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Home International Organisations Archive for category "United Nations"

Is the UN Violating International Labour Standards?

Published on October 29, 2019        Author: 

The recent controversy regarding UNOPS consultants in Geneva has triggered a much larger and long-overdue debate on the use of ´non-staff personnel´ in the UN system and the asymmetries in their working conditions with respect to UN staff.

On 2012, the United Nations’ Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) published a report on a survey aimed at assessing the practices of individual consultancies and other non-staff personnel in the UN System, including various specialized agencies. The investigation revealed that use of non-staff personnel in the UN amounts to approximately 40 percent of its total workforce. One of the key reasons for the use of non-staff personnel, according to the report, is the lack of sufficient resources to pay for a staff position in conjunction with the strain of having to deliver with scarce funding. A further 2014 report specified another reason to hire non-staff personnel: greater flexibility in the recruitment process in comparison to staff recruitment. In spite of numerous recommendations made by the JIU to UN agencies, regarding contracting practices, no real progress has been made to address the aforementioned issues and solve them.

Consultants in the UN, generally maintain a contractual relationship with a UN Agency but are not considered formal ’employees’. While the use of consultants does not appear prima facie to be a breach of human rights standards on labour, I argue in this post, that the manner in which consultancy contracts are being implemented by the UN is inconsistent with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ principle.

UN Consultancy Schemes and the ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ Principle

Article 7 of the ICESCR stipulates that members of the Convention should guarantee fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value “without distinction of any kind”. As for the scope of the term “remuneration”, in the ICESCR drafting sessions there was a general consensus that the term comprises other benefits “beyond monetary wages” such as social security, family and child benefits, as was later established in the ILO Convention 100. Therefore the ‘equal pay for equal work’ principle not only involves a monthly salary but it also includes other social benefits. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Disappointing End of the Road for the Mothers of Srebrenica Litigation in the Netherlands

Published on July 23, 2019        Author: 

On Friday, the Dutch Supreme Court issued its final decision in the Mothers of Srebrenica litigation regarding the acts and omissions of the Dutch battalion (Dutchbat) of U.N. peacekeepers at Srebrenica in July 1995 (English translation). I’ve written previously on these pages about a pair of earlier, narrower cases (Nuhanović and Mustafić-Mujić) related to the Netherlands’ responsibility for Dutchbat’s failures during the genocide  (see here, here,  and here). Friday’s ruling marks the end of an extraordinarily lengthy process regarding the more comprehensive litigation effort led by the Mothers of Srebrenica organization. The litigation went up to the European Court of Human Rights on the issue of U.N. immunity (which was upheld), before turning to the responsibility of the Netherlands.

In this post, I discuss four issues arising in the Supreme Court’s decision

  • the Court’s apportionment of responsibility to the Netherlands for Bosnian Serb forces’ killings of the 350 Bosnian Muslim men who had been in Dutchbat’s compound;
  • the theory of attribution adopted by the Court, and how it compares to the approach adopted in earlier Srebrenica cases;
  • the Court’s approach to Dutch responsibility for those outside the compound;
  • and the justiciability of the duty to prevent genocide.

The Percentage of Dutch Responsibility

The headlines have focused on the Netherlands’ share of liability. The Court of Appeal held the state liable for 30% of the damages associated with the killings of the 350 men whom Dutchbat had evicted from its Potočari compound and into the hands of the Bosnian Serb forces (VRS) (paras. 68-69.1). The Supreme Court reduced this share to 10% (para 4.7.9). Both courts appear to have applied a form of proportionate responsibility to Dutchbat with respect to the VRS killings, while applying joint and several responsibility to the Netherlands with respect to the actions of Dutchbat. In other words, the Netherlands is to be held fully responsible for the 10% apportioned to Dutchbat, even though Dutchbat’s conduct is potentially also attributable to the U.N. Read the rest of this entry…

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Silence and the Use of Force in International Law

Published on July 18, 2019        Author: , and

States frequently take actions and make statements that implicate international law. But because they do not — and, indeed, could not — express a view on each such act or statement by all other states at all times, silence seems to be the norm, rather than the exception, in international relations.

When states and other international actors do not express their views on a particular incident, issue or statement that implicates international law, what is the legal significance, if any, of their silence? Does it denote acquiescence or quiet protest? Might it not have legal significance at all? Who makes this determination? Who benefits, and who loses, from a finding that a particular silence does or does not yield legal consequences?

Over the years, several scholars — despite some calls for caution — have invoked the silence of states and other international actors as proof of support for particular legal views. This practice has been noticeable and increasingly frequent in jus ad bellum — the field of international law governing the threat or use of force in international relations. For example, writings on the following military actions (among others) invoke silence as having some type of legal significance: Read the rest of this entry…

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The Distinction between Military and Law Enforcement Activities: Comments on Case Concerning the Detention of Three Ukrainian Naval Vessels (Ukraine V. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures Order

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 

International Tribunal for Law of the Sea (ITLOS) issued a provisional measures order to Russian Federation to release three Ukrainian naval vessels and their servicemen on 25 May 2019. In deciding that the Annex VII arbitral tribunal would have prima facie jurisdiction as required under Article 290(5) of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Tribunal held that the case was not “disputes concerning military activities” as provided under Article 298(1)(b) (see Kraska).

