GENEVA – A fifteen-year retaliation case ended today when Caroline Hunt-Matthes, former Senior Investigator at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), settled out of court. After challenging the UNHCR Inspector General’s Office and senior management by insisting on proper investigations of sexual exploitation and abuse, Ms. Hunt-Matthes was subjected to retaliatory termination of her contract. Today, she and her former employer, UNHCR, issued the following joint statement:

“UNHCR accepts that there were matters which in hindsight could have been better managed in relation to the separation. It is a matter of regret that these issues and the lengthy delays have impacted upon Ms. Hunt-Matthes’ employment and personal life. In the interests of both parties in seeing this matter resolved, a mutually satisfactory settlement has been reached today.”

In 2003, the UN Inspector General’s Office (IGO) had deployed Hunt-Matthes to conduct a rape investigation in Sri Lanka in which the rape victim had been fired, and the alleged rapist, a local UNHCR staff member, had been transferred. Her investigations resulted in the firing of the rapist, but were met with unprecedented institutional obstruction. Hunt-Matthes was subsequently removed from her position and her fixed-term appointment terminated. In 2013, this was determined by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) to have been an act “of retaliation against her for questioning the investigation methods of the IGO and requesting investigations into the conduct of some senior officials” (UNDT 2013/84). The judge further found that proper HR regulations and policies had been flouted and that Ms. Hunt-Matthes had been subject to mischaracterization by UNHCR. She was the only trained Investigator in the UNHCR/IGO.

The UNDT also found the UN Ethics Office negligent in its failure to protect Ms. Hunt-Matthes, stating that “by failing to properly assess whether there was a link between the reporting of misconduct and the alleged retaliation the Ethics Office denied or radically limited the protections that the Secretary-General clearly intended to afford to United Nations staff members” (UNDT 2013/84).

The settlement today followed an appeal by the UN in 2014 on a witness technicality, and another four years of legal battles, which culminated in a new trial in Geneva this week, making this by far the longest pending retaliation case in the UN’s internal justice system’s history. Ms. Hunt-Matthes was represented during the new trial and the settlement negotiations by Robbie Leighton (UN Office of Legal Staff Assistance, Geneva) and Sallie Bennett–Jenkins, who stated, “Some of the facts in this case were astonishing and the evidence of injustice was profound.”

Ms. Hunt-Matthes, said:

“For UN whistleblower protection to be effective – the UN Ethics Office must be truly independent. Culture change within all UN organizations will only move forward when accountability of its senior staff is enforced which it was not in this case.”

Contact: Pru Smith
Phone: +33 772 33 4756

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.