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As Whistleblower Calls for Cut in US Funds to UN, Ban Is Silent, Raids Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 8, updated -- After the UN staffer James Wasserstrom blew the whistle in 2007 on corruption in the UN Peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, he was retaliated against. For example, his home was illegally searched, and the UN arranged to attack him in the media.

  Inner City Press wrote in 2007 about the corruption, by Joachim Ruecker, Stephen Schook, and Alexander Borg-Olivier and others. Click here for one example. On Monday Inner City Press asked Wasserstrom where these individuals are now.

  Wasserstrom said Rucker is an official in the German foreign service, while Schook is an adviser to a senior political official in Kosovo and Borg-Olivier is a lawyer in private practice in Kosovo.

  There has been no accountability for those who retaliated against Wasserstrom for blowing the whistle; he has been awarded a mere $65,000, far less than his costs.

  As Shelley Walden of the Government Accountability Project put it, at the UN even when whistleblowers win, they lose.

  Inner City Press asked Walden if she or GAP have been able to raise this issue and the need to reform to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or his team. No, she said, despite requests there has been total silence.

  So much for the supposedly reforming Secretary General. Video here.

  Wasserstrom is calling for activation of the whistleblower protection criteria adopted in the 2012 US Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055).

   HR 2055 requires a 15% withholding of the US contribution to any UN agency if it "is not taking steps to … implement best practices for the protection of whistleblowers from retaliation, including best practices for legal burdens of proof, access to independent adjudicative bodies, [and] results that eliminate the effects of retaliation..."

  Inner City Press asked if the US Mission to the UN, particularly Ambassador for reform Joe Torsella has been helpful.

  Walden said they've met with Torsella before, he's done what he can -- that, we'd like to hear more about -- and they they hoped to meet with later on Monday, if his schedule permits.

  Inner City Press has been covering Torsella's involvement in the negotiations around the UN Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, click here for that.

  Inner City Press asked Walden how whistleblower protections could be extended to actual UN peacekeepers and police, and to victims. Walden said none of these are currently covered by UN policies, only UN staff. And even then...

The UN also retaliated against the investigative press. On March 18, 2013, UN official raised Inner City Press' office without notice or consent.

On March 21, after Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office was contacted by outside media about the raid, photos taken during the raid were sent to through an anonymous “Concerned UN Reporter” e-mail account. This seems to be a pattern, and will be confronted and combated, including by the new Free UN Coalition for Access. Watch this site.

Footnote: Inner City Press asked Walden about a previous UN system whistleblower case about North Korea. She said that the case of Artjon Tony Shkurtaj, on which Inner City Press extensively reported, "shows that UNDP could be doing more to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, as he was subjected to intense retaliation for his whistleblowing and he, too, did not receive comprehensive relief that eliminated the effects of retaliation." We'll have more on UNDP.

Update: Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesman Eduardo Del Buey about Wasserstrom's letter and GAP's answer about Ban's non response; he said only that Ban is appealing.

 Later, Inner City Press was told by a self-described US official, “The legislation only requires the Secretary of State to withhold funds if he determines that an organization is not taking steps to provide transparency and accountability as described in the legislation. We do not believe any withholdings are required pursuant to Sec. 7049(a) at this time. However, we continue to press for improved whistleblower protections at the United Nations, and, in fact, our urging, in March member states urged the Secretary-General to expedite the development of strengthened protections against whistleblower retaliation.”

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