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.
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
On the 30th April 2014, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Recommendation on the Protection of Whistleblowers and its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum. This legal instrument is of strong persuasive value and places whistleblower protection firmly within a democratic and human rights framework. By focusing on the public interest in the reporting and disclosure of information by individuals in work-based relationships, the Recommendation pushes the protection of whistleblowers beyond a mechanism solely to address corruption and ensures the focus is on public accountability. Public accountability of those persons and institutions whose functions and activities – private and public – affect the well-being of individuals, society, and the environment. Continue reading
by Vladimir Radomirović
Vladimir Radomirović explains how the Whistleblowing International Network’s resources are helping him improve whistleblower protections in Serbia.
Journalists are accustomed to being the publishers of whistleblower disclosures, not the sources of them. But in 2009 that’s exactly what happened to a group of journalists I was a part of who blew the whistle on censorship and conflict of interest at the oldest daily newspaper in Serbia. That whistleblowing experience changed the course of my career, forcing me to rethink how I could best practice journalism. It also resulted in my association with the Whistleblowing International Network, which is supporting our work in Serbia to chart a new course for whistleblowers in our country. Continue reading
With whistleblowing at the center of the world stage like never before, WIN co-organized a conference that brought together those professional communities whose work is central not only to whistleblowing but to the fate of whistleblowers themselves: lawyers, journalists, and technologists. WIN partnered with Network Democracy, Free Press Unlimited, Netherlands Whistleblower Advice Centre, and the Hermes Centre for Transparency and Human Rights for the first-ever International Whistleblowers Conference on June 18, 2014 in Amsterdam. Continue reading