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UN to hear whistleblower retaliation appeal

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UN to hear whistleblower retaliation appeal
Photo: Rodolfo Quevenco/IAEA Imagebank
03:11 CEST+02:00
The United Nations Appeals Tribunal (UNAT) will hold an open hearing on the whistleblower retaliation case of James Wasserstrom in Vienna, on Thursday June 19th.

While assigned to the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, Government Accountability Project (GAP) client Wasserstrom blew the whistle on what he alleged was a conspiracy to pay a $500 million kickback to senior U.N. and Kosovo officials.

After the Ethics Office – the unit established to protect U.N. whistleblowers – failed to protect him from serious and protracted retaliation, he filed a case with the U.N.'s lower court, the Dispute Tribunal (UNDT).

The Tribunal found in his favour, concluding that the institution's treatment of him was "appalling" and that the Ethics Office made a "fundamentally flawed" decision when it failed to substantiate retaliation. In a subsequent decision, however, the UNDT awarded him only a tiny fraction of his losses.

The Secretary General appealed the UNDT's finding of liability and the damages award, while Wasserstrom appealed only the latter. The UNAT has exceptionally agreed to Wasserstrom's application for oral arguments on his case at the forthcoming hearing. The case has been pending in the U.N. court system since 2008.

The hearing and its outcome will be closely watched as a result of the 2014 U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act, Section 7048 (a)(1)(b), which requires the institution to provide whistleblowers with "results that eliminate the effects of proven retaliation" as a condition of a full U.S. contribution to the organization. Wasserstrom was awarded only 2% of his estimated damages and costs.

"The hearing is Mr. Wasserstrom's final step in a seven-year search for fairness from the United Nations," said GAP Executive Director Bea Edwards. "Whistleblowers around the world will be watching this appeal to see if, finally, there is justice for him."

The UNAT is the court of last resort in the U.N. internal justice system, and its decisions are final and binding. The hearing before a panel of three judges will take place in Vienna, Austria, on June 19 at 3:30 pm in the UNAT hearing room at the Vienna International Center. Mary Dorman, the attorney representing Wasserstrom, will be making the case with the whistleblower in attendance.

The hearing is open to the public. 

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