Ensuring Justice for All

The following article was published on May 19, 2003 on the World Bank Group' Intranet website.

The Bank Group's Administrative Tribunal was established in 1980 as the first judicial step and final stop in its conflict resolution system (CRS). Its purpose is to decide on applications submitted by staff members of the Bank Group alleging non-observance of their contracts of employment or terms of appointment.

Nassib G. Ziadé is the Executive Secretary of the Administrative Tribunal. He is responsible for organizing and administering the work connected with the Tribunal's review of cases filed by staff members against the Bank.

How would you characterize the work of the Tribunal?

The Tribunal is an independent court which renders final and binding judgments on claims brought by staff members against the Bank Group. The Tribunal is composed of seven judges of different nationalities. Each judge is a distinguished and internationally recognized legal expert with a successful outside career. A judge cannot have been a staff member prior to joining the Tribunal and cannot be employed by the Bank Group following his or her service on the Tribunal.

The Tribunal generally holds three sessions each year to decide cases brought before it. It usually takes between four and eight months for a case to be completed, which is very efficient compared to many other international administrative tribunals. A case starts after a staff member has already exhausted all other options for seeking a remedy, such as by going to mediation or the Appeals Committee. In a Tribunal case, the Bank Group acts as the Respondent, which is to say the defendant. After both sides have provided their views formally, the judges render their judgment in the case.

The Secretariat is the administrative arm of the Tribunal, and I have headed it since the beginning of 1997.

How are judges chosen for the Tribunal?

The process for selection of judges first involves the appointment of an advisory committee by the President of the Bank Group. The committee consists of one staff member chosen by the Staff Association, one staff member chosen by management, one outside expert chosen by management, and the General Counsel as Chair. The committee which sat for the most recent review of candidates had as its outside expert a former President of the World Court. The committee members agreed unanimously on a list of candidates and forwarded it to the President. He then presented the list to the Executive Directors, who ultimately appointed the candidates.

In your view, how essential is the Tribunal to the Bank Group?

It is absolutely essential. The Tribunal was established because the Bank Group is immune from lawsuits brought in national courts with regard to personnel matters. The Tribunal provides a fair, independent hearing and a just decision where there otherwise would not be one.

The Tribunal does everything it can to ensure that its procedures are fair and its decisions just and impartial. By providing a process where valid claims are upheld, the Tribunal helps the organization to correct its errors and thereby protect the rights of staff. That of course is in everyone’s best interest.

Would it be fair to describe the Tribunal as the “Supreme Court” of the World Bank Group, or the “court of last resort”?

The Tribunal is the first judicial step, but also the final stop, in the conflict-resolution process with regard to personnel matters, so when a staff member submits a case he or she has tried every other step and been unsuccessful. For this reason, such situations are often very polarized, with a lot of hard feelings involved. Since the Tribunal’s judgments are final and binding on both the Bank Group and the staff member bringing the claim, the Tribunal has to decide the outcome in such situations. Sometimes the staff member wins, sometimes the Bank Group wins, and sometimes each side wins a part of its case.

Which judicial institutions worldwide do you look to for guidance in your proceedings?

The Tribunal looks first at the Staff Rules applicable to the case, as well as at the applicant’s contract of employment. The Tribunal next looks at its previous judgments, which serve as precedents, and occasionally also at the judgments of the Tribunal’s counterparts at other international organizations, such as the U.N. Administrative Tribunal or the International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal.

These judgments are, however, not binding on our own Tribunal. At the same time, other international administrative tribunals also refer to our judgments when rendering their own judgments in cases.

What ensures the smooth functioning of such an international body, with judges, and therefore judicial expertise, from countries as diverse as Chile, Nigeria, South Africa and the Philippines?

The Tribunal’s judges do have a remarkable ability to work together in an extremely collegial manner, even when they are considering difficult or sensitive cases. There are two reasons for this, I believe. The first is that they are all senior professionals in their legal fields and home countries, and so there is complete and mutual respect. The second reason is that the law applied by the Tribunal is fairly straightforward, the primary standard being whether management abused its discretion. This helps the judges to have a collective framework for their discussions, even as they bring to the table the lessons of their national legal traditions.

How does your work at the Tribunal compare with your previous experiences in international arbitration?

I was at the Bank Group's arbitration institution, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), for ten years prior to taking over as Executive Secretary of the Tribunal. My experience with ICSID was invaluable, in that it gave me the tools I needed to put together a Secretariat which could meet the challenges of an ever-increasing caseload, not to mention the need to engage with our new online world. It trained me to act as an impartial channel of communication between international judges and parties, and gave me the ability to administer properly contentious cases under public scrutiny.

This being said, however, my work at the Tribunal is different from that at ICSID because at the Tribunal the process involves staff members, and is thus closer-to-home, so to speak. Moreover, the process is often more emotionally charged since the cases usually involve matters which are deeply personal to the applicants, whereas ICSID arbitrations involve disputes between governments and foreign investors.

Is the Tribunal as well utilized by staff as you would like it to be?

The Tribunal is certainly well utilized by staff, and it is an encouraging sign that staff members trust it to render a fair and impartial judgment. If I could wish for anything, however, it would be for Bank Group staff to know how much care is taken by the judges to ensure that justice is done. My staff and I know that bringing a case is a trying experience and so we endeavor always to be understanding and to accommodate applicants to the furthest extent possible.