TerraViva United Nations

U.N. Whistleblowers Muted and Victimized

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2012 (IPS) – A landmark case filed against U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon by a former employee has spotlighted the dangers of whistle-blowing inside the U.N. exposing a faulty accountability system.

In 2007 James Wasserstrom, an ex American diplomat, drew attention to suspected cases of corruption among top U.N. officials of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Unwarranted searches of his flat and car ensued and his career as a U.N. employee came to an end.

Currently U.N. officials have recourse to an anti-corruption watchdog titled the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), an ethics office and a whistle-blowing protection policy should they wish to file a complaint or claim.

But these accountability mechanisms were deemed “fundamentally flawed” by the dispute tribunal, an independent adjudicator introduced in 2009, which has ruled in Wassertrom’s favor.

Wassertrom took issue with U.N. sponsored conduct in Kosovo and found evidence to suggest that two senior officials might have been bribed to approve the construction of a coal-fired power plant and mine.

He made his suspicions known to the OIOS and believes that his claims were leaked to the officials he sought to implicate, putting him at risk of reprisals.

The ethics office found a clear case of retaliation by senior U.N. officials implicated in Wasserstrom’s corruption claims, but the OIOS rejected claims of retaliatory intent and tempered its judgment concluding that the conduct of officials “appeared to be excessive”.

According to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a watchdog organization in Washington, of 297 cases Wasserstrom’s case was only the second time in six years that the ethics office had fully sided with a whistleblower complaining of retaliation whilst seeking to expose misconduct within the U.N.

Numerous cases have been documented in independent media reports, and a recent article in the Guardian gave details of three further whistleblowers that saw their claims rejected and careers terminated.

An article in Foreign Policy similarly documents the case of Georges Tadonki who was sacked amid claims that his attempts to warn his seniors of the impending threat of cholera has been neglected prior to the countrywide outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2009.

In the recent ruling of the tribunal, Judge Goolam Meeran was scathing in his rebuke of the conduct of a global institution renowned for the promotion human rights, for having “condoned humiliating and degrading treatment of a member of its own staff”. Ban is yet to respond to the judgment. Journalist Matthew Lee of Inner City Press raised the issue in a U.N. noon briefing Jun. 25, but Ban’s spokesmen Martin Nesirky declined to comment.

The Guardian newspaper received an email from Nesirky stating, “The U.N. Dispute Tribunal issued a judgment on liability in the case of Mr Wasserstrom, but has not yet ruled on compensation and remedies. In that sense, the matter is still open. The United Nations Secretariat is studying the judgment and, in keeping with its policy on ongoing cases, is not in a position to provide any comment now.