Francis Gurry, the embattled Director General of the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), publicly denounced the US Congress as a ‘kangaroo court’ because it has been scrutinizing his dubious dealings with the North Korean government and his treatment of WIPO whistleblowers. The contempt with which he views US Congressional oversight of United Nations activities is palpable in the statements he gave Fairfax media during a recent interview:
We’re supposed to live in a world in which we aspire to the rule of law – but what does it have to do with a congressman from Nebraska?
Gurry went on:
[US Congressional hearings] are a kangaroo court – come on!
A couple of thoughts: first, as far as we know, congressmen – even those in Nebraska – respect and observe the rule of law, and second, here in the United States, we like to think of congressional hearings as part of the democratic process and not as sabotage of legal rights.
And so, we might ask – who is this guy and why is he saying such terrible things about our government?
Those would be fair questions.
Taxpayers in the United States have long been ambivalent about the funding the Congress allocates for the United Nations. Over the years, the UN has been the site of scandals that even its most ardent defenders have trouble explaining. There was Oil-for Food, a corrupted multi-year operation through which private corporations paid kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime through a UN program, in exchange for lucrative contracts. By the time the dust settled on that one, at least $1.7 billion had been found in Saddam’s pocket.
Then there was the cholera epidemic brought to Haiti by UN peacekeepers, untrained in the rudimentary technologies of safe sewage disposal. It turns out that these guys did not realize (or did not care about) what most campers know: don’t dump your latrine upstream from the drinking water. At last count, about 10,000 people have died.
And in 2015, news broke of systematic sexual exploitation and abuse of children by UN peacekeepers and staff. The reports were horrific: children as young as eight were exchanging sex for yogurt rations.
In not one of these incidents was there anything resembling accountability at the United Nations, either for the individuals responsible or at the level of the Organization itself, which, by claiming immunity, exempts itself from legal proceedings in national courts.
In the United States, our only recourse is through our Congress, which periodically balks at financing an organization that tacitly condones such conduct. Because the Congress has no authority to compel the United Nations to release documents or testimony, its members are largely dependent on UN whistleblowers for information about what’s going on. In part, to protect its sources, the Congress has passed legislation making full US funding for the UN contingent on the implementation of best-practice whistleblower protections.
This circuitous, but potentially effective restraint on the worst abuses of UN legal immunities, has now drawn Francis Gurry’s ire because he retaliates against WIPO whistleblowers with impunity, and US funding for WIPO has been withheld for two consecutive years.
For arcane financial reasons, the amount of money involved for WIPO is minuscule, but no matter – Gurry is irked. He as much as says so, lamenting how some congressman from Nebraska can question his (Gurry’s) integrity. The ignorant Congressman obviously doesn’t know who Francis Gurry is…
And we are therefore obliged to respond, no. We don’t know and we don’t care. Because unlike Gurry, we are governed by the rule of law – and US law requires withholding 15 percent of US funding for UN agencies that allow whistleblower retaliation.
At GAP, we know that this year, WIPO and the Secretariat of the United Nations both fall into that category.