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The United Nations Needs a Special Adviser on Whistleblowing

Tom Devine Posted by Tom Devine.

Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades.


On February 24, 2017, United Nations whistleblower Miranda Brown wrote to the Secretary General Antonio Guterres and proposed that he name a Special Adviser on whistleblowing.

On February 24, 2017, United Nations whistleblower Miranda Brown wrote to the Secretary General Antonio Guterres and proposed that he name a Special Adviser on whistleblowing. The Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has represented her for two years, also wrote to support the proposal and to promote her candidacy to fill the post. Neither she nor GAP has received a response.  

At the same time, the Secretary General (SG) signed a new whistleblower protection policy and made numerous public statements about UN management’s support for whistleblowers and whistleblowing.

Without political will at the top of the organization to enforce it, however, the new policy will serve the same purpose as the old one: decoration designed to enhance the organization’s image. It is also becoming clear that the Secretary General does not have any more intention of protecting whistleblowers than the previous one.

When asked to take a specific action – rather than just talk – Mr. Guterres balked. 

For the past decade, GAP has represented whistleblowers in the tortuous and ultimately pointless UN “judicial” system. We have represented the whistleblowers who reported:

  • misconduct and evidence tampering in the investigations unit at the UN;
  • massive bribery and kickback schemes in two countries;
  • child sexual abuse in peacekeeping;
  • gross abuse of authority.

Our clients have suffered through interminable litigation in the administrative system at the United Nations. In the end they got nothing. No matter how significant the disclosure and how explicit and ruinous the retaliation, the whistleblowers are either marginalized inside the UN or forced to leave it altogether. They are blacklisted, their contracts are inexplicably not renewed, they are no longer able to travel, they are ostracized and insulted – and ultimately they are forced out. If this happened to one or two staff members who reported wrongdoing, well, mistakes happen.

But it is a pattern.

GAP fears that the new SG may not have any more intention of protecting whistleblowers than his predecessor. The Secretary General needs a Special Adviser on Whistleblowing. This is especially urgent with both a new Secretary General and a new whistleblower protection policy. 

Miranda Brown is one of the most important whistleblowers to ever report misconduct at the United Nations – and there have been many. GAP strongly urges the Secretary General to appoint a Special Adviser on this important and complex issue and to name Miranda Brown to the post.

Author: 
Bea Edwards