Lack of UN judges from under-represented groups and regions prompts recruiting effort

Kate O'Regan

A lack of judges from some under-represented groups and regions is prompting the United Nations to embark on an active recruitment drive worldwide. One group being targeted are Asians. Julie Walker spoke with Judge Kate O’Regan, the chairperson of the Internal Justice Council, which helps ensure independence, professionalism and accountability in administration of justice at the UN, about what specific efforts are underway to get a diverse pool of judges.

What we have done is we have prepared an advertisement which has been placed very widely in journals both in Asia and in Africa and a variety of other places to call for people to put their names forward for consideration for appointment. We have also contacted each of the chief justices of all member states informing them of the vacancies and internal candidates are being informed of the vacancies.

Why do you think there are a lack of judges representing some of these under-represented groups such as women or Asians? Why has it been difficult to find candidates for these positions?

Well we are quote good on gender generally. We are not quite 50-percent, but there is a good representation of women judges. You know this is really only the second time that we have called for applicants for these positions. The system was established in 2008 and that was done very speedily in order to try to have judges available to start in the system on the First of January 2009 which had been the original intention of the General Assembly. But, in fact the system only began on the First of July 2009. As a result of having a little bit more time a little bit more preparation and we are able to have done a more thorough call for applicants this time and we are also hoping that the establishment of the new system itself will have come to the attention of judges throughout the member states, so we're hoping that we will get a good selection of candidates. But really I would mark also that we have good candidates good representation from pretty well every region other that Asia where we had one judge and that we are hoping to have candidates from all the regions making them selves available.

Now you've had a very interesting career. You were appointed back in 1994 to the constitutional court in South Africa by Nelson Mandela. What was it like being a female and holding that position?

It was an extraordinary privilege and honour to be on the first constitutional court in South Africa and being a judge at the time and I think we felt that we were really being valued for being women on the court. I think once we were there and there was no question about women.

And you're now chairperson of the Internal Justice Council for the UN. That was the body established by the General Assembly to help ensure independence, professionalism and accountability in the administration of justice at the UN. Has it had any success in achieving its goals?

Yes. I think that this is a very new system and obviously with all new systems it takes time to have their teething problems resolved. But I think that we are confident that the new system of identifying candidates in the way that we do and having interview process and vetting candidates is a good way of insuring that there is both independence and professionalism on the tribunals and like many new systems that this will take over time it will continue to improve and become more known by people within the system. But I think that we are confident that the building blocks are there for creating a independent, professional and accountable system for internal justice within the United Nations.

The Secretary-General has appointed Justice Kate O’Regan as fifth member and chairperson of the Internal Justice Council

Duration: 3’42″

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