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WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA? U.N. STAFF CONCERNED ABOUT LACK OF ACTION BY HEADQUARTERS AND MAY APPROACH HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS

5/1/2003

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Mr. K.Y. Amoako (Ghana), informed the members of the Staff Union Executive Committee that he was instructing the Polling Officers to do a "re-election." The Polling Officers refused and stated that the current Committee was duly elected.

Amoako then called the President of the ECA Staff Union, the Chairman of the Polling Officers, and several other members of the Union and management to a meeting and issued the following "executive order:"

  1. The ECA Staff Union President, Mr. Belai, should no longer use the title of President of the Staff Union.

  2. The ECA Staff Union President (who has full-time release to perform his functions) should return to this substantive office immediately;

  3. The Staff Union Office should be sealed off;

  4. No staff bulletin should be issued;

  5. Mr. Belai should not use any electronic medium to reach out to the staff; and

  6. Failure to observe these instructions would be considered insubordination.

Immediately after the meeting, security officers and staff from the Facilities Management Division accompanied the Staff Union President to his office. Mr. Belai was told to pack his belongings and vacate the office as soon as possible. The locks were changed on the offices and all communication facilities were disconnected -- computers, fax, and telephones.

Two days later, a staff member who acted as Ombudsman for the ECA Staff Union and had served for seven years on fixed-term contracts, received a letter informing him that his services were no longer needed at ECA. The ECA administration then issued a letter to the local police commission informing them that the staff member who was separated had made terroristic threats against the premises and senior staff and that he should be placed under surveillance by the local police commission. The letter was accompanied by personal information about the staff member, including the names of his mother and brother.

In a country with a history of imprisoning U.N. staff, such a proclamation to the local police could prove to be extremely dangerous for the staff member and his family members. The Staff Union believes that the ECA administration acted inappropriately by making such strong allegations against a staff member whom they had not investigated nor requested any explanations from. The United Nations has procedures to follow when a staff member is suspected of wrongdoing. None of those procedures involve alerting local police authorities to place a staff member "under surveillance."

That serious behaviour was brought to the attention of Ms. Rosemarie Waters, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), who contacted a number of senior officials and asked them to intervene in this case to preserve the independence of the staff union in ECA.

She pointed out that new elections were not the solution to the problem. Perfectly valid elections were held in the Spring of 2002 for a two-year term of office which will expire in Spring 2004. The U.N. Administration needs to inform the Executive Secretary that he should refrain from interfering in the Staff Union and their Statute. The right of staff to elect their representatives must be respected. If new elections are conducted, that action will set a dangerous precedent that will enable any administrator who does not like the serving staff president, to hold new elections and dispose of that staff committee.

The U.N. Staff Council approved a resolution on the 9th of January 2003 (RES/55) which expresses serious concern over the actions of the Executive Secretary which constitute gross interference in the sovereign affairs of an independent Union elected by the constituents at ECA. It called for a fact-finding mission to be conducted by CCISUA and the members of the Fifth Committee to be briefed in writing. The resolution further requested Amoako to reopen immediately the staff union office and reinstate the duly elected staff union until normally scheduled elections are held.

The Staff Union appealed to the Secretary-General to address the serious violations committed by the management of ECA, most importantly by making serious allegations to the Ethiopian police concerning a staff member who diligently served the Organization for seven years.

In the absence of any response from the Union Nations, including the Office of the Secretary-General, the Staff Council has decided to request an independent investigation of the possible serious abuses by an appropriate outside organization whose mandate is the protection of human rights.