UN to hear whistleblower retaliation appeal

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.

UN to hear whistleblower retaliation appeal
Photo: Rodolfo Quevenco/IAEA Imagebank

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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UN envoy: Assad ‘part of solution’ in Syria

Any peaceful solution to the fighting in Syria must involve President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said in Vienna on Friday.

UN envoy: Assad 'part of solution' in Syria
President Bashar al-Assad with soldiers in Syria. Photo: APA/epa/SANA

"President Assad is part of the solution," de Mistura told a joint press conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

"I will continue to have very important discussions with him," he added, noting that "the only solution is a political solution."

De Mistura, who was in Damascus this week where he met with Assad, is due to deliver a report on his mission to the UN Security Council on February 17.

If no solution to the conflict is found, "the only one who takes advantage of it is (the Islamic State group) Isis Daesh," de Mistura said, referring to the jihadists who have taken over parts of Syria and Iraq.

The group is a "monster waiting for this conflict to take place in order to be able to take advantage," he said.

Kurz meanwhile agreed that "in the fight against Isis it can be necessary to fight on the same side" but insisted that "Assad will never be a friend or even a partner."

Human rights groups have accused Syria's government of indiscriminate bombardment of civilians in rebel-held areas, including with crude "barrel bombs" — allegations Assad denied in a BBC interview this week.

In the interview, he also complained that in the fight against IS, "there is no dialogue" with the US-led coalition, which began airstrikes in September.

"There's, let's say, information, but not dialogue," the embattled leader said.

In a poll on Thursday, 53 percent of residents in opposition-held areas of Syria's second city of Aleppo — which has seen some of the country's worst violence since July 2012 — said they favoured de Mistura's October proposal of a "freeze" in fighting.

But a great majority also said they were sceptical that a truce would hold.

Syria's war, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011, has since killed more than 210,000 people, with regime troops shelling rebel-held areas almost daily. Several rounds of negotiations have ended in failure.