The United Nations (UN) is the source of fundamental international law on universal human rights to freedom of expression and access to information. GAP advocates that whistleblowers have fundamental rights consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social Economic and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly and works to ensure that these rights are honored by the UN itself when employees from the UN system disclose misconduct.
On a case-by-case basis, GAP works to improve the accountability of the United Nations through protecting whistleblowers from the UN system and preventing retaliation. GAP has successfully represented whistleblowers from the UN Secretariat, United Nations Safety and Security, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and World Food Programme (WFP).
In 2005, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a whistleblower protection policy that was developed after months of consultation with GAP and other experts in whistleblower law. The policy established an independent Ethics Office, with staff responsible for receiving appeals for protection from whistleblowers. GAP believed that this policy applied to all UN agencies, an interpretation supported by the policy itself.
This policy was put to the test in 2007, when five whistleblowers from UNDP, each separately, came forward seeking protection. In August 2007, the UN Ethics Office reviewed the case of Artjon Shkurtaj – whose contract was terminated after he reported wrongdoing in the UNDP North Korea office – and ruled in favor of the whistleblower. In response, the UNDP Administrator claimed that UNDP was not subject to the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office or the anti-retaliation policy and would shortly have its own policy and Ethics Office.
In November 2007 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a policy that allowed UNDP to exempt itself from the rulings of the Ethics Office and, in fact, encouraged other Funds and Programs to take the same step. This bulletin authorized the replacement of one Ethics Office with a proliferation of ad hoc internal whistleblower policies and ethics offices that lacked the autonomy needed to be effective and impartial.
GAP has compared the whistleblower policies at the UN Secretariat, UNDP , WFP, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and found them to be inconsistent, weakened by arbitrary loopholes and, on the whole, less comprehensive than the original UN policy established in 2005. These policies should be rewritten to, at a minimum, meet the standards set out in the original UN policy.
Because the United Nations operates beyond the reach of national laws, courts and investigative bodies, GAP has advocated for reforms in its conflict resolution system and investigative units, so that those systems will be more effective. In 2006 a panel of independent jurists recommended that the United Nations create a new justice system and made comprehensive suggestions for how to do so. This Redesign Panel envisioned an independent, transparent, professionalized and adequately resourced justice system that would ensure respect for the rights of employees and the accountability of managers and staff members alike. As part of these reforms, the panel proposed an Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA) to serve as an advocate for staff members in employment-related disputes. In 2008 GAP undertook a study of possible models and recommendations for OSLA.
In July 2009, the UN launched a new justice system, based on some of the Redesign Panel recommendations. OSLA is now operational, and is processing a heavy volume of submissions. GAP has analyzed some of the initial decisions issued by the UN Dispute Tribunal and Appeals Tribunal that have repercussions for whistleblowers, including Shkurtaj v. Secretary-General (2011-UNAT-148), Bertucci v. Secretary-General (order 59), Wasserstrom v. Secretary-General (order 19 and order 61), D’Hooge v. Secretary-General (UNDT/2010/044), and Abboud v. Secretary-General (UNDT/2010/030).
Regarding whistleblower protections, GAP has advised several staff associations within the UN system and the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) – a federated group of 29 staff associations/unions from organizations belonging to the United Nations common system.
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- United Nations Convention Against Corruption: Whistleblower Provisions
- International Best Practice Free Speech Protections
- Top Ten Organizational Commitments Needed to Make IGO Whistleblower Protection Policies Effective
- Report of the Redesign Panel on the UN System of Administration of Justice
- United Nations Integrity Survey