International Administrative Law

Jobs of International Civil Servants at Risk in UNESCO

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On 9th March 2012, the 58 member Executive Board of UNESCO adopted at the behest of the organisation’s Director General (Irina Bokova) a new ‘Road Map.’  The Road Map, which is in effect a euphemism for change, was necessitated by a cut of approximately US$188 million to the organisation’s operating budget as a consequence of the United States’ refusal to pay its levy.  Although the Road Map is designed to allow UNESCO to continue its programmes over the period 2012-2013, despite its severe funding crisis, it is nevertheless based on a series of austerity measures that, according to the Executive Board, will require Ms Bokova to:

  • abolish or redefine posts where appropriate with a view to shifting resources to priority areas;
  • develop a more flexible policy of contracts;
  • review current Staff Rules and Regulations.

Accepting the challenge handed to her by the Executive Board, Ms Bokova said:

“The Roadmap now provides the Organisation with a clear sense of direction, and it sets firm targets to meet as we move forward … I am determined to meet the targets we have set in all areas – including cost efficiency, restructuring and human resources management.  My commitment to reforming the Organisation is steadfast.  The reform we have started is irreversible”

Not surprisingly, a significant number UNESCO’s employees were angered by the Executive Boards resolution and the Director-General’s apparent desire to implement it, for it is inevitable that the implementation of the roadmap will lead to significant job losses and an overall diminution of the terms and conditions of service presently enjoyed by the organisation’s staff.  In effect, the resolution of the Executive Board risks taking UNESCO out of the United Nations common system.  According to the two unions that represent the interests of the organisation’s international civil servants (ISAU and STU), 600 of them “massed” in protest outside the room in which the Executive Board was sitting.  Sidiki Coulibaly, President of the ISAU, and Ronan Grippay, President of the STU, were eventually invited to address members of the Executive Board, but, by this late stage of the proceedings, their advocacy on behalf of the staff fell onto deaf ears.  ISAU and STU have now set up a ‘Crisis Committee’ with a view to overturning the resolution.

UNESCO and the international civil servants that it employees appear to be on a collision course that may well test and have ramifications for international administrative law.  UNESCO is a member of the International Labour Organisation Administrative Tribunal and it will eventually fall to that body to adjudicate any unresolved complaints that might flow from UNESCO’s adverse treatment of its staff.  If a settlement to the dispute cannot be found, then a myriad of issues may be litigated within and possibly outside of UNESCO’s internal justice mechanism, such as accrued rights, fundamental and essential terms of contract, equality of treatment, dignity of the international civil service etc.

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is an international organisation and a specialised agency of the United Nations.  Its employees are international civil servants.  UNESCO was established on 16th November 1945 and has its headquarters in Paris, France.  UNESCO’s mandate is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Organisation is the successor to the League of Nations’ International Commission on Intellectual Cooperation.  Its web-site is

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