Published November 20, 2014
Editor's note: Information on the now completed WIPO report is available here.
In April, Russell reported that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations, had quietly transferred technology to North Korea and Iran that could potentially be used to advance those regimes’ nuclear and missile programs. WIPO officials transferred the equipment without notifying its own member states, much less the U.N. committees charged with maintaining international sanctions on these two rogue nations.
Pressed by the U.S. State Department and Congress, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry announced that he would conduct an internal review of the transfers. Mr. Gurry also pledged to cooperate with a Congressional inquiry into whether the agency’s actions had violated U.S. and U.N. sanctions. This promised cooperation has not been forthcoming.
A letter from House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) asserts that Mr. Gurry’s Legal Council, Edward Kwakwa, has blocked WIPO staffers James Pooley and Miranda Brown from testifying. The letter further states that Mr. Gurry has placed such restrictions on the testimony of Moncref Kateb, president of the WIPO Staff Association, that Mr. Kateb is now unwilling to testify for fear of retaliation.
Now, new concerns have been raised about Mr. Gurry’s personal involvement in the transfer. As reported last week by Reuters:
In a suit filed with a U.N. tribunal, [senior WIPO employee, Christopher Mason] accuses Francis Gurry, the Australian head of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, of pledging the [transferred] equipment to the two sanctioned countries in exchange for their votes.
The suit also alleges Gurry earmarked posts for member states who backed him in his 2008 election and those whose votes he is trying to secure as part of his 2014 re-election bid.
It’s as yet unclear whether the tale of swapping technology and posts for votes is true. But it is abundantly clear that a number of questions remain unanswered.
Last month, the State Department issued a statement indicating it was content to move on and let WIPO handle matters internally. “Based on the information we have received so far,” State announced, “we believe that the projects did not violate UN Security Council sanctions.” That conclusion, however, is disputed by many proliferation experts. Moreover, State has not commented on whether WIPO’s transfer, which involved equipment purchased from U.S. computer maker Hewlett-Packard, violated U.S. sanctions.
Considering the recent revelations, Mr. Gurry’s “internal review” surely cannot now be taken as the final authority on this matter. Indeed, it’s clearer than ever that Mr. Gurry’s own behavior warrants scrutiny.
WIPO is a useful organization whose work generally supports U.S. interests. That makes it all the more imperative that this matter be resolved. The State Department and Congress should demand that WIPO agree to a fully independent investigation into both matters and that the witnesses requested by Congress be allowed to testify without restriction.
Brett Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at The Heritage Foundation.