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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

House Foreign Affairs Committee Acts to Protect UN Whistleblowers Through The Smith Amendment

May 31, 2016
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WASHINGTON – With bipartisan support, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chair Chris Smith introduced an amendment last week to the State Department Authorization Bill that attached strong measures in support of whistleblowers at the United Nations. The Smith Amendment requires the US Representative at the UN to use her voice, vote and influence to promote specific measures to protect those who report misconduct and criminal behavior at the UN from reprisal.

The amendment represents strong Congressional reaction to testimony heard in both the House and the Senate this spring describing continuing tolerance for misconduct and criminal behavior throughout the UN system: in peacekeeping missions, at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

If retained in the Senate bill, the Smith Amendment will oblige the US Mission to the UN to:

  • Call for the removal of any UN official whose conduct violated accepted standards of ethics and integrity
  • Ensure that best practices in whistleblower protections are implemented
  • Call for public disclosure of data on:
    • complaints received by the UN Ethics office and the Conduct and Discipline teams in peacekeeping
    • complaints that warrant an investigation
    • disposition of such investigations
    • results of consequent adjudication
  • Insist on disclosure to Member States of investigation reports
  • Examine the feasibility of a stand-alone oversight office responsible for investigations, audits and evaluations at the United Nations

Specific measures in the amendment are clearly intended to prevent the recurrence of the procedural chaos that marred an investigation into allegations of misconduct committed by Francis Gurry, the Director General at WIPO over the past eight years. The report on Gurry’s investigation has been withheld from Member States that have requested it, though Gurry remains in office and has seen the unredacted report himself. GAP client and whistleblower James Pooley testified before the HFAC on this issue. 

The retaliation initiated by Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, against OHCHR staff members who reported gross human rights abuses in peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic also prompted the Congress to introduce the measure.

GAP clients and whistleblowers Aicha El Basri and Miranda Brown testified before Congress this spring and described continuing retaliation against whistleblowers in the peacekeeping missions, despite the State Department’s written assurances that the UN Secretariat (which includes peacekeeping operations) protects them.

In brief, the Smith Amendment represents a genuine effort to protect UN whistleblowers, in recognition of their significance as agents of oversight in an otherwise unresponsive and opaque institution protected by legal immunities in the US and around the world.

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP's mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. GAP was consulted by U.N. management when the organization created its initial protection against retaliation policy and has advised several staff associations within the U.N. system about whistleblower protections.

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