Calls continue for a new whistleblowing mechanism.
London, 28 February, 2018 – embargoed until 16:30 on Thursday, March 1st.
An internal survey shows the difficulty the UN Secretary-General has in stopping sexual abuse and child rape within the UN.
According to a leaked UN report, approximately half of United Nations staff doubt that beneficiaries and staff are treated with respect, or held accountable for unethical behavior. Staff lack confidence that they can report misconduct without retaliation (see page 23 of survey).
‘The damning results of a leaked internal staff survey, show the steep mountain the Secretary-General has to climb if he is ever to achieve real reform and zero tolerance for abuse in the UN’, says whistleblower advocacy and child protection group Hear Their Cries.
Hear Their Cries was set up by former UN staff and whistleblowers to ‘hear the cries’ of whistleblowers in Aid and ‘hear the cries’ of child victims of sexual abuse in Aid (www.HearTheirCries.org).
“The fear of retaliation in the UN is a major reason why staff members will NOT report sexual harassment or abuse, and the UN has deliberately and cynically maintained a fundamentally dysfunctional ‘whistle-blower protection’ regime in order to discourage staff members from reporting misconduct”, says former UN investigator turned whistle-blower, Peter Gallo.
The internal survey shows one-third of staff do not feel comfortable challenging the status quo (page 7), and the number who reported a lack of performance and ethical accountability at UN was a wopping 19% below the public-sector industry standard (page 22).
UN staff lack confidence that they can report misconduct without retaliation. Only 45% said they are confident that staff will be protected from retaliation for reporting misconduct or cooperating with audit or investigation (page 21). UN staff fears seem borne out by recent evidence.
The first application for Protection Against Retaliation under the “new” policy introduced by Secretary-General Guterres (ST/SGB/2017/2), involved an application by Ms. Emma Reilly, who reported retaliation after reporting actions that jeopardized the lives of Human Rights activists in China.
The UN rules require the Ethics Office to respond in 30 days. To date, despite having considered the matter for a quite remarkable period of 592 days, the UN Ethics Office still refuse to make a preliminary finding on the matter.
It is significant that any finding in Ms. Reilly’s case would implicate the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has recently announced he will step down. The High Commissioner previously retaliated against well known whistle-blower, Miranda Brown, after she reported the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic in 2015. Brown’s whistleblowing led to the exposing of abuse of children by French soldiers deployed under a UN mandate, with prosecutors citing a delay in the report as a reason why soldiers ultimately could not be prosecuted.
The experiences of both these whistleblowers serve as examples of why most UN staff members would be taking an extraordinary risk with their own careers, for no action, if they were to report sexual abuse or child rape.
Hear Their Cries has been calling for a new ‘truly independent whistleblowing mechanism’ to be set up. Last year, after discussions with both former DFID Secretary of State, Priti Patel, and senior staff at US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s office, Hear Their Cries secured a commitment from the British Government to hold a conference to determine the shape of a new whistleblowing mechanism.
“With the changeover of minsters from Priti Patel to Penny Mordaunt, we have been told that the government will not ‘take the foot oft the gas,” HearTheirCries.org co-founder, former senior UN official, whistleblower and Hear Their Cries spokesman Andrew MacLeod says.
“Secretary of State for DFID Mordaunt has expanded the scope of the international meeting to cover other sexual abuse issues in light of recent disclosures of sexual abuse in the aid industry. We support her expansion of the agenda and will continue to advocate for the creation of the new whistle-blowing mechanism so that staff can feel safe to report on the abuse be and of colleagues”, MacLeod says.
Hear Their Cries believes that only when people can feel confident to blow the whistle can prosecutors be brought into investigations early enough to secure convictions – particularly in cases of child abuse.
“The UN’s internal investigation process is so slow, that by the time evidence is handed over to prosecutors the evidentiary chain has gone cold and the chance of gaining successful prosecutions is almost zero”, former UN investigator Gallo says. “The delay in bringing in external investigators by the use of an internal process is a deliberate delaying tactic. It is one of the reasons UN staff have so little faith in the system for reporting”, Gallo says.
“After all, a bank robber does not self-investigate before police are called in”, adds MacLeod, “so why does the UN system investigate sexual abuse and child rape by the UN itself, before police are brought in?’
Significant variation across demographics showed the difference in views of the gender. Males express more favorable opinions than Females (an average 11 point difference between groups). In Gender & Diversity, Females are -17 points less favorable than Males in assessing gender equality, and -15 points less favorable in assessing Female empowerment (page 17)
“These figures show men may perhaps be more blind to the issues than women and therefore shows that there is a long way to go to achieve ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual abuse”, HearTheirCries co-founder and spokesman Andrew MacLeod says.
Only 39% responded which is far lower than the 75% response rate normally achieved by Gartner (page 5), leading to some speculation that fear of speaking out extends even to confidential staff surveys.
Peter Gallo peter@HearTheirCries.org (Scotland) +44 7719 063462
Andrew MacLeod andrew@HearTheirCries.org (London) +44 7408 810 851
Abbe Jolles abbe@HeatTheirCires.orc (Washington DC) +12023528656