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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

AT WIPO, the US Mission Ignores Reprisal

Bea Edwards, October 12, 2016

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, U.S. Ambassador to UN/Geneva Pamela Hamamoto drove the last nail into the coffin of an investigation that might have protected whistleblowers at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The abdication of responsibility for what happened at WIPO, a specialized agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva, was astonishing. The US Mission, while pontificating about good governance, accountability and transparency, simply ignored the findings of an investigation into allegations of bizarre and abusive behavior on the part of Francis Gurry, WIPO’s Director General, as well as allegations against him of misconduct.

This occurred either because of incompetence or dishonesty. The fact is, other WIPO Member States were hoping to enforce the findings against Gurry, but they expected the US to lead the way. They were disappointed.

In passing, the Mission sacrificed the careers of two whistleblowers who believed, wrongly, as it turns out, that after advocating for accountability and oversight, the US Mission would enforce the policies it had rhetorically supported and helped to enact.

This was not to be. The whistleblowers were subjected to ruinous retaliation by the Director General, while two more hapless staff members who participated in the investigation in good faith, await their fates, after their identities were exposed. Instead of insisting that existing policies be enforced, the US Ambassador declared that, once again, the United States intends to improve the polices by enacting additional reforms…“[T]hat will make WIPO a stronger and more transparent organization with greater accountability for employees at all levels.”

For the WIPO whistleblowers, Hamamoto directed WIPO “…[T]o review its whistleblower policies to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of those policies across the board.”

At GAP, we don’t even know what this means. Who is going to do this? Francis Gurry? Certainly not the whistleblowers, who are now a seriously endangered species – approaching extinction.

GAP has worked for more than ten years to protect UN whistleblowers, and, frankly, we’ve seen Team US run this play before. First, the US Mission gives a series of grandstanding good-governance speeches to Congress, General Assemblies and councils as needed. Then, the delegates lobby their colleagues hard for the adoption of oversight policies. Next, some gullible soul takes the rhetoric at face value and seeks to protect him/herself under its provisions after disclosing misconduct. Then, the US stands down, leaving these people to the tender mercies of retaliators. Finally, as the uproar dies away, the US returns to make a speech much like the one linked here about additional reforms to improve policies that are not enforced anyway.