The UN Whistleblower Protection System Does Little to Protect Whistleblowers in Policy or Practice
The Whistleblowing International Network (WIN) is pleased to publish this Spotlight on the work of Government Accountability Project which has long advocated for stronger whistleblowing protections at intergovernmental bodies, and in particular at the United Nations.
The Government Accountability Project is a non-profit public interest group and a founding Member of WIN. Established in 1977, it is the leading whistleblowing protection and advocacy organisation in the US and known globally for its work. In addition to providing legal advice and support, the Government Accountability Project leads campaigns to enact and strengthen whistleblower protection laws and policies in the US and internationally.
Written by: Brooke Judge, Government Accountability Project
Published: 23nd of May 2020
A Gross Institutional Failure: The UN Whistleblower Protection System Does Little to Protect Whistleblowers in Policy or Practice
May 23, 2020 marks is the five-year anniversary of when United Nations (UN) whistleblower Miranda Brown lost her job at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Brown had served at the UN for several years, but her contract was not renewed after she disclosed that UN peacekeepers were abusing children in the Central African Republic (CAR). In response, the High Commissioner for Human Rights defamed, harassed, and blacklisted Brown, and then retaliated against her direct supervisor who supported her. The UN leadership failed to protect her. They refused to renew her contract and blacklisted her from future employment at the UN; she has not been able to get a job in her field in five years.
In April 2014, a human rights officer in the M’Poko Internally Displaced Persons camp in Bangui, CAR documented abuse in a multidimensional UN peacekeeping operation (MINSUSCA) report, Sexual Abuse on Children by International Armed Forces. The report which was provided to the OHCHR in Geneva stated that peacekeepers from France, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad subjected young boys to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. After several months OHCHR still had not taken any action to stop the abuse. In July 2014, Anders Kompass, Brown’s supervisor at the time, disclosed the allegations to the French authorities, and French law enforcement immediately began investigating. Brown was the Director of the African Branch at OHCHR after the MINUSCA report came to OHCHR's attention, and she supported Kompass’ decision to disclose the allegations of abuse. In October 2014, Brown was told with no further explanation that her contract would not be renewed.
Nine months after Kompass disclosed the allegations to the authorities, Brown learned that Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had suspended Kompass, and in April 2015, the UN leadership placed him under investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Brown blew the whistle to Member States on the UN’s response to the sexual abuse of children in CAR and on their unwarranted retaliation against Kompass. Although her claims were validated by an independent panel convened by Member States, Zeid did not renew her contract and she was terminated.
Brown served as a key witness for multiple panels, testified before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and provided vital evidence to the UK Parliament, but was still blacklisted by the UN and did not receive any political protection from their retaliation against her. Brown has applied for dozens of jobs at the UN, including her former position twice, and was denied each time. In 2018, Zeid’s spokesperson, Rupert Colville, stated in a series of emails to a British journalist that he was “disgusted” by Brown’ and Kompass’ actions and that they were “dishonest.”
On May 13, 2020, Government Accountability Project sent a letter to the UN Internal Justice Council recommending that the whistleblower policy be amended to protect former employees like Brown from retaliation. The scope of the current UN whistleblower policies must be expanded to provide adequate protections to whistleblowers who call attention to behaviors and practices that undermine the institution at its core. Presently, the UN's whistleblower policy is not expansive enough to cover applicants or former employees. Although such individuals are covered in the recently passed EU Whistleblower Protection Directive and in US whistleblower protection law, applicants and former employees are not given these protections at the UN. Brown did not have access to the UN whistleblower policy because she was considered to be a former employee; the policy does not take into account that her contract was not renewed due to retaliation for her whistleblowing. This absence of protections allows retaliators to use blacklisting to avoid accountability and punish whistleblowers. UN whistleblowers are thus vulnerable to retaliation for the rest of their career.
The outcomes for Brown and other UN whistleblowers represent a gross institutional failure. UN leadership has exploited loopholes within its whistleblower policy, and the responsibility for change lies at the top. The blacklisting and retaliation against Brown and other UN whistleblowers dissuades potential whistleblowers from disclosing human rights violations, and it cultivates an environment of fear. The UN never investigated Zeid for abuse of authority or held him accountable. He continues to occupy important positions in the human rights field, despite this egregious treatment of whistleblowers.
Since 2005, the UN’s whistleblower policies have failed to protect truth-tellers like Miranda Brown. Her reward for shining a light on abhorrent abuses was to lose her job and career.; it seems the organization that purports to share her values would rather hide from embarrassment at any cost than end corruption. In this case it meant the OHCHR did not take immediate action to stop sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Despite the relentless slander and harassment inflicted on Brown by UN leadership, she will not stop fighting for truth and transparency. Brown hopes that the UN will finally do something to help the whistleblowers it has failed. The UN should lead by example and empower whistleblowers who risk everything to protect the most vulnerable – not silence them.
You can read the Government Accountability Project’s Letter to the United Nations Internal Justice Council and its 48 Recommendations to here.
You can also read the 2019 Report of the Internal Justice Council at the UN General Assembly and its findings on the framework for protection from retaliation at the UN here.
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