December 19, 2023
ATLANTA — On December 15, the 10th Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) marked a significant milestone as it adopted a resolution on the protection of reporting persons. The resolution, designated as CAC/COSP/2023/Rev.1, addresses the crucial issue of safeguarding individuals who expose or report corruption and related offenses to competent authorities.
The Conference, held from December 11 to 15, 2023, in Atlanta, and attended by over 3,000 people, including 2,000 government representatives from 160 countries and over 900 civil society organizations, as well as private sector and young people, is the largest global anti-corruption gathering. Every two years, the Parties to the Convention meet to review its implementation and discuss how to improve international cooperation and to better prevent and tackle corruption. The resolution, tabled by Serbia and the State of Palestine, garnered co-sponsorship from the European Union, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand, and support from all States Parties.
The resolution underscores the commitment of States Parties to the full implementation of Article 33 of the UNCAC and the need to continue to develop appropriate measures to fully and effectively protect all persons who, on reasonable grounds, expose or report corruption and related offences to competent authorities, and to extend the protection, when appropriate, to their relatives and other persons close to them.
Among the biggest victories in the resolution is operating paragraph 14, which clarifies that good faith, when used in national frameworks, means a reasonable belief that the information reported is true, without consideration of the personal reasons that may be behind the report. Additionally, the resolution encourages States Parties to ensure that individual legal or contractual obligations, such as non-disclosures agreements, cannot be used to conceal corruption, deny protection, or penalize reporting persons for reporting to the competent authorities. The resolution supports protection for any form of retaliation, an expansion beyond mere workplace harassment. It also extends the scope of whistleblower protection rights to cover all affected professionally by wrongdoing, not just employees.
Samantha Feinstein, our International Program Director and Vice Chair of the Board of the UNCAC Coalition, attended the conference, testified at the plenary, led the civil society working group and coordination on whistleblower protection including drafting an open letter and a joint written submission with Transparency International, organized and moderated an EU-sponsored panel on international perspectives on whistleblower protection, played a pivotal role in advocating for the whistleblower resolution over the last two years, and was actively involved in drafting language in other resolutions on the protection of reporting persons including the Atlanta Declaration. In response to the whistleblower resolution passing, Feinstein stated:
“Two years ago, I testified at the 9th CoSP and asked the question ‘when will whistleblower protection be the central topic of a COSP resolution?’ The adoption of this resolution at the 10th CoSP is a crucial step forward in recognizing the challenges faced by reporting persons, including whistleblowers, who play a vital role in exposing corruption. This resolution reinforces the commitment of States Parties to protect those who report corruption and the need for technical assistance and international cooperation to achieve best practice protection. This incredible achievement would not have been possible without the leadership of Pištaljka, Serbia’s chief whistleblower protection organization, the UNCAC Coalition staff, UNODC, and over 100 organizations and advocates who supported the initiative. I look forward to working with the States Parties and UNODC to support their efforts to implement this resolution.”
Not all participants were pleased with the result. One group in particular attacked the resolution as toothless because it does not include financial rewards. Nearly all States Parties involved in the resolution negotiation rejected monetary rewards. Studies show that monetary rewards don’t motivate whistleblowers, can increase retaliation and threaten cultural solidarity, which is as important as legal rights.
Our legal director, Tom Devine, who also testified at the event, commented on the criticism: “It is sad that any advocates for whistleblowers would reject all aspects of this consensus global mandate by 160 nations for best practice whistleblower rights as toothless, merely because it does not include paying for evidence.”
The resolution calls on States Parties to ensure reporting persons are protected from workplace retaliation, or actions that can result in reputational, professional, financial, social, psychological, or physical harm. The adoption of the whistleblower resolution at the 10th CoSP marks a pivotal advancement in global efforts to safeguard reporting persons, renewing international commitments and cooperation on their protection, encouraging training, technical assistance, inclusion of civil society, transparency, and reporting channels that are confidential, accessible and inclusive.
The full text is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.