This is an important decision considering that there is no settled definition of “military activities” which allows state parties to be exempted from the compulsory dispute settlement procedure under UNCLOS. This is the first time that ITLOS held its interpretation on the former half of Article 298(1)(b) (while the latter half was dealt in the provisional measures order in Arctic Sunrise, para.45), and South China Sea arbitration case of 2016 before Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal remains the only precedent where a third-party dispute settlement institution held its interpretation of the same text.

There seems to be a common understanding that in this order, the Tribunal interpreted the scope of the “military activities” under Article 298(1)(b) quite narrowly, if not diminished, and thereby lowered its jurisdictional bar. While assessments of this decision have already been posted (see Kraska, Schatz), this post adds some comments on the legal framework that the Tribunal relied upon.

Preliminary Remarks

One thing that should be kept in mind is that, since it is a provisional measures order, it suffices if the provisions invoked by the applicant prima facie appear to afford a basis on which the jurisdiction of the Annex VII arbitral tribunal could be founded, and need not definitively satisfy itself that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the dispute (Order, para. 36; see also ARA Libertad, para. 60). Judge Lijnzaad’s commented that the questions of the applicable law and of whether the issues raised are solely to be understood as being related to the interpretation and application of UNCLOS were left to Annex VII arbitral tribunal at a later stage, as they are “matters that go well beyond the prima facie analysis of a request for provisional measures (Declaration, Lijnzaad, para.8).” Read the rest of this entry…

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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 2: What is to be Done?

Published on May 7, 2019        Author: 

In this second post, I want to provide some more details about how the budget works within the FAO. My purpose is to highlight how the majority of Member nations wield political power, while top donors wield financial power.

Today, to win the FAO, is to gain the authority to define the right to food and to significantly influence, if not determine, the right to food’s ability to change the world food regime. Lately, however, the FAO has not invested enough into the right to food for it to even appear as a line item in its budget. Instead, it is buried in a way that is difficult for the public to determine how much is actually spent on the right to food.

The FAO broke new ground in 2004 with the publication of the Right to Food Guidelines. But the work seems to have stopped there. If the right to food is not constantly contested, redefined and operationalized as the world changes, it loses its relevance. In the last two decades, the right to food was re-empowered as a political tool wielded from below by the transnational peasant movements, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and others who overcame their differences to form the food sovereignty movement. But in important spaces such as Committee on World Food Security it remains unclear what role the right to food will play in world’s future food regime. If the FAO continues to disinvest from the right to food, this tool will be blunted from above.

With these normative stakes in mind, I think the political question surrounding the FAO should be: what would a right-to-food budget look like? More specifically: how can the world’s most food insecure have more control over the FAO’s budget? Read the rest of this entry…

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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 1: What is at Stake?

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 

The FAO Member Nations are set to elect a new Director General this 22-29 June. The four candidates, nominated by UN Member States, are Qu Dongyu (China), Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle (France), Davit Kirvalidze (Georgia), and Ramesh Chand (India). Social movements, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs are frustrated because they do not have an opportunity to directly interact with the candidates and engage in a conversation about expectations and plans. They have started a campaign around the hashtag #AskFAO to encourage people from around the world to publicly engage in the process. The implicit purpose is to put pressure on the FAO to make the Secretary General more accountable to the people they serve.

Since the 1990s, a very popular way to engage in questions of democracy and international institutions has been through the language of legitimacy. In these terms, political questions become something you measure as a matter of normative theory, sociological fact, or political reality. This emphasis on measuring makes legitimacy a passive idea. Even when people attack international institutions for being illegitimate or defend it as legitimate, this is still a muddled politics. These argument are often opaque because they rely on a principle that remains implicit and avoids debating the stakes in clearer terms such as power, status, and wealth (but here is a wonderful exception to that generalization).

I want to instead rely on the language of authority and treat the FAO as something someone may want to politically win in order to wield power. In this post I examine what is at stake in the Secretary General elections. In my second blog post I touch upon what is to be done more as an introductory outline than a detailed plan.

My thinking is informed by a very basic notion of fairness: the more vulnerable you are, the more you should be politically empowered. An exemplary Secretary General has to figure out how the FAO can empower all people living with hunger, famine, and starvation. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC and US Retaliatory Visa Measures: Can the UN Do More to Support the Privileges & Immunities of the Prosecutor?

Published on April 23, 2019        Author:  and

On 12 April 2019, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II decided to reject the Prosecutor’s request to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan on the grounds that an investigation would not be “in the interests of justice,” though it found that the case otherwise satisfied the requirements of jurisdiction and admissibility set forth in the Rome Statute (see recent posts here). The ruling came on the heels of the US revocation on 5 April of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s visa for entry to the US, and prior US threats to take action against the ICC for examining the situations in Afghanistan and Palestine.

