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In Ban's UN, 44.37 Whistleblowers Face 45 Days of Retaliation Without Protection

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 3, updated July 6 -- Whistleblowers at the UN are fair game for retaliation, at least for the first 45 days, it emerged on Tuesday.

            Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe about the case of a whistleblower concerning the North Korea operations of the UN Development Program, who complained to the UN Ethics Office on June 5 about retaliation, and on June 18 had his photograph added to the display of those to be barred from Headquarters by UN Security.

  Update of July 6: it was made clear in a July 6 press conference by UNDP's David Morrison that it was UNDP itself which asked that the whistleblower's photo be added to the array, click here for video, from Minute 23:44, and see below.

      In this case, the whistleblower was "out-ed," as he puts it, by the New York Times' quotation from a letter which U.S. Senator Norm Coleman sent to Ban Ki-moon, making the now-ironic request for protection of the whistleblower. The whistleblower was never contacted before his name was published. He surmises that the letter was provided to the Times by UNDP.

            Ms. Okabe was also asked, directly, who many whistleblowers have been "official acknowledged" by the UN.  During the briefing, she responded that "Iíll have to ask that from the Ethics Office, if they are releasing that kind of information." Subsequently, in the UN's transcript of the briefing, the following was added:

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the information is contained in the annual report to the General Assembly on the activities of the Ethics Office (document A/61/274).]

            Following up this round-about answer, plugging A/61/274 into the UN's database, one finds in the above-cited document the statement that in its first seven months, the Ethics Office received from the entire UN System 153 staff requests for services, of which 29% were requests for "protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct." That is 44.37 aspirants for whistleblower status -- the document does not disclose how many deemed to have a "prima facie case" and where therefore, albeit belatedly, offered protection.  The document also states that "the time required to respond to each request varied considerably, from a few minutes to several weeks." But a flat 45 days (for "free retaliation," some say) has been cited in this case.

Staff of UN Ethics Office in February 2007, the .37 whistleblower(s) not shown

  Tuesday at the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Yesterday, I have asked you about this photo array, and you told me that without his consent, nothing could be said about it.  I think, earlier this morning you received his consent to discuss it. If you look in your e-mail... So he has provided his consent, both to the Ethics Office and your office, to discuss his...

Deputy Spokesperson:  Based on information of the Ethics Office, which is the question now, I can... This is what I told you, they have received the request, and they are reviewing it.  And that is the information that the Ethics Office can release at this point.

Inner City Press: On Friday, I asked Michele about the whistleblower without using his name, and she said that the Secretary-General has discussed this with different senior advisers here in this building.  This is being taken care of.  So, now that you have his consent to discuss it, what did she mean, how is it being taken care of?

Deputy Spokesperson:  By the Ethics Office, who is now reviewing his request. His request to be considered under UN whistleblower protection policy.  And if you look at the Secretary-Generalís bulletin on the subject, obviously it will outline all the ways in which this could be done.  But right now, his request is simply being reviewed.

Inner City Press: I am sorry, just one last question on this.  Because I think... I mean, as of 5 June he had made his request.  The other question, the concern is, is what happens to a UN person who applies for whistleblower status while it is pending?  Is it possible that either the Secretary-General or UNDP can bar him from the building?  What steps are taken while it is pending to protect the person, I think that is the question?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, entering the building, anybody who has legitimate business in the building can enter the building.  As for what protection he is receiving now, I will have to check that for you. (Emphasis added, question still not answered on the record, see below.)

Five hours later, the following arrived:

Subj: your queries 

From: [Deputy Spokesperson at]

To: [Matthew Russell Lee at]

Date: 7/3/2007 6:02:27 PM Eastern Standard Time

Regarding your question about what protection(s) could be provided an individual subsequent to the individual making a request to the Office for protection, according to the Ethics Office, the Secretary-General's Bulletin provides that once a case is referred to OIOS for investigation, the Ethics Office may recommend measures to safeguard the interests of the whistleblower. [ ]

  Update of July 6: An explanation of this answer was provided, which it has now been made clear, in a alternative meaning of a legalistic word, was only an explanation to inform the story, not to be quoted. While this leaves the updated stories less informative, a sample UN staff to whom Inner City Press showed the full response commented, on condition of anonymity for now-obvious reasons, "That's why few here say anything when they see wrongdoing."  Is that the message Ban's UN wants to send? It's a question that calls an answer -- an on the record answer. Developing.

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