WIN connects and strengthens civil society organizations that defend and support whistleblowers. The Network provides counsel, tools and expertise needed by those working in their countries to address corruption, waste, fraud, abuse, illegality and threats to the public interest.
Yesterday, nine whistleblowers from the United Nations Secretariat, Peacekeeping Operations, Funds, Programs and Specialized Agencies, together with the Government Accountability Project, sent an open letter to the Secretary General, setting out the facts about retaliation against whistleblowers throughout the UN system. In the letter, the signatories describe the pattern of reprisal they experienced after reporting wrongdoing. Although they recognize the Secretary General’s rhetorical commitment to anti-retaliation policies at the UN, they assert that, in practice, whistleblowers suffer ruinous retaliation, and existing policies fail to protect them.
Ian Richards, President of the UN Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), endorsed the letter with a statement on behalf of his constituency.
by Alison Glick
Attacks on NGOs, journalists and other civil society actors are at an all-time high in Egypt. A new report paints a bleak picture of their future.
The Egyptian government threatening civil society organizations (CSO) is nothing new. Practically since such organizations emerged in Egypt, the authorities have used a variety of intimidation tactics to curtail their work and effectiveness on issues ranging from economic justice to women’s equality to human rights. Despite such efforts, civil society flourished in Egypt: Before the January 2011 revolt against the Mubarak regime, over 26,000 officially registered non-governmental organizations existed in Egypt, along with hundreds of others not registered with the government.
But since the July 2013 coup that brought Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power, the situation for civil society in Egypt has deteriorated radically. Under Threat: Egypt’s Systematic Campaign against NGOs, a new report by the Project on Middle East Democracy, details a sophisticated and methodical attack on non-governmental organizations by the Sisi government that, for the first time, seriously threatens their continued existence. Continue reading
Minister’s announcement curtailing employees’ press contact undermines spirit of whistleblower protection law
The announcement by Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office in the UK, has changed civil servant rules to say that government employees are only allowed to speak to the media after obtaining prior consent from the minister is a real head in hands moment for anyone following recent developments around whistleblowing.
In December last year the head of the UK civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood wrote in no uncertain terms that whistleblowers should be championed and that we, the public, were indebted to those who exposed wrongdoing or malpractice meanwhile committing the Civil Service to openness and transparency:
“Transparency means not being able to pick and choose what is visible to scrutiny. It should shine a light into every corner of public life and public service. We fatally compromise this principle if we allow uncomfortable truths to be hidden or covered up.” Continue reading
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights published its draft report on Improving the Protection of Whistleblowers in light of the revelations of Edward Snowden [19 March 2015].
The Committee stressed the importance of ensuring that secrecy for reasons of national security does not act as a cover for wrongdoing or is used to stifle public debate and calls on all member States to ensure whistleblower protection covers all those working in national security and intelligence-related fields.
This Committee held two inquiries and its first report on Mass Surveillance was published only weeks ago in January 2015.
by Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, a founding member of WIN
Just before Christmas 2014, the Organization of American States (OAS) set a new standard for whistleblower rights at Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs). On December 17, 2014, the OAS adopted a new staff policy setting out rights that are unsurpassed either at the IGO or national level. Stung by a U.S. funding cutoff due to a previously weak whistleblower policy, the OAS moved to strengthen its policy to include some of the latest international best practices in matters relating to protection of whistleblowers. Below is a summary of provisions in the new policy, with a comparison to summary principles now accepted as global best practices.
The policy can be found at http://www.oas.org/legal/english/gensec/EXOR1403_APPENDIX_A.doc
In light of the recent release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary of its report on torture, Ben Buckland explores the role of whistleblowers in exposing one of the gravest human rights abuses.
There is a common perception that whistleblowers are those who go to the media, a perception fed by a number of high profile leaks in the recent past. But whistleblowing can also be—indeed, is much more commonly—the disclosure of information within the ring of secrecy. The most common type of whistleblower is one who passes information showing wrongdoing directly to an oversight institution that has a statutory right to receive, to process, and to act on it, even when it is classified or otherwise confidential.
