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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Once Again, a UN Whistleblower is in Jeopardy

Bea Edwards, May 05, 2016

On May 4, 2016, Miranda Brown wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, to request a decision concerning an application she had made for her former position in the Office of the High Commission (OHCHR). The High Commissioner failed to renew Dr. Brown’s contract one year ago after helping to subject her to a convoluted process of retaliation for her whistleblowing at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and in his own Office, the OHCHR.

At WIPO, Dr. Brown tried to prevent shipments of sophisticated computer technology to North Korea and Iran, authorized by Francis Gurry, WIPO’s Director General. Subsequently, she reported Gurry’s bizarre actions when she found that he had directed security officers to steal DNA samples from staff members in order to identify anonymous letter writers he suspected of criticizing him. 

Gurry then began to harass Dr. Brown, and because she was an advisor to him, she was especially vulnerable. To escape the bullying, she took a demotion of two grades to move to the OHCHR, where she reported to Anders Kompass, Director of the Foreign Operations and Technical Cooperation Division (FOTCD). There, she saw High Commissioner Zeid retaliate against Kompass after he reported the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic (CAR) by peacekeepers. Dr. Brown supported Kompass and sought to bring attention to the plight of the abused children.

But Zeid transferred another staff member into her position in Geneva and informed her that she would not be renewed – unless she transferred immediately to a far distant post. In short, Dr. Brown lost her job.

Her former post in Geneva, however, is now vacant, and she applied for it. The recruitment process has been completed and a recommendation has been on Zeid’s desk for more than six weeks. He has refused to act.

Dr. Brown was told that her contract would not be renewed because there was no open position at her level in Geneva. Now there is one – it is her former position. United Nations rules allow her reinstatement:

A former staff member who held a fixed-term or continuing appointment and who is re-employed under a fixed-term or a continuing appointment within 12 months of separation from service may be reinstated if the Secretary-General considers that such reinstatement would be in the interest of the Organization. (Rule 4.18 Reinstatement UN Staff Rules and Regulations)

Soon, however, she will be beyond the one-year time limit specified in the regulation. GAP fears that this is the strategy: simply allow time to run out.

In the meantime, Dr. Brown testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the abuses committed by peacekeepers in CAR and the need to protect the human rights officers and whistleblowers who report it.  She has also assisted the House Foreign Affairs Committee as it members sought to protect whistleblowers who report misconduct at the United Nations.

Nonetheless, she herself is without protection.

U.S. legislation stipulates that the full U.S. contribution to the United Nations will not be disbursed until the State Department certifies that best-practice whistleblower protections are implemented at the UN.

Among the best-practice provisions required by law is access for whistleblowers to external arbitration.  Thus far, the UN does not allow such access and says so. Nonetheless, the Congress disbursed the full contribution to the United Nations regular fund last year. Now, once again, Dr. Brown has requested either reinstatement (as specified in US law for the full US contribution and provided for by UN regulation) or external arbitration to settle her claim to her former position (as required by US law). 

Senator Corker, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has strongly supported efforts to protect UN whistleblowers in general and Dr. Brown in particular. Senator Cardin, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed concerns about Dr. Brown’s situation and indicated that the Committee would take retaliation against her as a witness very seriously. But thus far, the Congress as a whole appears to lack the inclination to enforce its own legislation requiring the protection of UN whistleblowers. Dr. Brown’s case shows the ultimate impact of such a failure of political will.

  • Children in the care of peacekeepers are sexually abused;
  • Shipments of sensitive technology to rogue governments go unsanctioned;
  • A UN Director General imposes delusional and bizarre behavior on subordinates;
  • Procurement regulations are ignored;
  • Staff members who report the abuse, corruption and misconduct are harassed and dismissed.

In a setting such as the UN, where public access to information does not exist, and where virtually all operations are governed only by the opaque internal legal processes of the institution itself, whistleblowers have an absolutely crucial function. Without them, the United Nations is unaccountable for the most objectionable abuses of the people it is putatively protecting, the principles of governance it was created to uphold, and the staff members who, in good faith, try to do a good job.

Without effective action by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Miranda Brown is about to become the most recent victim of what is increasingly seen as institutionally condoned retaliation.