As whistleblowers and their advocates, we write into a void. Once a UN staff member becomes the bearer of unpleasant news, he or she is dismissed, demoted or silenced in one way or another.
This has been the case for four years for Miranda Brown. Dr. Brown blew the whistle on child sexual abuse in the Central African Republic, and the retaliation against Anders Kompass, the one senior official who reported it to law enforcement. She was told her contract would not be renewed. When she objected, her post was suddenly transferred from Geneva to Fiji.
There are so many condemnations of reprisal against whistleblowers from United Nations Secretaries General and spokespeople that we will not quote them here: In public, we are repeatedly assured that allegations of retaliation for reporting sexual abuse, corruption, kickbacks, nepotism, reckless endangerment of dissidents, etc. are taken “very seriously.” It would be encouraging if action were also taken, but it’s not.
The correspondence attached is our attempt to secure a response, commitment or action in favor of one whistleblower from the United Nations. At this writing, our appeals have not been taken seriously enough to warrant a meaningful response. The attached correspondence tells the story.
Nonetheless, we are also assured that there is “zero-tolerance” for retaliation, sexual abuse, etc. Despite this blanket intolerance, there also appears to be tacit acceptance. Zero-tolerance statements are not accompanied by operations designed to eliminate, or even minimize, the misconduct and/or crimes.
Miranda Brown was a high-level human rights official when she reported the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by peacekeepers. She was not renewed, then she was renewed, but only on the condition that she accept an imminent transfer to a post halfway around the world.
In short, despite the seriousness with which her allegations were taken and the zero-tolerance position of the United Nations, Dr. Brown lost her job. And what of Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights who oversaw the reprisal? He remains ensconced in his position. That was nearly five years ago.
Zeid also presided over the retaliation against Anders Kompass, his subordinate who reported the sex crimes to the French police and sparked an immediate investigation. Zeid wanted Kompass suspended for leaking information, and when that failed, he had him investigated.
Two years ago, Zeid was the High Commissioner whose subordinate Regional Coordinator in Myanmar shut down warnings that the Rohingya would soon face genocide there.
Currently, he has abandoned Emma Reilly to her fate. She reported that the Human Rights Council Secretariat has deliberately endangered human rights defenders in China and has faced harassment ever since.
So now, Zeid will step down without seeking a second term. It seems that no one has any use for him. Not his own government, nor the governments represented on the Security Council. He explains his decision to depart come August by saying that the human rights climate around the world is “appalling.”
For someone committed to human rights, this would be a reason to stay, but not for Zeid. In any case, he will long be remembered as the High Commissioner for Human Rights Who Retaliated Against Whistleblowers.
We hope his successor will be more responsible. Perhaps he or she will answer our letters.