This kind of information, coming directly from individuals, is essential to the proper functioning of oversight institutions. It is particularly important when they are involved in the oversight of often closed and secretive security institutions, when (without the help of insiders) they may not even be sure what to look for or where to look for it. Continue reading
After multiple hearings and extensive research, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (COE) issued a lengthy report this week that addresses mass surveillance. The report (in English and French ), written by Peter Omtzigt, Rapporteur for the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, expresses deep concern about the threat dragnet surveillance poses to fundamental human rights. Such out-of-control surveillance violates various international conventions to which COE member states are signatories, the report asserts; and the manner in which surveillance is conducted – under a cloak of secret laws, secret courts and secret interpretations of those laws – undermines the rule of law and democratic norms. In addition to decrying the dubious conduct of intelligence agencies, the report points out that some of their tactics, such as weakening encryption standards and creating “back doors” to access data, actually makes citizens more vulnerable to harm by terrorists and other cyber criminals.
Significantly, the report identifies whistleblowers as important in rolling back the pervasive “surveillance-industrial complex,” not only because of Edward Snowden’s role in alerting the world to the instant abuses, but as a vital resource for ensuring that any future reforms are actually enforced. Among the recommendations made to address the abuses engaged in by COE member states and others (most notably the US) is providing for “credible, effective protection for whistle-blowers exposing unlawful surveillance activities, including asylum in cases of threatened unfair prosecution in their home country.” WIN notes the testimony of its director, Anna Myers, last June during a hearing before the same committee addressing mass surveillance and whistleblower protection.
This report will be debated by the plenary later this year, with another report on strengthening whistleblower protections due in a few months.
The conviction this week of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling on multiple espionage charges sends yet another chilling message to those with access to information about government abuse, illegality, or threats to public well-being: If you see something, say nothing. It is telling that although Sterling went through appropriate channels in discussing with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers a botched operation targeting Iran’s nuclear program, he is facing possible decades in prison.
Much of the publicity surrounding this case focused on New York Times reporter James Risen, who refused to name his sources for the book State of War in which he wrote about the CIA operation. In the end, Obama’s Justice Department backed down and did not compel Risen to choose between testifying in Sterling’s trial or going to jail. The extended game of brinkmanship the DOJ played with Risen only gave press freedom advocates time and incentive to rally around Risen. It seems that the government made the calculation that sending a high-profile, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist to prison was too politically costly.
No such calculation played into the prosecution of Sterling. The government focused on painting him as a disgruntled, vengeful ex-employee who had been fired in 2002 after suing the CIA for racial discrimination — a personal smear tactic familiar to those who’ve worked with whistleblowers. With no actual evidence presented proving that Sterling was the source of any leak, the case against him was circumstantial: A disturbing fact when one considers not only the sentence Sterling faces, but that leaks by powerful men like David Petreaus are ignored, even though there is abundant evidence to prosecute. Indeed, some have speculated that Sterling’s only “crime” was embarrassing the Agency by revealing to the Senate committee responsible for overseeing the CIA that it had botched an operation.
While press freedom proponents may have won the battle waged for Risen, until that community and others concerned about democratic accountability bring the same energy and resources to bear in protecting whistleblowers like Sterling, they may ultimately lose the war. Who will risk decades in prison to talk to government watchdogs or the media about misdeeds with the specter of cases like Sterling’s (to name just one) hanging over them?
Read the statement about the Sterling conviction issued by the Government Accountability Project, a WIN co-founder.
Executive and International Program Director of the Government Accountability Project, Bea Edwards, writes in Huffington Post of the need for accountability at the U.N.
Dr. Wim Vandekerckhove writes about how WIN enhances the work of academics and others working on behalf of whistleblowers worldwide.
I started researching whistleblowing in 2000, tracing public debates about different “good reasons” to protect whistleblowers through legislation in around 16 countries. These were all economically “first world” countries that had or were in the process of developing whistleblower protection legislation. For my data collection I relied on internet searches and snowballing, with Public Concern at Work in the UK putting me in contact with the Government Accountability Project in the US, Open Democracy Advice Center in South Africa, and Whistleblowing Netzwerk in Germany. I finished my analysis in 2005 and the book was published a year later.
In researching the book I made contacts in the US, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, and Belgium. The individuals I met were working as auditors, legal advisors, ombudsmen, union reps, or were whistleblowing activists. I thought I had a good idea of what was happening “on the ground” at that time, or at least a much better idea than most of the junior academics I knew who were working on whistleblowing. In fact, my interest in researching this topic came from working in a family business with someone who had blown the whistle on a cartel — and whose business had gone under as a result. Continue reading