the session.

    ALIREZA TOOTOONCHIAN (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), stressed the importance of the human resources issue. The staff played a fundamental role in pursuit of the causes and values of the international community and fulfilment of the programmes of the Organization. Careful management and continuous monitoring of human resources was crucial to the success of the United Nations. Member States, through enactment of the provisions of the Charter and Staff Rules and Regulations, had spared no efforts to support the staff with the best possible conditions of service commensurate with their responsibilities and international character.

    In that connection, he had several questions about bulletin ST/SGB/2004/4 entitled “Family status for purposes of United Nations entitlements”, he said. He wanted to know if there had been any new changes to the Staff Regulations and Rules, which called for the issuance of the bulletin in January. Was the bulletin consistent with the existing rules and regulations?  Since it was the prerogative of Member States to supplement or amend those rules, under what basis had the Secretariat decided to issue the bulletin? Moreover, since the content of the bulletin had certain impacts on the deliberations on related issues by intergovernmental forums within the context of the United Nations and its main organs, including the Fifth Committee itself, why had the Secretariat initiated such a bulletin?

    Whereas no decision had been taken by the Assembly to change the long-established scope of the family definition for the purposes of entitlements, there was no justification for the approval of expenses pertaining to the possible implementation of the bulletin. As a result, the OIC was not only seriously concerned about extension of the scope of the family definition for the purposes of entitlements, but also opposed the presumption that those referred to in paragraph 4 of the bulletin be qualified for receiving the entitlements. Those were delicate administrative and financial issues that should be dealt with, first and foremost, by intergovernmental bodies.

    SIGIT WARDONO (Indonesia) fully supported the statement by Iran on behalf of the OIC. The issue of human resources management of the Secretariat was very important in order to enable the Organization to carry out mandated programmes of tangible benefit to Member States. He attached great importance to the conditions of service of Secretariat staff and firmly believed that those conditions must be consistent with the regulations and rules of the United Nations. 

    In that regard, his delegation wondered about the content of the bulletin ST/AGB/2004/4, particularly the expanded definition of family. His delegation was not aware that there had been an amendment to the definition of family as contained in the Staff Regulations to entitle others outside its scope to receive benefits. As any amendment to the Staff Regulations and Rules was the purview of the intergovernmental body, he would like to know the legal basis for the new concept of family described in the bulletin.  He looked forward to hearing an appropriate explanation from the Secretariat in that regard.

    NAJIB ELJY (Syria) added his voice to the preceding statements.  His delegation attached the utmost importance to human resources management and was concerned about the January bulletin on entitlements. It was a source of concern that it had been issued in possible violation of Staff Rules and Regulations, and the Secretariat had gone beyond its scope of competence. A number of concepts in the bulletin were controversial, and he expected the Secretariat to clarify the issue as soon as possible and resolve it appropriately.

    AKIRA YAMAMOTO (Japan) noted with regret that while the recently issued report on the composition of the Secretariat (document A/58/666) included some comments on the number of under-represented States, it did not address the issue of the level of under-representation.  However, the General Assembly had requested the inclusion of an analysis of that level, having considered a similar report of the Secretary-General to the fifty-seventh session (A/57/414). Furthermore, in Annex I to its resolution 58/270 on the regular budget for 2004-2005, the Assembly had requested the Secretary-General to include the level of under-representation of Member States as a performance measure under indicators of achievement for the Office of Human Resource Management (OHRM).

    It was obvious that what was needed and what the Assembly had requested was an analysis of the differences between the number of nations and the lower limits of the desirable range of each under-represented Member State, he continued. Providing only the number of under-represented and unrepresented Member States did not meet the request of the General Assembly. The analysis of the level of under-representation of Member States should be the basis for discussion of the issue in the General Assembly and help to determine the performance measure by which the achievement of the OHRM would be measured under the results-based budgeting system. His delegation was greatly concerned over the situation and requested the Secretary-General to complete the work that the General Assembly had requested him and include an analysis of the level of under-representation in the next report on the composition of the Secretariat.

