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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

United Nations

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The United Nations is the source of fundamental international law on universal human rights to freedom of expression and access to information. GAP advocates that whistleblowers have fundamental rights consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and treaties adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. GAP works to ensure that these rights are honored by the institution itself when employees from the U.N. system disclose misconduct.

GAP has represented whistleblowers from the United Nations Secretariat, United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and United Nations Police (UNPOL), among others. Because the institution operates beyond the reach of national laws, courts and investigative bodies, GAP has also advocated for reforms in its conflict resolution system and investigative units, so that those systems will be more effective. GAP has also advised several staff associations within the U.N. system about whistleblower protections.

Background

In 2005, then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a whistleblower protection policy that was developed after months of consultation with GAP and other experts in whistleblower law. The policy established an Ethics Office, with staff responsible for receiving appeals for protection from whistleblowers. GAP believed that this policy applied to all UN agencies, an interpretation supported by the policy itself.

This policy was put to the test in 2007, when five whistleblowers from UNDP, each separately, came forward seeking protection. In August 2007, the UN Ethics Office reviewed the case of Artjon Shkurtaj – whose contract was terminated after he reported wrongdoing in the UNDP North Korea office – and ruled in favor of the whistleblower. In response, the UNDP Administrator claimed that UNDP was not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.N. Ethics Office or the anti-retaliation policy and would shortly have its own policy and Ethics Office.

In November 2007 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a policy that allowed UNDP to exempt itself from the rulings of the Ethics Office and, in fact, encouraged other Funds and Programs to take the same step. This bulletin authorized the replacement of one Ethics Office with a proliferation of ad hoc internal whistleblower policies and ethics offices that lacked the autonomy needed to be effective and impartial.

GAP has compared the whistleblower policies at the UN Secretariat, UNDP, WFP, U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), and U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), and found them to be inconsistent, weakened by arbitrary loopholes and, on the whole, less comprehensive than the original U.N. policy established in 2005. These policies should be rewritten to, at a minimum, meet the standards set out in the original UN Secretariat policy.

However, shortcomings have also become apparent in the U.N. Secretariat policy. For example, the policy fails to provide protection against retaliation to all relevant applicants who challenge betrayals of the organization’s mission. Currently, some of the people who are most likely to be aware of misconduct in U.N. peacekeeping operations – including U.N. police officers, peacekeepers, and victims – have no protections if they report misconduct through proper U.N. channels. Therefore, GAP is advocating for revisions to the UN Secretariat policy as well and associated reforms to make it function more effectively.

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