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UN failed to protect basic whistleblower rights for its employee: UN Dispute Tribunal

The UN Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) [official website] ruled that the UN Ethics Office [official website] has failed to protect the basic rights of a former UN employee, the Guardian reported [text] on Wednesday. James Wasserstrom, a US diplomat and former official for the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website] advising on the management of its public utilities, was detained by UN police after he alleged corruption among the senior rank of the UN department. The tribunal implicated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] in holding that the organization's structure of dealing with whistleblowers are flawed. In 2006, Wasserstrom, while working for UNMIK, revealed that two of the senior officials in the department received bribes. He reported his findings to the UN Office of Internal Oversight [official website], which began an investigation into the allegation. Information gathered from the investigation supposedly leaked to the officials and Wasserstrom's office was abolished upon which he accepted a consultant position with the Kosovo government. In 2007, he was detained by the UN police for his new position because it was deemed to represent a conflict in interest. His apartment and car were searched by the authorities without a search warrant. The Government Accountability Project (GAP) [advocacy website] reported that among the 297 cases where whistleblowers alleged that retaliation arose out of their attempt to expose wrongdoings within the UN, only one case was ruled in favor of the employee. The tribunal will hold another hearing in October to determine adequate compensation for Wasserstrom.

The internal tension between the Secretary General and the judges appointed for the tribunal has been ongoing. Two years after Ban appointed the judges, they charged [JURIST report] the UN chief with attempting to limit their powers and "undermine the integrity of the Tribunal and its independence" through his recommendations outlined in an August 8 report [text] to the UN General Assembly (GA) [official website]. The tribunal was established in 2007 pursuant to GA resolution 62/228 [text, PDF] which is divided into Appeals and Dispute Tribunals. The Appeals Tribunal is charged with appellate review of decisions of the Dispute Tribunal, which hears grievance and discipline disputes between UN members. Judges for the tribunals were appointed [JURIST report] in 2009.

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