While the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) made no direct mention of recent US hostility towards the ICC, it appears to have implied, and others have suggested (here, here, and here), that such pressure played a role in the decision. As the PTC noted, “subsequent changes within the relevant political landscape both in Afghanistan and in key States (both Parties and non-Parties to the Statute), coupled with the complexity and volatility of the political climate still surrounding the Afghan scenario, make it extremely difficult to gauge the prospects of securing meaningful cooperation from relevant authorities for the future […]” (para. 94).

Senior US officials were quick to claim victory and take credit for the development, ostensibly linking US pressure to the outcome. Alluding to a potential appeal of the PTC decision, as well as the Prosecutor’s preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine, President Trump menaced that US actions against the ICC could continue: “any attempt to target American, Israeli or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”

This post considers how the United Nations can—and may be obliged to—play a bigger role in helping to protect the Prosecutor and her team from one form of this US hostility towards the Court: visa restrictions. Despite US obligations under the US-UN Headquarters Agreement to allow the transit of individuals conducting business at UN Headquarters, some ambiguity surrounds the question of when and under what conditions the US will allow the Prosecutor access to Headquarters now that her visa has been revoked. Read the rest of this entry…

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Humanitarian Assistance and Security Council Sanctions: Different Approaches to International Humanitarian Law

Published on April 11, 2019        Author: 

Under the sanctions regimes established by its resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) can currently impose sanctions on those who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance in eight non-international armed conflict situations. This imposition of sanctions stems from the UNSC’s responsibility to maintain peace, security, and stability. Yet, its approach to humanitarian law (IHL) in these eight regimes has been inconsistent. In most of its current sanction regimes, the UNSC arguably has moved beyond the IHL applicable to humanitarian assistance, with the consequence that it can now sanction obstructions, which are broader than those which would constitute a violation of IHL. This post examines what this means for sanctions investigators and for the enhanced protection of civilians. 

Different Approaches of the UNSC with Respect to Imposing Sanctions on Obstructions to Humanitarian Assistance

The UNSC imposes sanctions in order to respond to threats to peace, security and stability. In the eight sanctions regimes discussed in this post, impediments to peace, security and stability explicitly or implicitly include obstructions to the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance and access obstructions.

Yet, the UNSC takes two different approaches when it imposes sanctions on obstructions to humanitarian assistance. In the first approach,  which is taken with respect to Libya and Sudan, there is no stand-alone criterion (the basis for listing by the UNSC or for being sanctioned) on humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian assistance and access obstructions may be considered under other listing criteria relating to violations of human rights or IHL. In these cases, Read the rest of this entry…

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Governance and the UN Global Compact on Migration: Just another Soft Law Cooperation Framework or a New Legal Regime governing International Migration?

Published on March 4, 2019        Author:  and

Editor’s note: This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?

Does the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) fulfill the criteria of a legal regime for international migration or is it just another soft law cooperation framework amidst many? If the GCM is merely a cooperation framework, then what is its contribution to international migration law (IML)? Is it limited to institutional questions, including the quality of follow-up, monitoring and review? What does it mean to ascribe the GCM a “governance capacity”? Does “governance”, as a counter concept to government, feature at the same time as an antidote to anarchy, so that the GCM could be fashioned as the complement to the “missing regime” of IML?

To resolve the ambiguity over the GCM’s governance ambition means for one to reply to the question posed by Aleinikoff in 2007, i.e. to what extent the GCM provides for the long-sought after “architecture” to govern the “substance” of IML. To respond to the challenge secondly means to uncover to what extent the GCM has overcome the “anarchy” underlying the fragmented state of IML, also called the “piecemeal approach” (Opeskin et al. 2012). This approach allowed States in the Global North to keep national sovereignty over territory and borders untouched by design, but also for few exceptions of multilateral cooperation on service providers in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and regional schemes on free movement of persons. However, the “management” of population flows from sending countries has led to uncertain outcomes for the protection of migrants’ rights, while rendering their entitlements an often-neglected legal category in international law.

In this post, we will provide a first appraisal of whether the GCM has governance potential – a capacity which may move it beyond the mere “international cooperation framework”, designed by GCM drafters. Read the rest of this entry…

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“We are tidying up”: The Global Compact on Migration and its Interaction with International Human Rights Law

Published on March 1, 2019        Author: 

Editor’s note: This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?

“We are not talking about anything new […] Rather we are tidying up” – said El Salvador’s Representative before the vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), also known as the Marrakech Compact (GA/12113). Other similar declarations joined the chorus of States in three clear directions: 1) the Compact is not legally binding; 2) the Compact does not create any new international obligations in the form of new customary rules; and 3) the Compact reaffirms States’ sovereignty.

Be that as it may, one cannot but agree with Maria Gavouneli that the GCM, at this stage, will not have a huge impact on the existing legal framework applicable to the mass movements of individuals. However, it is possible to move the critique one step forward looking at some contents of the GCM that might have some normative effects on the sources of international law governing the management of migration.

The GCM and its Legal Nature

As Anne Peters put it on this blog, the GCM is part of the borderless category of international soft law instruments, as States’ will clearly excludes the legal bindingness of its objectives and actions. However, it is no mystery that soft law instruments might have, under certain conditions, normative effects. Read the rest of this entry…

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