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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

The New UN Secretary General Commits to A Culture of Accountability

Bea Edwards, December 27, 2016

Management and staff at the United Nations are marking the arrival of Antonio Guterres as Secretary General. Mr. Guterres is the former High Commissioner for Refugees and Prime Minister of Portugal. In his initial speech as the new Secretary General, Mr. Guterres turned his attention to UN management reform and spoke of a culture of accountability, including effective protection for whistleblowers.

At the Government Accountability Project (GAP) in Washington, DC, where we work with United Nations whistleblowers, we have heard this before. Both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon made the same rhetorical commitment during their terms as Secretaries General. Neither met the challenge. At GAP, we have seen one case of retaliation against a whistleblower after another go undisciplined. In many cases, the whistleblower was expelled from the Organization, while the retaliator either remained in place, or resigned quietly without acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

When the most recent UN scandal broke, exposing sexual exploitation and abuse of young boys by peacekeepers at a camp for the displaced in the Central African Republic, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, himself, was complicit in ruinous retaliation against the one official in his office who took action. Today, that official is no longer in place at the UN; he departed rather than face continuing harassment and the indignity of returning to work for a man who sought to silence him when he acted to stop the sodomizing of children. In contrast, the High Commissioner remains in place, speaking publicly about his commitment to human rights as if his conduct in the scandal and the judgment of an independent panel were not part of the public record.

There is a shamelessness about this behavior that both alarms and frightens. Some editorialists are now referring to the world of public opinion as “post-factual.” The spectacle of a public figure saying one thing and doing another – quite transparently – does not bring accountability. As far as we know, no senior manager at the United Nations has ever been held accountable for misconduct or lack of integrity ever. 

We are hoping the new Secretary General will change this at the UN.