Interviews Reveal Serious Systemic Problems

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is releasing a report that analyzes the impact of the United Nations internal justice system on accountability practices in the UN peacekeeping missions. The GAP report, “Tipping the Scales: Is the United Nations Justice System Promoting Accountability in the Peacekeeping Missions or Undermining It?” is based on a review of two years of UN Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) and UN Appeals Tribunal (UNAT) judgments, and 36 interviews with key UN personnel, external attorneys and whistleblowers from eight different peacekeeping missions.

“Virtually every person in a UN peacekeeping mission whom we spoke with raised disturbing concerns about fundamental shortcomings in the UN’s accountability mechanisms,” said GAP International Officer Shelley Walden, one of the report’s authors. “Most stated that they were afraid to speak-up about misconduct, and whistleblowers who did told us that they were subjected to intense retaliation as a result.”

A copy of the report’s Executive summary can be downloaded here.

A copy of the full report and annexes can be downloaded here.

The report details both positive and negative findings related to the judgments of the two-tiered Tribunal system, which is a UN staff member’s only legal recourse in an employment dispute. Encouraging data and evidence illustrated that the new system appears to better protect the due process rights of staff members. Negative findings, however, included numerous shortcomings in the new justice system, the UN’s procedures for protecting whistleblowers in peacekeeping missions, and prevailing practices for addressing disciplinary issues.

Among the findings:

UNDT, the lower Tribunal, vindicated 68% of current or former staffers who were alleged to have committed misconduct in a peacekeeping mission. This is significantly higher than the comparable rates under the old system and other types of cases.
Tribunal judges criticized the non-standardized practices used by various investigative offices, including the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Often, irregular or unjustifiable investigative procedures or apparently arbitrary disciplinary measures were used when reviewing misconduct cases from peacekeeping missions, obliging the judges to take action on violations of due process rights, regardless of the substance of the case or wrongdoing.
Interview respondents reported that UN investigative bodies lacked independence; investigated cases inadequately; dropped cases; delayed investigations; may have investigated the whistleblower rather than the misconduct reported; and failed to investigate certain cases, including ones involving abuse of authority by senior officials in the peacekeeping missions.
Several respondents said that the administration is now more cautious in pursuing disciplinary cases in the peacekeeping missions as a result of the Tribunals’ jurisprudence, a view that is substantiated by a recent report from the UN Secretary-General. The report stated that “in many cases,” the decision was made not to pursue a disciplinary measure because “the underlying investigation and supporting evidence failed to meet the higher evidential and procedural standards,” articulated by the new Tribunals.

“The reformed UN justice system, without corresponding reforms in the organization’s internal ‘law enforcement’ functions, may actually decrease accountability and exacerbate problems of misconduct in the peacekeeping missions,” stated Walden.

Most of those GAP interviewed believed that people who commit misconduct in the peacekeeping missions are not always disciplined, and many could provide specific examples. Several respondents noted the disparity in discipline between managers who were rarely sanctioned, and people at the lower levels, who were subject to corrective measures. Most whistleblowers said that no disciplinary action was taken against the person whom their reports implicated. Instead, whistleblowers themselves were often subjected to retaliation, investigated or disciplined.

“Tipping the Scales” also covers the settings in which peacekeepers and UN police officers operate; these frontline positions make them the employees most likely to witness sexual exploitation, abuse and other crimes or misconduct committed in the missions. But while the UN requires police officers and peacekeepers to report misconduct, it fails to provide them with any protection when they do so.

Select quotes from the report’s interviewees include:

“There’s an enormous resistance at the UN at the higher levels to anything that smacks of oversight. They want free-rein and they are given free-rein by the Secretary-General in the peacekeeping operations. It’s excessively decentralized and delegated and as a result they can get away with murder and keep OIOS at bay. There are very few consequences.”
~ Former UN employee from a peacekeeping mission

“When there is clear misconduct, the perpetrator often gets promoted or moved. People say that it is the easiest way to get a promotion at the UN.”
~ UN employee from a peacekeeping mission

“If staff members see misconduct in the field, most won’t report it. You’ll get a very brave one who will do it, but most will just close their eyes to it, because they’re afraid of the consequences. They’re unprotected.”
~ Staff association representative

“There’s a lot of stuff going on here, but no one wants to bring it out … People are afraid to speak up because they will be sent home. They know things are wrong here, but you’re better off not saying anything.”
~ UN police officer from a peacekeeping mission

“For me, I spoke the truth and I became the victim. Anyone who is a whistleblower does become a victim in the end…We were supposed to be somewhat protected from any retaliation, and that just wasn’t the case.”
~ Former UN whistleblower (not from a peacekeeping mission)

“Whistleblowing [in the field] is a problem. Staff don’t want to get involved anymore because they are the ones who end up suffering – they are the ones who end-up under investigation. And it’s usually because of the people they are reporting, who are normally at the higher level.”
~ Staff association representative

“It seems amazing to me that it’s supposed to be so difficult to lose your job in the UN. So there are so many rubbish people in there: deadwood who do absolutely nothing at all and it was all ‘we can never get rid of them.’ And yet the people who are outspoken and try to do things, it’s dead easy to get rid of them. There’s a culture of personal fiefdoms run on fear rather than on professionalism. And the word integrity doesn’t seem to figure anywhere.”

~ Former employee from a peacekeeping mission

“My chief told me that I was not loyal to him [after I blew the whistle]. And I asked him, what am I supposed to be: loyal to you or loyal to the organization?”
~ UN employee from a peacekeeping mission

“So you might say that you have a whistleblower defense, and I know that the Secretary-General says this in relation to encouraging people to come forward and denounce sexual exploitation … and my response to that would be yes there is but you are going to lose your job, you’re going to have to wait two years for your hearing and you might get compensation and then they’re going to appeal it. In the meantime, what are you supposed to do? It’s not a great incentive to say that there’s an independent tribunal system that will protect you once we have sacked you. There needs to be something much more… There have to be more solid protections in place for those people who do come forward.”
~ Former UN employee from a peacekeeping mission

The report makes numerous recommendations to address these problems. Four essential ones are that the UN:

Revise the whistleblower protection policy to apply to anyone who reports misconduct of any kind involving UN operations, including contractors, police officers, UN peacekeepers, victims and any other person who provides information about misconduct that could undermine the UN’s mission.
Issue a new, legally binding policy that clearly establishes staff members’ due process rights during and following an investigation and that describes the steps that must be followed before a disciplinary measure is imposed.
Consolidate all investigative bodies, including those in the UN funds, programmes and specialized agencies, into one internal oversight entity body that handles all investigations, including those in the field.
Create an impartial panel to review the Statute and Rules of Procedure of UNDT and UNAT.

Walden continued, stating “Until the UN addresses these underlying issues, especially shortcomings in its whistleblower protections and investigative process, GAP believes that the organization’s performance will continue to be flawed by misconduct in the peacekeeping missions.”

Contact: Shelley Walden, International Officer
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 156

Contact: Bea Edwards, International Director & Executive Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 155

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 137, 202.236.3733 (cell)

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 non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.