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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

GAP Welcomes Recent Appointment of António Guterres for Position of UN Secretary General

Staff, October 11, 2016

GAP welcomes the appointment of António Guterres for the position of UN Secretary General. Widely respected throughout the international community, Guterres has spent nearly half a century in public service addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues. We applaud his outspoken commitment to innovation and reform as outlined in his submitted vision statement, particularly in the areas of transparency, accountability, and institutional integrity.

“As chief administrative officer, the [Secretary General] must maintain unwavering commitment to transparency, accountability and oversight…Moreover, the SG must stand firmly for the reputation of the UN and its dedicated staff. Leading by example and imposing the highest ethical standards on everyone serving under the UN flag. In particular, elevating the prestige of the blue helmet, the soldier standing for peace, and eradicating, once and for all, the exploitative and abusive conduct of those UN agents who do not represent what the Organization stands for.”

Under the auspices of outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whistleblowers who have come forward to disclose instances of fraud and abuse on behalf of the public interest have been forced to resign, while the perpetrators remain largely undisciplined. For example, only recently has the UN acknowledged its direct role in the spread of cholera to Haiti in 2010 after a peacekeeping mission was established there. Upwards of 750,000 people have been infected and over 9,000 have died. Similarly, very few peacekeepers have been brought to justice for their misconduct, no matter how heinous, despite an assurance from UN bodies that the situation would be appropriately redressed.

For example, when Anders Kompass, a former official at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, disclosed information to French authorities that brought to light criminal cases of child abuse by French peacekeepers stationed in the Central African Republic, the High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, spent more energy and resources condemning him than they did holding the abusers accountable. Though eventually vindicated, Kompass has since willingly resigned from his post, repulsed by the UN’s endemic culture of “complete impunity.” In contrast, Zeid remains in place.

That conscientious whistleblowers like Kompass leave the UN in order to escape reprisal strongly suggests that an overhaul of the accountability process is necessary. After whistleblowers exposed the UN’s massive Oil-for-Food scandal, an Ethics Office was established in 2006. However, data obtained by GAP reveal that between then and 2014, approximately 97 percent of whistleblowers who brought cases before the Ethics Office were denied relief, without any option to appeal.  

GAP has posed questions to Mr. Guterres concerning his commitment to whistleblowing as an effective accountability tool and we await his response. To be sure, he is well-qualified for the position of Secretary General, having spent the past decade protecting the vulnerable as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

On January 1, 2017 Mr. Guterres will take the reins of the UN from Ban Ki-moon and face the world’s most challenging and complex policy issues, including climate change, massive refugee flows, rising xenophobia, and spreading conflict, among many others. We at GAP look forward to collaborating with him and all other likeminded civil society organizations to protect whistleblowers and reform the United Nations.