At UN, From Togo Lies to Red Flags, Discrimination
Corruption Alleged on the Record, "GA Should Act"
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of
Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
NATIONS, September 8 -- Whistleblowers
about the UN are nearly always nameless, given the UN's record of
retaliation. Given this record, Inner City
and defends anonymity of whistleblowers. Recently, however, a former UN
staff member in Angola, Ivory Coast and at the International Criminal
Rwanda approached Inner City Press with his story, explicitly asking
that he be
quoted by name. He produced UN evaluations of
his previous work, and a list of
UN system jobs he has applied for without success.
"They've put a red flag
on my file," he said. "I'm a lawyer but they've given me no chance to
defend myself. The General Assembly should start a team to
discrimination and corruption in the UN, and they should use my story
contacts. Please go ahead and name
His name is Joseph Owondo. He first approached Inner
City Press at the
Security Council stakeout. He wore an identification card from the
Guinea-Bissau mission, for which he is working. He previously worked
mission of his native Gabon, and before that for the UN, most recently
to 2005 as head of human rights for the UN Mission in Ivory Coast. He left, voluntarily, and returned to New
York. Later he applied for a UN human rights post in Togo, another
speaking country. But after he applied, a colleague called him and
"There's already someone for that post."
"How can that be?" he asked. "They've just
post, and they say they're going to interview me."
"That's just for show," his friend told him. "You'll
When the interview occurred, it was conducted
according to Mr. Owondo by
a three-person panel. None of the three spoke French. "But the official
language of Togo is French," Owondo protested.
"Togo officials all speak English," the head of the
Owondo disagreed, and made his answers in French. He
did not get the
job, the person it has been pre-promised to got it.
"This is what happens in the UN and everyone knows
it but doesn't
say," Owondo told Inner City Press this week. "People are afraid,
they'll lose their jobs or have red flags put on their files and never
job. This is what's happened to me."
Staged signs in Cote d'Ivoire - not
Owondo paints a bleak picture of the current UN,
saying that disappointment
is widespread, even leading, he said, to suicide.
"That lady who died out
on the lawn?" he asked, pointing down at the grass between the UN
East River. "Why does a person come in to their work if they want to
themselves? Then a man
died for lack of
medical attention. We've hit a new low. The UN belongs to everyone. Member states have to beat their hands on the
table and change things."
On August 4, Inner City Press exclusively reported
on a seven-page
letter to Ban Ki-moon which alleged systemic corruption and
the UN, primarily in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Click here for Inner City Press' story, which called the
author, who wrote under the pen name Alice Gervais, a whistleblower,
wondered what investigation or retaliation might follow.
After publication, and
Inner City Press even having asked, a member of Ban Ki-moon's Office of
Spokesperson told Inner City Press that no request for protection for
retaliation had been filed with UN Ethics Officer Robert Benson, and
Ki-moon would have no response, since it was an "anonymous" letter.
Since then, numerous staff members have complained to Inner City Press
this non-response, asking why the factual allegations in the letter,
high UN officials, are not being inquired into, for example by the
Internal Oversight Services. Inner City
Press sent OIOS chief Inga-Britt Ahlenius questions weeks ago, only to
an auto-response that Ms. Ahlenius is on a six-week vacation extending
On September 3, Inner City Press re-sent the
seven-page letter to the
spokesman for DPKO, Nick Birnback, and two other UN officials, asking
comment and response on the factual allegations in the letter. To date
response have been received. Mr. Owondo
has told Inner City Press that he has been "accused" of being the
author of the letter.
"I did not write it," Owondo emphasized. "Many of
things in the letter, I know nothing about. But there is truth in that
that must be investigated. The General Assembly, which starts later
has to look into this. The UN itself won't do it, they just try to
staff members who speak out. Take my evaluations,
please put them
online. I have nothing to be afraid of. They know where to reach
* * *
usually also available through Google
News and on Lexis-Nexis.
for a Reuters
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click
for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali
Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017
Reporter's mobile (and
earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available
in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.
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