Profile: UN Appeals Tribunal's first female judge from China

(Xinhua) 16:54, December 15, 2023

BEIJING, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- Since the establishment of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (UNAT) in 2009, it had never previously featured any Chinese judges on its roster.

The situation remained unchanged until Gao Xiaoli, a female judge, joined the bench, becoming the first Chinese judge within the internal justice system of the United Nations.

December 14, 2022 will forever be etched in Gao's memory. It marked the day when she took a solemn oath in front of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York.

"At that moment, I felt the burden on my shoulders," she said.

Born in a small city in north China's Hebei Province, Gao has always held onto her childhood dream of becoming a judge.

Motivated by this aspiration, she entered the China University of Political Science and Law to study economic law in 1990. Her academic journey progressed with a master's degree from Peking University and a doctorate degree in law from the University of International Business and Economics. She also obtained a specialized graduate diploma of law in Canada.

Before joining the UNAT, Gao spent almost three decades at China's Supreme People's Court (SPC). She serves as the chief judge of the 2nd civil division of the SPC now, and worked as the deputy chief judge of the 4th civil division of the SPC between 2017 and 2020, and as the presiding judge of the 1st Circuit Court of the SPC between 2015 and 2017.

Working for the United Nations marked a challenge that a veteran judge like Gao usually doesn't undertake. However, upon noticing the vacancies for judge positions on the UN website, Gao embraced the opportunity without hesitation. Her passion has driven her to consistently push her limits and avoid being restricted to a single routine.

"Previously, no Chinese judges were applying for this position, but times have changed. We are now capable in various aspects to fulfill the requirements of this role," she said.

Apart from moral integrity and impartiality, the position demands over 15 years of adjudication experience and fluency in oral and written English.

The selection process for the UN judgeship was extensive. After multiple rounds of assessments, including written examination and interview, Gao emerged as the top choice among 380 applicants from 78 countries and regions, securing 109 votes at the 34th Plenary Meeting of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly on November 15, 2022.

Functioning as the appellate body of the United Nations' internal justice system, the UNAT primarily handles disputes arising from work-related matters between international civil servants and organizations.

According to Gao, the court's jurisdiction extends to 16 international organizations, safeguarding the legal rights of approximately 80,000 employees. "It is meaningful to contribute my judicial experience and strength on such a multilateral platform."

For Gao and her fellow judges, the UNAT position is a part-time role. They meet in sessions three times a year to render judgments.

Every March, June and October, Gao travels to New York for the sessions. Though each session lasts only a brief half-month, she normally engages in the trial of 15 cases, including five as the presiding judge and 10 as the sitting judge.

The cases at the UNAT are diverse, spanning disputes regarding appointments and promotions, salaries and benefits, and disciplinary measures.

According to Gao, judges of the UNAT not only need to be well-versed in the legal framework of the United Nations but also require an in-depth understanding of internal management within international organizations.

One particularly challenging aspect of the job lies in balancing the protection of international civil servants' rights and the discretionary powers of international organizations in administrative matters, she added.

Gao often finds herself pondering over cases late into the night. "Regardless of the size of the case, every judgment directly delineates the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the parties involved," Gao said, adding that judges must respect the facts and uphold the law.

Receiving unanimous acclaim from fellow judges for her judicial skills and conscientious approach, Gao was elected as the president of the UNAT for the upcoming year of 2024.

Gao sees this new role as a beginning that demands efforts to not just improve professional capabilities but also hone exceptional management and coordination skills to oversee tribunal affairs, enhance efficiency, and uphold fairness and justice.

Gao said that being able to sit on the bench of the UNAT can be attributed to "coming from an influential country which is in a good era." And in the meantime, it also reflects the global recognition of Chinese judges' competency.

She believes that more Chinese employees will be seen at the United Nations in the future.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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