    SHOZAB ABBAS (Pakistan) said his country attached great importance to the Organization’s human resources, which were a vital component of the Secretariat. The staff had a fundamental role in the effective functioning of the United Nations.  Pakistan would work with Member States to improve the Organization’s working environment so that staff could deliver quality services to Member States. His delegation had considered with great concern the bulletin on family status for purposes of United Nations entitlements. While respecting the Secretary-General’s authority as chief administrative officer, it was the prerogative of Member States to change or amend the United Nations staff rules and regulations. The Secretariat had not taken into account the related legislative amendments, which indicated that there was no consensus among Member States on the term of domestic partnership. 

    He urged the Secretariat to abide by the legislative mandates laid down by Member States.  It was a sensitive issue requiring meticulous scrutiny. Although the matter had an ethical dimension, his delegation wanted to discuss it as an administrative question under the Fifth Committee. The matter should be withdrawn or brought into conformity with relative administrative mandates. 

    MESHAL A.M.A. AL-MANSOUR (Kuwait) attached great importance to the item and stressed the need to resolve the issues pertaining to the bulletin on family status. The Secretariat should reply to Member States concerns as soon as possible.

    YASSER ELNAGGAR (Egypt) said he wished to highlight several points, including the importance of abiding by mandates expressed in the Charter and the rules and procedures agreed upon by the General Assembly on the administration of the Organization’s human resources. Any attempt to jeopardize the role of the General Assembly was an attempt to take away from the prerogatives of Member States. The text and instruments were clear. Changes to the rules and regulations regarding staff members were the purview of the General Assembly. They were fundamental principles and it was important to respect them.  He would reserve the right to discuss the issue at informal consultations, which must be held to settle the issue, and called for written responses to the concerns raised.

    The attempt to impose definitions, which were not agreed upon in the multilateral intergovernmental setting, was unacceptable, particularly given the current debate, he continued.  The road ahead was clear and the legal framework existed.  Why attempt to go around it? he asked. It was true that the issue had social and conceptual, as well as religious dimensions. It was necessary to take up the different procedures that Member States set by consensus. There were also other legal issues and considerations, such as contradiction between laws and other financial considerations. While the programme of work of the first resumed session did not provide for informal consultations on the item, such a session must be set aside to discuss the item, he added.

    Mr. FARID (Saudi Arabia) said the internal bulletin amended the rules and regulations of human resources management, which was a prerogative of Member States. Member States should have been consulted before its issuance, as its contents lay within the mandate of the Fifth Committee. Implementing its contents would impact the Organization’s financial resources.  The General Assembly should remain seized of the matter. To avoid prolonged considerations, it should be withdrawn.

    ILHAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED AHMED (Sudan) associated herself with the position of the OIC and supported the statement by Nigeria on behalf of the African Group. She was puzzled by the contents and timing of the January bulletin issued by the Secretariat due to the fact that it addressed some issues still under examination by intergovernmental bodies of the United Nations. Not only was there no consensus on the matter, but the positions were actually highly controversial.  Member States must strive to provide the best working conditions of the United Nations staff to allow them to fulfil their functions as efficiently as possible, but its position should reflect consensus on the matter. There was no need for the Fifth Committee to carry a discussion of controversial issues, and the Secretariat should not have rushed into those matters.  She wondered about the motives of the Secretariat and hoped that clear answers would be provided.

    Ms. STANLEY (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the bulletin in question was a welcome step, reflecting the Secretary-General’s determination to modernize the human resources management. The principle within the Secretariat was that the United Nations should continue to apply national norms she did not see why the Secretary-General’s prerogative as the Chief Administrative Officer should be contested.

    RAFLA M’RABET (Tunisia) associated herself with the position of the OIC, saying that her delegation would wait for written replies from the Secretariat. Furthermore, she supported the statement by Nigeria on behalf of the African Group. 

    During her six months in New York, she had been a bit surprised by the scarcity of women on the podium of the Committee, she continued. Her delegation was concerned by the absence of African women at the decision-making level at the United Nations. In Africa, there were many female ministers, and women had held Prime Minister positions in the past. The informal sector was virtually dominated by women. She hoped that in the future recruitment practices within the United Nations would take into account the potential of women in Africa.

