The United Nations’ suspension of a top human rights official who passed evidence to French authorities of rape and sexual abuse of starving children in the Central African Republic by French and African troops last year was unlawful, a U.N. judge has ruled.
The judge also rejected U.N. concerns that “the interest of the Organization” required that the official, Anders Kompass, be suspended “to avoid any interference with the investigation” of his actions, and ordered that the April 17 suspension be lifted until the allegations against Kompass were fully investigated.
The judicial order from a body known as the United Nations Dispute Tribunal—part of an internal justice system for a world organization that has diplomatic immunity from everyone else’s law-- amounted to an egg-on-the-face moment for U.N. Secretary General Ki-moon, who personally took note of the suspension last week and gave it implicit blessing by declaring that Kompass’ actions—without referring to him by name-- had been “a serious breach of protocol” which “requires redaction of any information that could endanger victims, witnesses and investigators.”
Ban also explicitly declared that “Our preliminary assessment is that such conduct does not constitute whistleblowing”—a designation that would have given Kompass limited protection for his information handover.
Despite the alleged seriousness of his offense, it took the U.N. a full month to order up an investigation of Kompass’ conduct and declare his suspension after Kompass refused to resign in March 2015 at the request of the High Commissioner for Human Rights himself, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, for his alleged violation of U.N. investigation protocol
Kompass, a top official of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva, had never made any secret of his actions, and indeed told his bosses about handing over the information to the French shortly after he did so in December last year.
Under the U.N.’s cumbersome rules, a confidential investigation of the sexual crimes that took place nearly a year ago would have required further internal vetting –including the removal of the names of child victims and witnesses of the alleged sex crimes--before it would have gone to the French for action.
That process would have involved further delays in action against the wrongdoers, and potentially further crimes against vulnerable children.
The French not only began their own investigation but sent a formal letter of thanks to Kompass last July, assuring him that a military inquiry had begun “without delay” due to his actions.
The fact that the French officials responsible for the military force in Central African Republic (subsequently replaced by a formal U.N. peacekeeping force) were more grateful than the U.N. to get speedy notification of alleged crimes by its troops is only one of several ironies surrounding the Kompass case.
It is also seen by many critics as a rebuff of the U.N.’s own procedures for dealing with sex crimes by U.N. peacekeepers, which according to a long-suppressed internal report are under-reported, under-investigated and subject to little consequential follow-up, despite Ban claims of “zero tolerance.”
Ban has yet to implement a number of reforms suggested as long ago as 2005 in a special report on sexual exploitation and abuse in U.N. peacekeeping operations—whose author was none other than the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid, the man who unsuccessfully demanded Kompass resignation.
The same kind of bureaucratic lethargy was noted by U.N. Dispute Tribunal Judge Thomas Laker in his 18-page rejection of the suspension, which largely turned on the fact that the U.N. official who declared Kompass’ suspension did not have the authority to do so.
Lakers pooh-poohed ostensible U.N. concerns that without being suspended from work, Kompass might have destroyed evidence or otherwise interfered with internal investigators, noting that “he could easily have done so” in the month after he was requested to resign. The decision to suspend Kompass, he ruled, “defeats its purpose.”
Laker’s ruling was hailed by supporters who also feel his actions, despite Secretary General Ban’s “preliminary assessment,” also deserve protected whistleblower status—which in their view is under increasing hostile pressure at the U.N.
“We’re hoping the UN recognizes it has overreached and abandons efforts to retaliate against Anders Kompass and other whistleblowers,” observed Bea Edwards, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based whistleblower protection organization.
Edwards noted that nine U.N. whistleblowers in April sent an open letter to Ban, warning that current U.N. policies “afford little to no measure of real or meaningful protection for whistleblowers. ”
The group noted that “most of us have been forced to leave the UN to save our livelihoods, our health and our reputations” and urged specific reforms, including “immediately end the practice of subjecting known U.N. whistleblowers to lengthy internal appeals processes for contesting the loss of their job or other adverse employment decisions.”
A similar concern for protecting those, like Kompass, who have gone public to prevent additional wrongdoing is included in a declaration published on May 4 by a group of four international rapporteurs and special representatives on freedom of expression.
They declared that “individuals who expose wrongdoing, serious maladministration, a breach of human rights, humanitarian law violations or other threats to the overall public interest,” should be protected against “legal, administrative or employment-related sanction, even if they have otherwise acted in breach of a binding rule or contract, as long as at the time of the disclosure they had reasonable grounds to believe that the information disclosed was substantially true and exposed wrongdoing or the other threats noted above.”
One of the authors of that “Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and responses to conflict situations” was the U.N.’s own Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye.
The Joint Declaration was posted, among other places, on the website of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—the same office where Anders Kompass now works again, and where he continues to be investigated.
George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or on Facebook.com/George Russell