Voice and Dissent in the Military

07/06/19Every time a national security whistleblowing story hits the headlines, a standard reaction is that the person who disclosed it should have spoken up using official channels rather than going to the media. For those of us working in the field of whistleblower protection, we know it is highly likely they did try to raise it internally, but for whatever reason the official channels failed. The real question we need to ask is can we make it safer to speak up about wrongdoing and have it addressed within the system. This WIN guest blog by Dr. Ashley Savage, an independent specialist on whistleblowing based in Vienna, is based on a recent conference he attended which explored the military whistleblower’s dilemma.

Voice and Dissent in the Military

Most, if not all, whistleblowers face uncertainty when deciding whether or not to blow the whistle. Will they be listened to? Will they be protected? Will they lose their job? Will they be retaliated against? These situations become all the more difficult when the culture of the organisation does not actively support whistleblowing. Military whistleblowers face particular challenges: a rigid command structure, rules on discipline, and restrictions on speech with potential criminal consequences for non-compliance.

EUROISMEIn May 2019, the European chapter of the International Society for Military Ethics (EuroISME) hosted its annual conference at the National Defence Academy in Vienna, Austria. Significantly, the theme of the conference was “voice and dissent in the military” which allowed for in-depth consideration of whistleblowing in the armed forces, military ethics, and when and how it is appropriate, legal and ethical to disobey a direct order. This was a rare opportunity to focus specifically on military whistleblowing – bringing together a mix of academics, practitioners and military personnel providing a broad range of presentations and room for discussion.

A constant theme throughout was the notion of “loyalty”. Military whistleblowers are often considered disloyal for raising a concern, even though their motivation is to correct wrongdoing and malpractice. Being seen as disloyal can result in severe retaliation not only from superiors but also from colleagues, friends and even the wider community. This may stem, in part, from the unique nature of military organisations where commitment to service is built on camaraderie and a sense of shared purpose. Blowing the whistle is then perceived as a rejection of a shared way of life.

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WIN Press release – New EU Directive on whistleblower protection


17 APRIL 2019 – An international network of whistleblower protection NGOs calls on EU governments to adopt both the spirit and detail of the new EU whistleblower protection directive in their national legal frameworks, or risk further scandals and disasters that undermine public confidence in their ability to promote and safeguard the public interest.

Yesterday (16 April 2019), the European Parliament voted in an overwhelming majority to adopt a new law to protect European whistleblowers. The EU has raised the bar for all EU governments to lead the world in promoting gold standard protections for whistleblowers who raise concerns about wrongdoing or abusive practices that affect us all – whether in our how money is handled in financial institutions, the quality and safety of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the trains and planes we travel on and the care of our elderly and vulnerable.

Landmark cases such as #LuxLeaks and #PanamaPapers have revealed how scandals that start in one country quickly spread to others, as the range of actors involved and the jurisdictions affected are revealed. Similarly, the European tainted-egg scandal started in the summer of 2017 in the Netherlands and Belgium and by 11 August, the European Commission announced that a total of 15 EU states, plus Switzerland and Hong Kong, were known to have received egg products contaminated by an insecticide harmful to human health.

WIN, whose NGO members advise, defend, and protect whistleblowers, has advocated for years for better legal and institutional protections in all European countries. The need for the EU to act across all 28 member states became more urgent and obvious as whistleblowers increasingly revealed serious corruption and the harm caused by wrongdoing and negligence that was no longer contained by national borders.

The EU legislation follows campaigning by WIN in a wider coalition organised by Eurocadres (association of unions) that included Transparency International Europe and journalist and press freedom organisations. The ground-breaking legislation must become national law across all EU members by May 2021.

WIN’s Executive Director and lawyer, Anna Myers, highlights the hard work of civil society, “We came together with different skill sets and missions from across Europe to advocate for stronger legal protections for whistleblowers and yesterday we got it!”

“But we also know that there has been reluctance, lack of understanding, and from our long experience in the field, often a determination to block whistleblower protection from being the progressive, democratic accountability mechanism it should be,” she said. “We still have our work cut out for us. The EU Directive is not perfect. WIN will continue to support civil society to collaborate across borders to ensure EU governments live up to both the detail and the spirit of the law.”

