The Tribunal

The League of Nations, created in 1920 and wound up in 1946, left a legacy which had functioned with some efficiency throughout the League's existence, namely its Administrative Tribunal. In addition to serving the League itself, the Tribunal also served the International Labour Organization, which had been in existence since 1919. One positive part of the legacy of the League was to preserve the Tribunal and transfer it, in 1946, to the ILO which became a specialized agency of the newly-created United Nations Organization. The ILO, which had been established to define and protect the rights of workers, was the logical destination for the Tribunal, whose mandate was to provide guarantees that the officials employed by the institutions over which it had jurisdiction at that time, i.e. the League and the ILO, would enjoy protection against arbitrary acts committed against them by their employer. By the time of its transfer to the ILO, the Tribunal had dealt with 37 cases.

In 1949, at the thirty-second Session of the International Labour Conference, Article II of the Statute of the ILO Tribunal was amended to permit other international organizations approved by the Governing Body of the International Labour Office to recognize the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to consider complaints alleging non-observance, in substance or in form, of the terms of appointment of officials and of the provisions of the Staff Regulations of those organizations. However, disputes involving the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Tribunal of the United Nations. That same year, the World Health Organization accepted the Statute of the ILO Administrative Tribunal, prompting other specialized agencies of the UN system to do likewise.

The Tribunal is composed of seven judges who must be of different nationalities, as was the case for the Administrative Tribunal of the League of Nations. They are appointed by the International Labour Conference on a recommendation of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office for a period of 5 years, renewable once. The Tribunal meets normally twice a year, in spring and autumn, for a period of 3 to 4 weeks, at the headquarters of the ILO in Geneva. At each session it delivers approximately 60 judgments on cases which are generally examined in accordance with the procedure set out in Articles 6, 8 and 9 of its Rules or in accordance with the summary procedure provided for in Article 7 of the Rules.

The Tribunal is serviced by a Registry, comprising a Registrar and a small team of legal officers. The Registry's secretariat receives the documents submitted in the course of the proceedings and replies to requests for information.


A complaint is receivable only if it is brought against an administrative decision, which may be explicit or implicit. An administrative decision is one that has been taken unilaterally by the administration and which has legal consequences for the person concerned.

An administrative decision which is explicit is one that clearly expresses what the administration intends to do. It can be written or oral (see, for example, Judgments 50 and 1012) and must have legal consequences for the person concerned. An implicit decision is one which may be inferred from the silence or inaction of the administration. In other words, when the administration fails to respond within a certain period of time to a claim by an official, its silence is construed as being a rejection of the claim (see Article VII of the Statute).

The exhaustion of all internal appeal procedures is a prior condition for any complaint to be receivable and the case law of the Tribunal shows that this rule has always been strictly applied (see, for example, Judgment 775). The Tribunal benefits from having before it the complete examination of the case that has been undertaken by the appeals body. However, it will not re-do the work of the appeals body; its task is to determine whether the decision taken on the recommendation of that body is a lawful one.

"Exhausting all internal procedures" means making use of all the legal channels that are open to an official within the rules of the organization before a final decision is taken. Normally, the Staff Regulations will provide for compulsory appeal procedures, but in addition there may be less formal procedures available (such as the services of a conciliator, or a mediator or an ombudsperson) in order to reach an amicable settlement. The official concerned must fully comply with the rules of procedure and the time limits set out in the Staff Regulations of the organization. If the official does not, he/she is liable to have his/her complaint dismissed by the Tribunal as irreceivable (see, in particular, Judgment 840).

An exception to the requirement of exhausting all internal procedures is made in the case of an implicit decision to reject a claim, which is tantamount to a final decision being taken. It is important, however, for the complainant to show that the internal body had the intention to delay a final decision, and this can be inferred from the fact that the delay in the procedure has been excessive, unexplained and inexcusable (see Judgments 1255 and 1684). The executive head may also agree that an official may seize the Tribunal directly without first having recourse to the available internal procedures.

As regards complaints that may be considered clearly time-barred, devoid of merit or frivolous, the President of the Tribunal has the authority, under Article 7 of the Rules, to instruct the Registrar not to proceed with the complaint and to forward it to the defendant organization "for information only". When it takes up the complaint, the Tribunal may either dismiss it summarily as clearly irreceivable or devoid of merit, or decide that it should be fully examined in accordance with the prescribed procedure.