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UN tribunal rules against whistleblower, sparks protests

The United Nations Appeals Tribunal has reversed a ruling in favor of a whistleblower who accused senior officials of retaliating after he alleged corruption was taking place in the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

American James Wasserstrom, who was the lead anti-corruption officer at the Kosovo Mission in 2007, said the decision demonstrates that neither Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nor the UN Ethics Office have “a credible interest beyond words in protecting the brave individuals who come forward after witnessing wrongdoing.”

Originally, the UN Dispute Tribunal ruled that Wasserstrom was subjected to “wholly unacceptable treatment” and “appalling” acts in violation of the rule of law and human rights.

The 27-year career UN diplomat was detained by UN police, his home was searched, and his office was cordoned off with police tape. The UN internally circulated posters with his photo advising that he was banned from entering any UN facilities.

The Tribunal awarded Wasserstrom $65,000.

Wasserstrom had sought $2.2 million in damages, and appealed the award.

The secretary-general appealed both the ruling and the award.

The Appeals Tribunal reversed the judgment and award in a 2-1 decision on the basis that the Dispute Tribunal can only rule on certain “administrative decisions.”

The UN’s Staff Union in Geneva said the tribunal’s decision, which cannot be appealed, further exposes the shortcomings of the UN’s whistleblower protection system.

In an internal paper distributed in June, UN staff unions revealed that since the Ethics Office began in 2006, it has protected less than one percent of the 343 staff who came to it for help.

“The Ethics Office has unfortunately become unethical,” Staff Union Executive Secretary Ian Richards said in a statement. “It encourages colleagues, serving in some of the world’s most dangerous locations, to blow the whistle on fraud and misconduct and then either does nothing to protect them or wriggles its way out of the problem.”


A version of this post first appeared on Whistleblower Today and is published here with permission.

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1 Comment

  1. Its clearly obvious that the UN needs to completely over haul the Ethics Office and bring in fresh personnel from outside the UN. Fresh perspectives and real corporate experience is needed here. New leadership, new policies and procedures. The Ethics office is going to have an up hill struggle to win back trust and respect.

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