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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

GAP Requests Accountability at UN/WIPO

Bea Edwards, April 17, 2017

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva, poses increasing difficulties for the United States and for whistleblowers. The real problems became public in 2014, when the US-nominated Deputy Director General, James Pooley, submitted a Report of Misconduct to WIPO’s Internal Audit and Oversight Division. The report was startling in the chronicle of offenses alleged against Francis Gurry, WIPO's Director General, and it was understated in its silence about the potential consequences of the actions Gurry had taken.

Around that time, Gurry began to retaliate against those he viewed as attacking him, including Pooley. That was over two years ago now. To date, the Member States have been unwilling to control Gurry, and the scale of the retaliation against whistleblowers who speak out about his misconduct ratcheted up.

Most recently, Gurry decided to replace the elected WIPO Staff Council with another Council he selected himself. The stooge-council was also elected, although numerous procedural irregularities marred the process, which the duly-elected WIPO Staff Council is currently challenging. This week, the real WIPO Staff Council members were told to vacate their premises, their administrative support was eliminated, and the Staff Council President (Chris Mason) and other members' release from normal duties to perform Staff Council work was cancelled. Gurry's attacks on the legitimate Staff Council began when he dismissed its President, Moncef Kateb, in 2014. This campaign escalated into a blatant dictator-style effort to replace all of them, just before Kateb was scheduled to speak to WIPO’s General Assembly about internal abuses.

The Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) has written a letter to all staff association representatives in Geneva urging them not to recognize the Gurry stooge-council. 

Nonetheless, it has been established that Gurry has:

  • Secretly shipped American high-end IT equipment to North Korea and Iran, in violation of US domestic sanctions (allegedly in exchange for these countries votes in his election), without the consent of Member States;
     
  • Refused to allow WIPO staff-member witnesses to testify before the US Congress as Congressional committees sought to investigate these shipments. (They testified only after they had left WIPO.);
     
  • Refused to step down, even as the US Congress (House Committee on Foreign Affairs sub-committees) called for his removal from office;
     
  • Opened WIPO external offices in China and Russia, without the approval of Member States, and without providing them with a risk assessment, which would have identified possible threats to the patent system);
  • Ignored a finding by UN investigators that he was guilty of procurement corruption (in which he steered a contract to a crony);
     
  • Summarily dismissed the President of the WIPO Staff Association, Moncef Kateb, days before he was going to speak to Member States about Gurry’s abuse of authority;
     
  • Harassed his Strategic Adviser Miranda Brown, forcing her to resign after disclosing to the US government the North Korea and Iran shipments and other abuses of authority;
     
  • Retaliated against American Deputy Director General Jim Pooley for his whistleblowing and disclosure to Member States concerning Gurry’s:
    • corruption of a procurement exercise to steer a contract to a friend;
    • intrusive secret searches of staff members’ personal effects for the purpose of identifying “enemies”; and
    • secret shipments of American computer equipment to Iran and North Korea.
       
  • Retaliated against the procurement whistleblower Wei Lei, subjecting him to harassment, ostracism and bogus negative performance reports (with a view to contract non-renewal);
     
  • Retaliated against individual WIPO Staff Council members through:
    • bogus negative performance reports;
    • intimidation;
    • threats of bogus investigation; and
    • threats of contract non-renewal.
       
  • Earned a determination by the US Secretary of State that WIPO is non-compliant with US legislation on protecting UN whistleblowers from retaliation for two consecutive years. (WIPO is the only UN agency that the Obama Administration determined had failed to meet the minimum standard for protecting whistleblowers set out in US law);
     
  • Replaced the duly-elected WIPO Staff Council with his stooge council.

It beggars belief that Francis Gurry can get away with all this, and yet, unmistakably, he has. In October 2016, the Obama Administration’s US Ambassador in Geneva issued a statement after WIPO’s governing body decided to ignore Gurry’s corruption, retaliation and abuse of authority 

"..For several years, allegations of wrong-doing have undermined confidence in the organization, shifted focus away from its important work, and diminished perceptions of its integrity.  On repeated occasions, WIPO staff have asserted that they have been retaliated against for speaking up about perceived wrong-doing, or for expressing concerns about the organization’s leadership…

As Member States it is our collective responsibility to ensure that WIPO staff and others who participated in the recent investigation [of Gurry] and whose identities have been disclosed suffer no adverse consequences for having participated in the investigation…

We need to promote accountability and adherence to the highest ethical standards, and ensure that WIPO staff feel free to express concerns and make suggestions for improving the organization without fear of retaliation or negative consequences for their careers."

This statement remains a rhetorical commitment and nothing more. Retaliation continues unchecked and has intensified. Gurry's decision to replace the legitimate WIPO Staff Council with a dummy Council of his choosing is a brazen attack on whistleblowers, never mind labor rights. Despite the situation at WIPO, none of its Member States seems willing to intervene—the US, under the Obama Administration, was unwilling to act because Australian officials asked the US delegation not criticize their most senior UN official.

The US Administration and Congress must demand an end to Gurry’s impunity at WIPO. Under Francis Gurry, WIPO is non-compliant with best practice for the protection of whistleblowers, procurement processes have been corrupted and staff members have been abused. If the Director General can manipulate procurement without penalty, how can any other staff member be disciplined for doing the same thing? Moreover, Gurry has defiantly made the international patent system vulnerable to intrusion and violation by rogue governments around the world.

The new US Administration must take immediate action to:

  • protect WIPO whistleblowers and US Congressional witnesses;
  • prevent Francis Gurry from replacing the duly-elected Staff Council with his stooge council; and
  • call for Gurry to step down or be removed from office.