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UN persecution of whistleblowers shocks U.S. Congress.

The United Nations' persecution of whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing at the international outfit and its agencies is a major threat, said shocked U.S. lawmakers and former UN officials during a congressional hearing on February 24 investigating the issue. But despite the seriousness of the offenses, this is hardly the first time the UN has been exposed engaging in severe retaliation against those who blow the whistle on UN crimes. The implications of the case are enormous: If left unaddressed, UN officials who know of wrongdoing and criminality will be unlikely to report it, knowing that their lives will be destroyed and nothing will change anyway. But lawmakers did pledge to act.

The whistleblower scandal surrounds the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, and its director-general, Francis Gurry. According to current and former employees of the agency, which runs the international intellectual-property regime, the UN agency boss sent sensitive U.S. technology to the dictatorships ruling Iran and North Korea, in defiance of U.S. law and international sanctions. The reason, whistleblowers said, was to secure the votes of those regimes in Gurry's reelection contest. When WIPO officials found out, though, they realized something was wrong, and attempted to take action. In response, Gurry retaliated against them in what observers described as an "outrageous" and potentially criminal abuse of power.

Among those testifying was Miranda Brown, who served as strategic advisor to WIPO boss Gurry. In her testimony, she described retaliation at the hands of the UN agency chief, as well as "an ongoing pattern of abuse of authority and impunity." When Brown found out about the scheme to transfer American technology to North Korea, at first she thought it was a joke, she told the committee. When she realized it was not, she tried to stop it, and advised Gurry that it was likely a violation of U.S. law and UN Security Council sanctions. The UN agency chief, who also came under fire for threatening a journalist with prosecution for doing his job in recent years, seemed "non-committal."

"Despite the fact that WIPO had no whistle-blower policy in place at the time I blew the whistle on the North Korea and Iran shipments, I felt confident that the U.S. Government would use its considerable influence to fully protect me," said Brown, one of at least three whistleblowers at WIPO involved in the explosive scandals. "I felt I had a responsibility, as a UN staff member, to blow the whistle and report a UN agency that was supplying high-end American IT equipment to North Korea, in violation of U.S. domestic sanctions and without consulting the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees."

In response to blowing the whistle, the retaliation was "severe," Brown told lawmakers. Among other actions, Gurry accused her of "disloyalty" and of "leaking documents" to the U.S. government and the media. Then, in an apparent test of loyalty, he ordered her to help on a secret plot to establish WIPO offices in Beijing and Moscow without approval from agency member states. Gurry told other staffers to avoid Brown or face "consequences," and finally told her that her contract would not be renewed. Finally, she was forced to resign under duress, she told the congressional committee.

"Mr. Gurry's leadership of WIPO is characterized by secrecy and also an extraordinary vindictiveness towards whistle-blowers," Brown told U.S. lawmakers, adding that the agency chief appears to see the outfit he leads and its resources as his "personal fiefdom." He also "consistently undermined the internal accountability mechanisms," she added, citing examples, including one senior official targeted by Gurry who went on to commit suicide. Brown said the suicide should be investigated. Gurry fired and destroyed virtually everyone who tried to stop his lawlessness and abuses, it seems.

All of the lawmakers at the hearing sounded shocked and appalled at what they were hearing. "I'm very concerned about Mr. Gurry's ability to continue retaliating against you both," said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), commending the whistleblowers for their bravery. "I am shocked that Gurry remains in office."

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired the hearing, also sounded incredulous, vowing to do "a great deal of follow up" to ensure the future of whistleblowing at the UN. The UN is "not a sustainable organization" if this sort of behavior continues, he added, calling Gurry "a bureaucrat who, with impunity, is abusing his authority." Whistleblowers are some of the most noble people in an organization, he continued. "They are the canary in the coal mine," he added.
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Title Annotation:Extended Inside Track
Publication:The New American
Date:Mar 21, 2016
Words:756
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