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What's in the UN's 2023 Human Resources Resolution?

16 April 2023

By Katja Hemmerich


After 5 years of disagreement, the member states have provided the UN Secretariat with new guidance on human resources.


Hand completing a puzzle with people figures on each piece.

On 18 April, the General Assembly (GA) will formally approve the draft human resources resolution agreed by the Fifth Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. The draft resolution (A/C.5/77/L.31) was agreed by consensus in the Committee and therefore should be adopted without any changes by the full membership of the GA. This is the first time since 2017 that the GA will adopt a human resources resolution. So this week, we spotlight what is new in this resolution and some overarching issues likely to impact future human resources debates and programming in the UN Secretariat. First, for our readers following the efforts to strengthen the independence of the UN Ethics Office (see our 27 March newsletter), the Fifth Committee has agreed that the Ethics Office should present its report directly to the General Assembly, instead of through the Secretary-General, as is currently the case. With respect to the request for a separate direct reporting line from the Ethics Office to the Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC), the draft resolution indicates approval of an ‘enhanced role’ of the IAAC to strengthen the accountability framework (para. 65). The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) felt these requests, presented to the GA since 2017, were not sufficiently well justified, so it’s particularly interesting that the Fifth Committee came to an agreement in favor of them. Conversely, the third request, recommended by the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), to upgrade the post of the Director of the Ethics Office to an Assistant Secretary General (ASG) was not supported by either the ACABQ or the Fifth Committee. Interns are another area where the draft resolution indicates member states openness to new approaches (paras. 49, 52-53). Currently internships in the Secretariat are unpaid, and there is a lack of dedicated resources in the Office of Human Resources (OHR) to coordinate internships or development programmes. However, the draft resolution now urges the Secretary-General to consider internships as an integral part of his reforms and requests him to undertake a comprehensive review of various aspects of the current approach to internships, including:

  • Exploring a possible appropriate support scheme (which could include financial support), and

  • Repealing the requirement for a six month break-in-service before interns can apply or be appointed to professional or field service positions.

Things won’t change for interns until the Fifth Committee debates this comprehensive review report in 2025 and comes to agreement on specific decisions. But the fact that the Fifth Committee has signaled its willingness to take decisions on the seven issues to be included in the internship review report is a significant shift from previous human resources debates. Previously we outlined that diversity was an area of disagreement amongst member states, as gender and geographic balance have been perceived as competing priorities. This year, agreement has been found with the draft resolution comprising eight substantive paragraphs on ensuring geographic balance in recruitment (paras. 20-26 & 28) and one on gender parity (para. 31). The resolution also makes a point in para. 10 of reiterating that the recruitment and conditions of service continue to be governed by Article 101, para. 3 which states that the paramount considerations are the highest standards of “efficiency, competence and integrity… with due regard to the importance of recruiting staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible”. While the resolution doesn’t state that one type of diversity is more important than another, the emphasis on geographic balance is clear. While this emphasis is not new, two somewhat new technical aspects of the resolution may change the evolution of diversity debates in future. Currently, when calculating ‘geographic balance’ only a small subset of ‘geographic posts’ are counted, not all internationally-recruited posts. The draft resolution indicates that as of 1 January 2024 posts subject to desirable ranges, and therefore considered as geographic posts, will be expanded to include all regular budget posts including in special political missions and peacekeeping operations, which had previously been excluded. While extra-budgetary and language posts are still excluded, this technicality will help nevertheless give a more accurate picture of the actual geographic diversity of the Secretariat’s workforce than is currently the case. Another technicality related to deadlines for achieving various diversity targets creates a potential opportunity for the Secretariat to deconflict the apparent ‘competition’ between gender and geography objectives. The draft resolution sets a deadline of achieving gender parity by 2028 (para. 31) and a deadline of 2030 for bringing all under- and unrepresented member states within its desirable range. With the earlier deadline for gender parity, it is an opportunity for diversity advocates to demonstrate that gender parity can also improve geographic balance, if women from under- and unrepresented member states make up a significant proportion of the women recruited. Finally, the Fifth Committee has endorsed the Secretary-General’s intent to update the staff selection policy and the new approach to mobility which is starting this year. However, in doing so, member states have also indicated that the SG may have overstretched his perceived authority in pushing ahead on these issues. For example, the draft resolution, like the ACABQ report, states that the SG should have presented and received approval from the General Assembly before initiating his mobility programme (para. 18). Similarly, the Fifth Committee, like the ACABQ appears dissatisfied that a human resources framework, i.e. a high level approach, was presented rather than a detailed human resources strategy. Not surprisingly therefore, the resolution insists that the Secretary-General present detailed information on changes to the staff selection system “at each and all phases of recruitment” (para. 9). The resolution also requests that the SG further refine the parameters of the human resources framework in a number of areas as well as the implementation plan by the next regularly scheduled human resources debate in 2025 during the GA’s 79th session (para. 5). On top of that, the resolution further requests the SG to present a separate human resources strategy in 2026 at the GA's 80th session, which is not normally a human resources year (para. 6). It is, however, the last year of the current SG’s term. Thus, as in the past, different perceptions between the SG and GA about the SG’s authority and autonomy to manage the UN workforce remain an issue of contention. This is a challenge that is not uncommon in international organizations, as we highlighted in our 20 February newsletter, however it does seem particularly acute for the UN Secretariat. Positions around diversity will also continue to remain an area of contention it seems, although there may be windows of opportunity to change the context of this debate and find constructive agreement on the way forward, as has been done on the issue of internships and the independence of the Ethics Office.

 

Key Meeting of UN Governance Mechanisms this week

  • WFP's Executive Board holds its second informal consultation on the South-South and triangular cooperation policy update on 19 April. The Executive Board Bureau also meets on 19 April. Although the dates are unconfirmed, the Executive Board is also expected to visit the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi.

  • The General Assembly is expected to adopt the draft resolutions agreed by the Fifth Committee at its first resumed session, including the Accountability and Human Resources resolutions (see spotlight below).




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