States may restrict access to information in specific areas and narrow circumstances, yet the disclosure of information relating to human rights or humanitarian law violations should never be the basis of penalties of any kind…

David Kaye

UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

On October 22, David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, presented his report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The report, recognizes the progress made by national governments and international organizations, such as the UN itself, in adopting statutes that protect the rights of whistleblowers and journalists’ sources to freedom of expression and protection from retaliation. At the same time, however, Kaye pointed out the gaps between what the various laws protect on paper and what national and international authorities do in practice. In fact, his report identifies the irony of the UN’s role in the production of his report itself: the organization commissioned the report and invited Kaye’s analysis, yet the report finds the UN deficient in providing protection to its own whistleblowers.

This paradox was evident at Kaye’s press conference yesterday. He responded to questions from Inner City Press about a specific UN whistleblower (min. 10:30). The question concerned Anders Kompass, a senior official at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) who received a report about child sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) and transmitted it through diplomatic channels to the law enforcement authorities with jurisdiction to act. In response, the OHCHR asked Kompass to resign and when he refused, suspended him and placed him under investigation for leaking the report (the Dispute Tribunal forced the OHCHR to void Kompass’ suspension because it was improper).  Surrounding the treatment of Kompass are arcane machinations at the highest levels of UN management involving the collusion of supposedly independent oversight offices, the interventions of the Secretary General’s Office in the person of his Chief of Staff, and most recently, the bizarre and baffling public performances of the human rights officer who interviewed the abused children.

As a result, after more than 30 years of unimpeachable work in the human rights field, Kompass’ career and reputation hang in the balance. In light of all this, Kaye’s unequivocal statement (above) about unqualified freedom of expression where human rights violations are at stake provides Kompass with the benediction of the UN, even as the organization retaliates against him.

…[T]he disclosure of information relating to human rights or humanitarian law violations should never be the basis of penalties of any kind…

While Kaye spoke, Kompass remained under investigation at the request of the OHCHR – precisely for “the disclosure of information relating to human rights or humanitarian law violations.”  This investigation is absolutely opaque, even to the Office of Internal Oversight Services, where the Director of Investigations recused himself and charged the Undersecretary responsible with abuse of authority, rather than being associated with such a mockery of due process.

For many years, the United Nations has – in a sense – played both sides of this game: the organization preaches high-minded principles to its member states, while violating those same principles inside its own house. This is an antiquated and duplicitous practice of limited utility these days. In the long-ago era of kings and queens, the royal court could often get away with it, but in an era of instant communication and the widespread use of social media, an organization that tries to conceal its own flaws while highlighting those of others will have little credibility after a time. To salvage its legitimacy as an arbiter of human rights, the UN must stop its investigation of Anders Kompass and implement the recommendations of its own Special Rapporteur.