Whistleblower Protection at the UN: Reasons for Despair or Hope?

By Rishi Gulati*

[The author has had no involvement in the cases mentioned below; this entry should not be construed as legal advice in any way or form whatsoever]

Anders Kompass United Nations

Anders Kompass, the director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

In a recent article in the Guardian, it was disclosed that French authorities thanked a senior UN official, Mr Anders Kompass for disclosing sexual abuse by French troops. That article says in part:

Sources close to the case say Kompass, director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, disclosed the report to the French because of the UN’s failure to act quickly to stop the abuse identified in its own internal report.

Hinting that the allegations represented just a fraction of what had taken place, a UN spokesman said on Friday: “It is possible, it’s horribly possible” that more allegations of sexual abuse of children by French and other soldiers in the Central African Republic could come to light.

The same report says that: “The official, Anders Kompass, has been suspended by the UN and faces dismissal for what the organisation says is a “breach of protocols” in releasing a confidential internal UN document.” I will return to the Kompass case shortly. But before that, some points on the UN whistleblower protection system, or the lack of it.

Problems facing whistleblower protection at the UN

The internal rules of the UN contain several layers, one of these layers is known as the Secretary-General Bulletins. These possess binding force. Under the Secretary-General’s Bulletin on protection against retaliation (ST/SGB/2005/21) the UN Ethics Office protects staff from being punished for reporting misconduct or for cooperating with an official audit or investigation – commonly known as “whistleblower protection.”

But are whistleblowers rights at the UN actually protected? There are some very disturbing findings. Continue reading

UN Commission of Inquiry on Gaza Asks for Deferral

Mrs. Mary McGowan Davis, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry

Mrs. Mary McGowan Davis, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry

Today, the President of the Human Rights Council (HRC),  Ambassador Joachim Ruecker, met with the Commissioners of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. At this meeting, the Commissioners submitted a letter requesting a deferral to June 2015 in order to have additional time to present their report that was originally awaited by the HRC on 23 March.

The request was justified on the grounds that additional information had been recently received and had to be weighed, but also on the necessary adjustments that followed the resignation of the Commission former chair.

Calls for Reform of the UN to Protect Civilians from International Atrocities

Lately there has been a resurgent in the calls from the international community for reform of the United Nations (UN) system in order to better protect populations from mass atrocities. This year commemorates the 70th anniversary of the United Nation’s founding in 1945, which was created to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” but it has sparked debate about the functioning of the different bodies of the UN.

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Yesterday, Amnesty International released its 2014/2015 annual report urging the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the UK, China, France, Russia and the US) to renounce their power of veto in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities.

Salil Shetty, the organisation’s Secretary General, said in a statement that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had “miserably failed” to protect civilians and that the UNSC permanent members had used their veto to “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.”

A week earlier, Madeleine Albright, chair of the Advisory Council of The Hague Institute for Global Justice and former US Secretary of State, voiced her concern about the world’s attempt to uphold an international order which came into place 70 years ago while an “awful lot of things have changed in the meantime.” Continue reading

UN Condemns Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea

North Korea Human RightsYesterday, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a recent UN Commission of Inquiry report detailing crimes against humanity in North Korea and recommended that the Security Council discuss the report and consider a referral to the International Criminal Court.

The North Korea resolution passed by a vote of 111 to 19, with 55 abstentions. China and Russia voted against the resolution.

While the resolution passed overwhelmingly, North Korea had made recent diplomatic overtures seemingly to try to affect the vote, such as by offering for the first time to engage with the UN human rights rapporteur on North Korea and participating in the Universal Periodic Review process at the UN Human Rights Council.

The Commission of Inquiry report declared that North Korea’s human rights situation “exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror”.

The report documented massive crimes against humanity in North Korea, including deliberate starvation, forced labor, executions, torture, rape, and infanticide, among other crimes – most of them committed in North Korea’s political prison camp systems.

The report concluded that the bulk of the crimes against humanity were committed “pursuant to policies set at the highest levels of the state.”

The commission of inquiry report was based on interviews with dozens of people who had fled and detailed abuses. North Korea has accused people who cooperated with the commission of inquiry of lying.

United Nations Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes

analyticaltoolThe UN Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect recently released a new Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. The document provides indicators to identify and assess a range of both common and specific factors that increase the risk or susceptibility of atrocity crimes, which encompass genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. The guide is meant to improve the capacities of international, regional and local actors in understanding the root causes and precursors of these crimes in order to identify measures that can be taken by States and the international community to prevent these crimes. The Office also provides training programmes for UN staff, government officials and civil society in order to assist in developing capacity to analyze and manage information on genocide. war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Takfiris Want to Create a “House of Blood”

Zaid al Hussein

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, addressed the Human Rights Council. Amongst the issues he addressed in his lengthy speech, the High Commissioner lashed out at the Islamist Takfiri group who recently murdered US journalist James Foley and hundreds of other defenceless victims in Iraq and Syria.

The massacres, beheadings, rape and torture attributed to the group “reveal only what a Takfiri state would look like, should this movement actually try to govern in the future,” said Zeid, the first Muslim and Arab to serve as UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.

For him, the jihadist militants who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria are intent upon creating “a house of blood”.

Zaid’s speech to the UN’s 47-member council came a week after it held an emergency session on the jihadists, deciding to send a fact-finding mission to Iraq to document the extent of their abuses.

If you wish to read the Commissioner’s full speech, click here.