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17th April 2019: Event at European Parliament on the future of new Whistleblower Directive

Civil society has organised an event, EU Protection for Whistleblowers: the Future of the New Directive, on 17th April 2019 at the European Parliament to mark the adoption of a new directive to protect whistleblowers in Europe. Parliamentarians from the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as well as civil society advocates and guest speaker, Antoine Deltour of #LuxLeaks, will meet to discuss what this new directive can and should mean for Europe.


In the final session before the EU elections, the European Parliament will vote for a new EU Directive to protect whistleblowers in Europe. WIN and its members were delighted and wholly committed to working with Eurocadres, Transparency International Europe, and many other civil society organisations participating in a range of advocacy efforts.

As the scandals revealed by whistleblowers in the #LuxLeaks and #PanamaPapers investigations continue to reverberate around Europe and the world, and new information sheds light on wrongdoing affecting our financial systems, our food, and our environment, civil society played an essential role in ensuring that the new EU directive provided a sound basis on which we can all work to protect whistleblowers in Europe. The coordinated and collaborative work of those involved demonstrates just what can be achieved when civil society actors bring their combined expertise to bear on decisions that will affect the whole of Europe.

Join us as we assess the impact of this breakthrough in the ongoing campaign for effective whistleblower protection and as we take a moment to prepare for the work ahead. Our work now is to turn legal rights into active protection and to advance whistleblowing disclosures to achieve lasting change in the public interest!

For more background, see cases from each of the EU Member States which demonstrate the public interest importance of legal, institutional and public support for individual whistleblowers. 

EU poised to adopt Directive that will give whistleblowers a fighting chance!

12/03/2019 – TODAY the Whistleblowing International Network (WIN) welcomes the news that the EU has reached an agreement that gives European whistleblowers a fighting chance to survive when they speak up in the public interest.

After tough negotiations, the provisional agreement reached late last night in Strasbourg finally removes the hierarchy of reporting obligations that would have obliged people to report to their employer’s first or risk losing all protection against dismissal or other retaliatory actions – even if they reported sensibly to a regulator body. The Directive will set minimum standards for protection that people can rely on to shield them from retaliatory actions when they speak up about wrongdoing in their workplace, to the authorities, or to the public (via the media).

EU ConferenceThe agreement was announced by Virginie Rozière at a European Parliament Press Conference this morning.

WIN and its Members worked in coalition with unions, human rights organisations, journalist associations and other NGOs, and provided as much of its long expertise defending whistleblowers through the courts and in the public arena as it could.

During negotiations, civil society delivered petitions with 280,000 signatures that demanded that whistleblowers be granted protection if they report directly outside their employment first.

The Parliament, the Commission, the EU Council and Ministers of Justice in all 28 Member States heard consistent messages from legal experts, NGOs, unions, whistleblowers and professional associations as well. The Council of Europe (the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights; the Head of the Secretariat for the Group of States Against Corruption); the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, and the OSCE Representative for Media Freedom, Harlem Desir were amongst those calling for flexible reporting channels.

Ultimately, these voices could not be ignored!

We are delighted that Virginie Rozière, MEP (S&D) and lead negotiator for the European Parliament, stood her ground. She and her colleagues fought long and hard to ensure that Europe lived up to its commitment to make it easier, not more dangerous, for whistleblowers. Germany and France, two of the strongest opponents to flexible reporting channels were not able to maintain their blocking minority in the EU Council.

Protecting whistleblowers in law and in practice is finally being recognised and understood for what it really is – democracy in action!” said Anna Myers, Executive Director of WIN. Calling the agreement a collective commitment to upholding European values and fundamental rights, Anna said, “when battles are too often won by those who want to control information for private interests, this victory for the citizen’s right to speak up in the public interest is critical”.

While we know certain provisions should have been stronger and that our work to ensure whistleblowers are supported in reality is far from over, this Directive will at last provide a shared foundation for legal protections across Europe.

Over the next few days, the text will be scrutinised and finalised. We will all need to remain vigilant but we hope that by April 2019, the European Union will have made a huge step forward by adopting a Directive to protect whistleblowers that will make a positive difference to all our lives.