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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

State Department Now Required to Certify UN Whistleblower Program

February 03, 2014
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Legislation a Direct Result of Whistleblower Case; GAP to Track Compliance

(Washington, DC) – On Jan. 17, President Obama signed legislation requiring the Secretary of State to certify that each agency at the United Nations which receives U.S. contributions is adhering to best practices for the protection of whistleblowers. This new requirement is outlined in Section 7048 (a) of the 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act, "Transparency and Accountability." Agencies that lack such certification will lose 15 percent of their U.S. funding. While the best practices requirement had been in place for U.N. agencies since 2012, until now, the Secretary of State had the option to remain silent by not making or withholding any failing assessment from Congress.

This forceful provision was enshrined in U.S. legislation largely in response to the case of Wasserstrom v. Secretary-General of the United Nations, now in the U.N. Internal Justice System. While assigned to the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, Government Accountability Project (GAP) client James Wasserstrom blocked what he alleged was a conspiracy to pay a $500 million kickback to senior U.N. and Kosovo officials in connection with the construction of a new coal mine and power plant. As a result of his whistleblowing, the U.N. Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) found he was subjected to serious and protracted retaliation, which he faced without protection from the U.N. Ethics Office, the unit established to investigate and act against such reprisals. While Wasserstrom faced relentless negative personal and professional consequences of the retaliation, however, none of those who engaged in it suffered consequences themselves.

This law provides a transparency mechanism for a 2012 appropriations law imposing financial penalties on U.N. agencies that fail to follow best practices for whistleblower protection. State Department officials long have known the U.N. program fails the statutory funding requirements. Unfortunately, in order to avoid controversy, they simply remained silent instead of formally refusing to certify compliance. They no longer have that option. Wasserstrom worked closely with congressional offices on the provision.

GAP argues that this provision is sorely needed at the United Nations. Recent cases demonstrate that Wasserstrom's experience is not unique: As of 2012, the U.N. Ethics Office had denied the whistleblowing allegations of over 99 percent of those who had come forward (more than 300 staffers). Moreover, a recent UNDT judgment showed that such failures extend beyond the Ethics Office to the Office of Internal Oversight Services. Specifically, the former acting director of U.N. Investigations was found to have manipulated and withheld evidence in a critical investigation involving U.N. doctors prescribing narcotics. While the acting director suffered no consequences for misconduct, he was able to retaliate for three years against the investigators who reported him before they received relief from the U.N. Dispute Tribunal. This abysmal record demonstrates that the United Nations must act decisively to protect whistleblowers who report internal corruption, fraud, waste and abuse.

This new law provides a strong financial incentive to adjust attitudes and behavior. GAP, which helped to draft the whistleblower protection policy for the U.N. Secretariat and Peacekeeping Forces, is committed to tracking compliance with the provision and will work closely with Congress and the Secretary of State toward this goal.

Wasserstrom stated: "With this example in place, other member states, especially major contributors, should take strong steps with U.N. bodies to demand serious improvements that deal with internal corruption, promote transparency, protect whistleblowers and hold U.N. wrongdoers accountable, specifically to include retaliators."

Wasserstrom will be available to meet individually with media representatives in New York from today, Monday, February 3 through Thursday, February 6, 2014. For further information on the topic or to schedule an interview with him, contact GAP Communications Director Dylan Blaylock at DylanB@whistleblower.org or +1.202.457.0034, ext. 137, or +1.202.236.3733 (cell).

 

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 137
Email: dylanb@whistleblower.org

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 non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

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