    JERRY KRAMER (Canada), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, also addressed the Secretary-General’s bulletin of January 20 on the definition of family status for the purposes of United Nations entitlements. His point of departure was that the bulletin was not an issue for the General Assembly to act upon, because the specific action taken was an administrative one within managerial purview of the Secretary-General as chief administrative officer. He saluted the determination of the Secretary-General, reflected in that administrative measure, to be principled in the application of the long-standing framework for defining family status for the purpose of staff entitlements. 

    The issue was not whether Member States agreed or disagreed with any particular family model or relationship, but rather whether the United Nations should continue to apply national norms, he continued. The answer had to be yes. Since family practice touched on most deeply felt cultural, social and religious values, how could the diverse membership of the United Nations agree on a single definition? What was the alternative to the long-standing practice? The delegations he represented were sensitive to the differing perspectives among the membership on the definition of family status. By basing itself on national norms, the United Nations practice reflected that diversity. The Secretary-General was really required to act as he did. To do otherwise would merely foster discrimination within the staff, whereby some people received family benefits according to the norms of their countries and others did not.

    ELIZABETH A. NAKIAN (United States) expressed concern over the trends indicated in the Secretary-General’s report regarding under-representation, noting that if such trends continued, the United States would also be under-represented. She hoped that the Secretariat would make continued efforts to address the issue.

    MOHAMMED MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said his delegation was deeply concerned over the issuance of the bulletin. The bulletin had been issued without a proper mandate, and he proposed that it be withdrawn.

    PAUL EKORONG À DONG (Cameroon), recalling the background on the issue, noted that the issuance of the bulletin in January was the first time the issue had come back to the table after several years. While the issue had been discussed at length some four years ago, there had been no consensus on the problem, and Member States had asked the Secretariat to wait while discussions among Member States continued. He did not know what had motivated the Secretariat to defy the will of Member States by adopting such a bulletin, after Member States had not reached agreement then. It seemed to indicate a lack of respect for Member States. He supported the proposals by the representative of Iran and asked that the bulletin be withdrawn. While the Secretary-General was the administrative head of the Secretariat, the matter went beyond administration. Everyone knew what was under discussion.  It was not an administrative matter.

    MEHMET SAHIN ONANER (Turkey) said, as members of the Fifth Committee, each delegation had the right to seek clarification from the Secretariat on the principles of entitlements provided to United Nations staff members, both from administrative and budgetary perspectives. According to the bulletin in question, the Secretary-General had decided that the law of the nationality of the staff member would be used in determining qualifications for entitlements. As criteria, the Secretariat respected the legislative authority of each of the 193 Member States. He reminded delegates and the Secretariat that they were dealing with a delicate issue that should be treated with caution, prudence and insight and in a spirit of harmony.

    Mr. KLEE, an observer of the Holy See, said that normally his delegation did not take the floor in the Fifth Committee. However, today he wished to comment on the bulletin on the entitlement for benefits of staff. The issue of family status for United Nations entitlement was not just a routine administrative matter. In the bulletin, domestic partnerships were being equated with a family. That was in conflict with the understanding of the family in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its implementing conventions. Although the bulletin seemed to guarantee that the decision would continue to ensure respect for the diversity of Member States and their nationals, he found it difficult to reconcile that statement with proposed extension of valid family member status to same-sex partners. That would contradict the basic understanding of a marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The provision contained in the bulletin, in essence, constituted progressive development of international law, which would best be discussed in an open-ended debate between Member States, rather than left to the Administration.

    Mr. ELJI (Syria) added that a December circular on the announcement of a new competitive exam for interpreters for the Arabic Section had not been distributed to Arab missions, including his own. However, the Secretary-General had been requested to continue to circulate all vacancies to delegations. The Secretariat had failed to abide by the requirements, and the failure to announce vacancies in a proper way had denied many an opportunity to apply. That was illegal.  Therefore, the exam must be extended and he hoped that the situation would be rectified.

    As for appointments, he said that, when adopting the budget, the General Assembly had frozen appointments to General Service positions, with an exception for editorial assistants in language sections, because the documents needed to be prepared in all official languages. In that connection, he wondered about the treatment of text processors in the Verbatim Section and on the Web sites, for he believed that the Secretariat had misinterpreted the mandate given by the Assembly. The exception should refer to the work done, and not to the job description. The vacancies on the Web site, especially in Arabic, needed to be filled.

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