UN fails to protect whistleblowers: the importance for International Civil Servants of protection by independent legal counsel.
UN, NEW YORK
The United Nations Dispute Tribunal has found the international organisation’s mechanisms for dealing with whistleblowers to be so “fundamentally flawed” that they fail to protect the basic rights of its employees. In its ruling in the case of Wasserstrom (judgment to be published), the Tribunal held that the UN Ethics Office failed to protect the applicant against reprisals from his bosses. James Wasserstrom, an American diplomat, was sacked and then detained by UN Police, who proceeded to ransack his flat, search his car and post his picture on a wanted poster after he expressed suspicions in 2007 about corruption in senior ranks of the UN Mission in Kosovo.
The clear lack of protection for UN staff members encapsulated in this case is confirmed by the statistics. The Guardian (27th June 2012) cites statistical analysis by the Washington based Government Accountability Project (GAP), which found that out of 297 cases in which whilstleblowers complained of retaliation, the Ethics Office fully sided with the complainant once in six years. Statements made by GAP confirm the importance for international civil servants of seeking independent legal advice and protection when they find themselves in the position of whilstleblower. Bea Edwards, GAP Executive Director remarked:
“Like any internal office in an international institution, it is always subjected to huge pressures from above.” She continued, “It is very difficult for an official employed by the institution to be impartial”.
It is a view which is confirmed by the experience of the team at Bretton Woods Law: the rights of, and the protections afforded to, individuals working within international organisations are all too often subjugated by realpolitik.
Indeed, the attitude of those within the UN towards whilstleblowers was succinctly summed-up by Wasserstrom who remarked:
“I was told at some point in the whole process that the UN didn’t want a ‘culture of snitches’. What has grown up instead is a culture completely insulated from reality. It’s a culture of impunity.”
As well as raising concerns about staff exposure to fundamental failings in the UN system, the case is also of assistance to those seeking redress as it adds validity to the approach of directing such grievances to the Secretary General, as the office-holder with ultimate responsibility for the Ethics Office.
If you have concerns about whilstleblowing, contact Bretton Woods Law for impartial confidential advice.