How to Smear a United Nations Whistleblower

    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.



    There is always a distinct divergence between what a UN diplomat says formally to the member states and what is said privately to individual journalists about the same issue,....

    There is always a distinct divergence between what a UN diplomat says formally to the member states and what is said privately to individual journalists about the same issue, but in the Anders Kompass case, the difference in tone and meaning is radical.

    After the first article about the child sex abuse scandal in the Central African Republic (CAR) involving French troops appeared, a UN Spokesperson sounded off to a journalist about Kompass, the Director of Field Services at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) who reported the abuses to the French government: Kompass, he wrote in an e-mail, was a “sleaze-bag in the pay of the Moroccans.”

    The statement is not only gratuitously insulting – it’s also untrue. A protracted investigation into “Morocco Leaks” and Kompass produced nothing and was closed in May, 2015. 

    Officially, the spokesman told delegations from member states that the Organization could say nothing about Kompass as an investigation was pending.

    Next, the UN had to address questions about the decision to place Kompass on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the transmission of the CAR disclosure to the French government. Officially, the tone of the UN spokesman was respectful and did not even refer to the bogus Morocco Leaks investigation that went nowhere. Instead, notes issued to the Administration and Budget Committee politely assert:

    The UN officer [Anders Kompass] was placed on administrative leave with full pay because he is under investigation for alleged misconduct relating to a leak of confidential information, including notably the names and other identifying information pertaining to children allegedly victims of sexual violations. This decision was based on an assessment of risk that the officer, because of his position, could destroy, conceal or otherwise tamper with evidence, or interfere with the investigation.

    While this version of what is going on is more genteel than the mud slung at Kompass in private, the statement is just as duplicitous.  The UN Dispute Tribunal, in considering the arguments for placing Kompass on leave, ruled that the action was unlawful because the risk assessment was spurious:

    [W]ith respect to any interference by the Applicant on the investigation, for the purpose of concealing evidence, the Tribunal observes, first, that there is no indication or evidence whatsoever that the Applicant might indeed have any intention to do so (UNDT/GVA/2015/126).

    In addition, both in public and in private, the UN maintains that Kompass ‘leaked’ the report on child sex abuse in the CAR. In fact, he transmitted the report with a signed cover letter to the French Mission for onward transmission to French law enforcement. One week later, the report was sent to the Executive Office of the Secretary General, where it was received and acknowledged by Andrew Gilmour, Director in the Secretary-General’s Office for Political, Peace-keeping, Humanitarian and Human Rights. An exchange of e-mails on August 8th 2014 documents this transfer of information and was given by Linnea Arvindssen at OHCHR to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) last week.

    In answer to questions about whether Kompass is considered a whistleblower and why the report is described as ‘leaked,’ the spokesman officially asserts: “The UN does not prejudge the result of the ongoing investigation.”

    However, in private to a journalist, the spokesman says, “On motivation (why he leaked the full report immediately rather than let OHCHR do it a short while later with the kids and the witnesses redacted out) it’s a matter of conjecture. I have m [sic] views. No principle at all.”

    Further the spokesman says privately: “Zeid [The High Commissioner] did exactly the right thing in throwing the book at the guy [Kompass].” 

    But to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, the statement is more delicate: “The actions taken by the staff member concerned, and the manner in which the Administration handled the matter are being reviewed and assessed.”

    These comparisons in tone and substance are more than just a study in official hypocrisy; they show the real treatment of a UN whistleblower in contrast to the official rhetoric. Until member states take action to oblige the Secretariat to conform its actions and private statements to its prudent public pronouncements, the fate of UN whistleblowers will continue to be bleak. And in the Kompass case, we can all see where the failure to protect whistleblowers leads. When obliged to choose between shielding refugee children from sexual predators or protecting its own reputation, the Organization will defend itself and its status, leaving the children, who are without food, shelter or parents, to fend for themselves.

    Author: 
    Beatrice Edwards