Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:
Those U.N. Inspectors Were Not Wrong About Iraq
(February 2, 2004)
"The crucial question not being asked is why the public or the media should be surprised and outraged by Kay's empty-handed return from Iraq. The answer is that nobody bothered to ask the real experts—those maligned U.N. arms inspectors, who could have predicted all this more than a year ago."
Much of World's Conflict Fueled by Small Arms
(January 28, 2004)
"In the heightened climate of fear over more spectacular strikes by international terrorists, it is difficult to convince nations that the threat of ordinary guns should not be overlooked."
Breathing New Life Into an Old Federation
(January 13, 2004)
"A little more than three years ago, a few prominent Americans thought it was time to reinvigorate the World Federation of United Nations Associations, a body created in 1946."
IAEA Chief Out Front on Arms Control
(January 5, 2004)
"Since the departure of Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei has been the U.N. system's most visible arms controller. Some Bush administration officials have begun trying to undermine his authority."
Refugees in Limbo Where the U.N. Isn't Welcome
(December 29, 2003)
"For about a dozen years, tens of thousands of people, claiming to be Bhutanese citizens have been languishing in refugee camps in Nepal. Few officials believe they are all Bhutanese. Then who are these people, now numbering more than 100,000?"
More from U.N. Notebook.
U.N. Notebook | February 9, 2004
The Cost of U.N. Whistleblowing
by Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS—It has been seven years since Secretary General Kofi Annan was forced to dismiss the first chief administrative officer and deputy prosecutor of the troubled war crimes tribunal for Rwanda for their gross mismanagement. But three whistleblowers whose warnings helped draw attention to the incompetence and abuses that were undermining the work of justice there are still awaiting compensation. They all lost their jobs, unfairly, because they complained.
Although the highest juridical authority for dealing with staff disputes within the U.N. system, the Administrative Tribunal in Geneva, finally ruled in their favor last year, their careers have all been interrupted if not ruined, and at a significant financial cost.
Andre Sirois, a bilingual lawyer from Montreal who worked in the Canadian Justice Ministry and is familiar with both Anglo-Saxon and French legal systems, was assigned to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as chief of the court's language service shortly after it was established in 1994. Peter Goddard, a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army and a chartered accountant, was the tribunal's financial officer. Beatrice Lacoste, a French communications specialist, was the court's spokeswoman. All three quickly were shocked by what they saw in Arusha, Tanzania, where the Rwanda tribunal is based. Life soon took on the qualities of a bizarre nightmare.
Arusha, Tanzania, an isolated city by world standards, was chosen as the seat of the Rwanda tribunal because the Security Council thought it should be in Africa. Rwanda's capital, Kigali, had been devastated by genocide and war, and only a prosecutor's office was possible there. From Arusha, reporters based at the United Nations, as I was then, began to hear charges of misuse of money and equipment, security lapses, nepotism and favoritism in awarding good jobs to unqualified people. European experts sent to assist were, they said, often the targets of racist attitudes among some of the African staff.
In an interview with me in January 1997, the chief administrative officer, Andronico Adede, a Kenyan, acknowledged that there were problems in Arusha, but, with some justification, blamed inadequate facilities and insufficient budget and staffing levels compared with the better-equipped Balkans tribunal in The Hague. He denied any ethical wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, what was going on in Arusha was no secret to U.N. headquarters or, for that matter, the U.S. government, which began to grow wary of the tribunal. By 1996, the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services—the inspector general's staff—was investigating, and turning up significant faults. Inspectors trying to track funds were at one point refused access to the tribunal's safe. The OIOS published its first damning report in early 1997. That led to the dismissal of the tribunal's registrar, or chief administrative officer, Adede, and the deputy prosecutor, Honore Rakotomanana of Madagascar.
But by then, Sirois, Goddard and Lacoste were all in trouble and out of work because they had taken stands against the abuses and were talking to a few reporters about them. Sirois had been dealt with especially harshly.
While few large organizations, public or private, may treat whistleblowers fairly, the U.N. system creates special problems. In a corporation or government ministry, employees generally have access to outside help—independent courts, nongovernmental watchdog organizations, the mainstream media and generous book publishers. U.N. employees find it much harder to go public. Despite the presence of an ombudsman and several avenues of appeal within the personnel machinery, justice at the United Nations is essentially a closed system subject to political pressure from governments protecting slots held by their citizens. Paper trails don't exist. Cultural and racial tensions compound the situation.
When Sirois' case finally reached the level of the Administrative Tribunal last summer—despite numerous setbacks and nearly seven years after he had been fired by Adede—the Geneva panel was stunned by the discovery that Adede had removed very favorable performance reports from Sirois' file and substituted fraudulent, forged or concocted negative assessments. Adede had also generally harassed Sirois, cutting off his telephone, for example. Deciding in favor of Sirois, the Geneva panel ruled that his contract with the United Nations would certainly have been extended had it not been for the "illegal action" of Adede. No punishment was ever meted out to Adede before or after his dismissal.
For Sirois, the costs were formidable. He was unemployed for four years as he tried to clear his name. Last year, after on-again, off-again work, he returned to the United Nations on a contract that will take him through retirement on Sept. 1. He calculates now that he has lost about $600,000 in salary, pension funds and costs. Last July, the Administrative Tribunal awarded him the maximum allowable compensation, which he said should be $240,000. He has since been told that the actual award will probably be $188,000 because of a mistake in calculations. If he wants to appeal, that could take another three or four years, he said.
Lacoste left Arusha shattered and dismayed by her experience. She later became spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, but is now living in Paris without a job. The Administrative Tribunal, in its final judgment released last week, ruled that the decision not to renew her contract at the Rwanda court was based on "improper" motives and should be considered null and void. It ordered that falsely prepared negative reports should be removed from her file and that she should be awarded a sum equal to a year and a half's salary in addition to a smaller sum she had already been given by a lower appeals process. She claimed in her application that she had lost four years' income.
Goddard has also suffered. A British officer and qualified accountant who had earlier been assigned by the United Kingdom to the U.N. peacekeeping department, Goddard resigned his army commission in 1995 to go to Arusha as financial officer. His contract was terminated by Adede less than a year later. Although he was ultimately able to return to the peacekeeping department in New York—and was promoted this month to executive officer of the U.N. pension fund—he was initially out of work for nine months and had to spend his savings to support himself and his wife and keep one child in university and another in private school.
Goddard was awarded $42,000 by a U.N. appeals board before his case reached the Administrative Tribunal. The office of management and budget then inexplicably reduced that to $14,000, which he received. Last summer, the Administrative Tribunal raised his compensation to $132,000—$118,000 plus the $14,000 already paid. Seven months later, he is still waiting for a payment and is concerned that what he is owed will again be arbitrarily reduced.
Meanwhile, he said, his reputation as a chartered accountant has been damaged in the United Kingdom because of the unfair and untrue accusations made against him. Ironically, he says, the only place he could get a job was back at the United Nations.
All three of these highly qualified people who tried to right wrongs only to lose faith in the U.N. justice system now praise the Administrative Tribunal for its handling of their cases in the end. But why did it have to take so long and at such terrible human neglect all the way to the top? And will they ever be repaid for their losses?
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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic
Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and
related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and
appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National
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Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All