On April 14, 2015, Joan Dubinsky, the top ethics officer of the United Nations, got a small but important extension of her final two-year employment contract with the world organization. It could be worth about $1,000 a month for the rest of her life.
The adjustment also may add fuel to a controversy about Dubinsky’s actions in a peacekeeping sex abuse scandal in the battered Central African Republic (CAR), where the ethics officer has already been accused by critics of being less than impartial toward a senior UN official who has claimed protected whistleblower status after disclosing the affair to outsiders.
Among other things, the contract change was approved by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s chef de cabinet, Susana Malcorra—who only days earlier had been the recipient, along with other top UN officials, of emails from the ostensibly independent ethics officer about how to investigate Anders Kompass, the UN employee at the center of the sex abuse scandal.
Kompass’ alleged offense, in August 2014, had been to disclose to French diplomats interviews with young boys who had said they were victims of sexual abuse by French and African peacekeepers on a mission to CAR that had been blessed by the UN Security Council. Kompass has declared that he told his superiors about the action “shortly thereafter.”
“This situation constitutes a clear conflict of interest for Dubinsky.”
- Bea Edwards, Government Accountability Project
The victims of the non-UN peacekeepers were interviewed by UN personnel. Their unedited report, which Kompass passed on, he says, in a bid to stop further sexual abuse, was deemed confidential, and his actions are now termed an alleged violation of U.N. confidentiality.
The emails Dubinsky sent were follow-up to a meeting in mid-March where the same top officials, including Malcorra and Dubinsky, met to discuss the Kompass case, which was boiling up into a bigger scandal over the hyper-sensitive issue of peacekeeper sexual abuse, and possible U.N. cover-ups of it, extending far beyond the CAR case.
The emails were posted on the Internet in May by a non-government organization, AIDS-Free World, which is campaigning to remove diplomatic immunity from U.N. peacekeepers involved in sexual exploitation and abuse.
Dubinsky has already been criticized harshly for her April emails by a number of non-U.N. sources, including organizations involved in whistle-blower protection—an activity that is also part of her job description.
Among other things, they charged that the entire suite of actions seemed to compromise the autonomy of her office, which is described on its own website as “independent from management and all other U.N. offices.”
Moreover, critics noted that Dubinsky’s role at the U.N. includes, among other things, making independent judgments about whether employees such as Kompass have faced retaliation as a result of their action as whistleblowers—retaliation that a U.N. judge in May declared had already taken place in Kompass’ case, as the jurist ordered his reinstatement at work after a brief suspension.
The contract change that Malcorra approved for Dubinsky is likely to intensify at least some of the criticism. It extended Dubinsky’s employment to August 3, 2015-- 125 days beyond the U.N.’s normal mandatory retirement date, which is usually the last day of the month of the employee’s 62nd birthday. (Dubinsky’s birth date was March 22, 1953.)
That small addition –backdated to April 1, 2015, to ensure her continuity in service—allowed Dubinsky to reach the five-year mark required for full vesting in a U.N. pension program that would pay approximately $12,000 per year to someone of her director-level rank and brief years of contribution, according to U.N. insiders.
Without the extension, Dubinsky would retain only her own contributions to the pension fund.
Fox News sent questions to Dubinsky early in July regarding the contract change; she had sent no reply before this article was published.
In reply to Fox News questions, chef de cabinet Malcorra declared that “I am not in a position to discuss individual staff member contracts as the United Nations has an obligation to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of all staff records.”
She did note, however, that” the authority for the selection of staff members at [Dubinsky’s] level and above rests with the Secretary-General, including the retention of staff members beyond the retirement age, should the need arise.”
She also declared that “The Secretary-General attaches great importance to the selection and appointment of senior managers and as a priority seeks to have a smooth transition during a change in leadership”—implying that the adjustment was intended to ensure continuity for Dubinsky’s successor, who is still unnamed.
The move that ensured lifetime benefits that Dubinsky had come so close to earning before the contract extension was doubtless understandable--but the timing was also intriguing.
Its entry in U.N. payroll records came only three business days after Malcorra and Dubinsky engaged in their April 8 and 9 email conversations over how to investigate Kompass.
Another person in that email chain was Kompass’ boss, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
On April 9, after the email exchange, Zeid formally requested that another email participant, Carman LaPointe, head of the watchdog unit known as the Office of Internal Oversight Services—who also participated in the earlier meeting to discuss the Kompass case-- launch an investigation into Kompass’ actions. That investigation is still ongoing.
Three days after the exchange of emails, Zeid’s deputy high commissioner also asked Kompass to resign from his job as a senior staffer in Zeid’s office, a demand that Kompass refused. That refusal eventually led to his abortive suspension.
“This situation constitutes a clear conflict of interest for Dubinsky,” argues Bea Edwards, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group that has supported Kompass. “[It] taints the investigation she initiated while casting a shadow on her own integrity.”
“At the very least, this irregular contract extension has the appearance of impropriety,” said Paula Donovan, a former U.N. employee and co-founder of AIDS-Free World, as well as a guiding force behind its anti-sexual abuse initiative. The issue of its timing, she said, “demands Secretary General Ban’s personal attention.”
Ban may already have given the sexual abuse issue, in all its ramifications, more attention than he ever anticipated.
In early June, faced with growing uproar over the Central African Republic affair, he suddenly announced the appointment of a three-person “external independent review” to examine the issue, along with “a broad range of systemic issues related to how the U.N. responds to information of this kind.”
The panel, headed by Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court Justice in Canada, began work in July, and was slated to report in 10 weeks. Among other things, Ban noted that it is also mandated “to make recommendations on how the United Nations should respond to similar allegations in the future and on any shortcomings in existing procedures.”
The panel’s report is supposed to be made public, “subject to due process and confidentiality restrictions” –both of which, of course, are also part of the controversy so far.