GAP’s American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability kicked off its second year at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) with a stirring event featuring Kathryn Bolkovac, an International Police Task Force human rights investigator in Bosnia who, while working to support the UN Peacekeeping mission in that country, discovered and exposed the involvement of officers and military contractors in human trafficking and forced prostitution. On Monday, Nov. 5, over 200 people watched the hard-hitting film The Whistleblower, the inspiration for which was Bolkovac’s story, and were moved to a standing ovation when Bolkovac took the stage for a discussion at the film’s conclusion.
GAP International Program Officer Shelley Walden – co-author of a recent report detailing serious problems with the UN’s internal justice system and accountability in its peacekeeping missions – moderated the event, which started with an overview of GAP’s work advocating for and protecting whistleblowers for over 35 years. She then outlined the six stages of whistleblowing (Discovery, Disclosure, Retaliation, Isolation, Solidarity, Vindication), setting the stage for the film’s screening.
When Bolkovac spoke, she commented on the response to the film by the United Nations and DynCorp, her military contractor employer in Bosnia, whom she successfully sued for the ferocious retaliation directed at her after she blew the whistle. Essentially, she revealed that little had changed at the United Nations or with the contractor; both the trafficking and official complicity continue.
After the film, Bolkovac addressed how Hollywood’s account of her ordeal differed from reality, and as the event ended, a student asked whether she would blow the whistle again, given the personal danger she faced and the career-wrecking reprisal she suffered. At this final question, Bolkovac paused but then answered: "I couldn’t leave those girls there like that."
The event was co-sponsored by the UHCL Film & Speaker series, and university President William Staples gave opening remarks that accurately set the tone for the evening: “It [the film] depicts what happens when those who are supposed to protect the most vulnerable choose to exploit them instead, and also demonstrates how powerful one individual’s voice can be … Whistleblowers are important no matter what they are disclosing – they are critical tools for holding institutions accountable.” We at GAP couldn’t agree more.
After the film, UHCL sponsored a reception with Bolkovac and GAP. There, the Bay Area Social Justice Group and Houston Rescue and Restore – a nonprofit that works with people who have been trafficked – made literature available on trafficking to all. Houston, with two international airports and the largest US port on the Gulf of Mexico, is a major human trafficking hub, and both groups are fighting an uphill battle against this spreading human rights crime.
The Tour’s next stop will be on Nov. 29 at Whitman College in southeast Washington state, featuring Hanford nuclear site whistleblower Dr. Walter Tamosaitis and Hanford Challenge Program Coordinator Liz Mattson. More on that upcoming stop can be found here!
Alison Glick is Education Coordinator for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.