UN Geneva Faces Second Partial Shutdown Amid Cash Crisis

The UN is studying plans to close the Palais des Nations beginning 22 April. Only conferences would run, but some of the offices would shut.

by Thalif Deen

Faced with a continued cash flow crisis, the United Nations in Geneva (UNOG) will partially close down – for the second time since December last year— as it scales back its operations, including building closures, official travel restrictions, and budgetary cuts on spending.

Volker Türk, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, at his office in Geneva [ Photo: by Salvatore Di Nolfi ]

The UN is studying plans to close the Palais des Nations beginning 22 April. Only conferences would run, but some of the offices would shut.

In the earlier cutbacks, some of the Geneva offices remained closed or partially closed from 20 December last year to 12 January 2024.

But the impending closures will not affect UN agencies—such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the International Labour Organization (ILO), because they are funded separately.

The WHO gets its funding from two main sources: Member States paying their assessed contributions (countries’ membership dues), and voluntary contributions from Member States and other partners.

In 2023, according to Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General UNOG, the UN faced its worst financial shortfall in years, with the lowest dues collection in five years and only 142 Member States (out of 193) paying in full.

“This has resulted in a fragile financial outlook for 2024, severely impacting our operational capabilities”.

To address this, the United Nations Office at Geneva is tasked with reducing non-salary expenses by 42%, equating to savings of over 15 million USD, while preserving essential functions.

Starting April 22, UNOG will implement strategic cost-cutting measures to enhance efficiency and ensure sustainability

Ian Richards, an economist at the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and former President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations, told IPS the cost of late payments by member states is being pushed onto staff.

While intergovernmental meetings will continue almost unimpeded, staff are being asked to carry out their usual work without an office, he pointed out.

“There isn’t enough usable office space remaining, despite what is being affirmed. Staff will have to work from home for months at a time. Those living in cramped city centre flats may need to relocate elsewhere”.

“ I am not sure all of this has been thought through,” said Richards.

The UN offices affected by the cutbacks include the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)—and indirectly, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE).

Further, the question is: why can’t the burden be shared? Why isn’t New York closed for a month, and then Vienna, Bangkok and Nairobi?, asked Richards.

The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) must save $15.5 million due to the liquidity crisis.

“We are going to do everything we can, without touching our fundamental mandate,” the director of the UN Information Service, Alessandra Vellucci, told the Keystone-ATS, a Swiss news agency last week. Each department has taken a number of decisions based on the efforts requested by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Asked for his response, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS the UN in New York has no plans to close down. “ We mentioned our cost saving measures in January and those still apply.”

In an interview last February, Haq said that in order to ensure liquidity for paying staff salaries, certain difficult steps will be necessary. Hiring restrictions will need to be maintained during 2024, he said.

“Restrictions in non-post spending will also be critical to bridge the liquidity gap. As a result, until the situation improves, official travel will need to be limited to the most essential activities.”

“Purchases of goods and services will be postponed, unless absolutely critical. Hiring of consultants and experts will be minimized to the extent feasible”.

And most construction and maintenance projects will be suspended, except where the slowing down of major construction projects would result in significant future additional expenses.

“We will implement energy-saving and other measures to reduce utility bills and curtail expenses on managing facilities. Non-essential security expenses will also be curtailed, as long as they do not impact the safety of our premises, assets and of our personnel and delegates,” said Haq.

On building closures in Geneva, Richards said, staff are very concerned about this closure.

Studies and surveys show that for certain functions, hybrid work, which splits the week between office presence and work from home can have productivity benefits, without prejudice to being available to meet with member states as required.

“However, closing the office for an extended period will create problems. Many staff do not have homes that are equipped for long-term teleworking and for those staff they may need to relocate temporarily to their home countries, which will have knock-on effects”.

According to UNOG, some of the measures to address the UN liquidity crisis include the following:

Travel: Only operationally imperative travel shall be approved.

Procurement: All procurement is suspended unless operationally required (Canine Unit support, replacement of broken/lost equipment, etc.). The purchase of uniforms, flags, etc. shall be delayed.

Training: Only operationally imperative training will be conducted (e.g. Firearms, Use of Force, First Aid, etc.) with all external training involving costs to be suspended.

General Building Operations

Reduction in heating (20.5°C) and in the warmer seasons, reduction in cooling (26.0 °C).

Minimized outdoor lighting, except for that necessary for security and safety.

All equipment purchases or replacements will be stopped, except for operationally critical requirements, e.g., ICT equipment, building infrastructure equipment and other necessary supplies.

All overtime needs required to maintain the compound are under review with a potential shift to regular working hours, which could cause disturbances due to maintenance/work during regular working hours.

The summer season of the language classes will not be held as per past practice.


Time slots of a standard three-hour duration within official working hours (from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m, and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) for meetings with conference services will be strictly applied (in line with General Assembly resolution 56/242, annex).

Mandated meetings have absolute priority. Nevertheless, servicing capacity is significantly restrained and may not suffice to support all mandated activities during peak periods as currently planned.

In order to manage within current limitations, no parallel meetings of the same body can be accommodated. Servicing of informal consultations or working meetings, or meetings of regional or other groups of Member States, will be accommodated strictly on an “if available” basis.

For non-calendar meetings without interpretation, use of virtual self-service platforms (e.g., Microsoft Teams), and use of rooms without services will be available.

Any intergovernmental decision to implement a new mandate within existing budgetary resources will be subject to the availability of adequate cash resources and capacity.

Meetings must be confirmed or cancelled to the Meetings Management Section by 3 pm the Tuesday of the week prior to the scheduled start date, in line with the established practice. Late additions may not be accommodated while late cancellations would likely result in idling of conference servicing capacity or/and facilities.

The approved Geneva Calendar of Conferences and Meetings in 2024 has been carefully fine-tuned. Requests for changes of dates of the calendar sessions at this stage will not be favorably considered.

Audiovisual and meeting coverage services

All purchases or replacements of webcast and other audiovisual equipment will be stopped.

Limited or no coverage of some meetings, particularly of the Human Rights Council, when multiple concurrent meetings are taking place. UNIS may not be able to cover them all.

UNTV will operate with reduced core capacity. Webcast live streaming will be guaranteed on existing resources. There will, however, be no cue points, or “chapters”, (which are normally put in by the webcasters as the meeting is ongoing, and which contain speaker-by-speaker information associated with the relevant moments in the meeting video). Broadcast coverage will be extremely limited.

Reduced services to Member States and the media on the provision of audiovisual materials and support.

In particular, no photo service will be provided, including for the Human Rights Council. Videos may not be captioned, published or distributed to the requesting parties on the same day when there are multiple meetings/events occurring that day.

Library research assistance online and in-person will be temporarily reduced.

How long are these cost-saving measures expected to be in place?

Unless we get an influx of funds to cover the allocations in the budget, UNOG says, “we expect these measures to be implemented until the end of the year 2024.”