Who Investigates the Investigator at the U.N.?

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January 20, 2011; Source: USA Today | One doesn't automatically connect the United Nations to problems of internal ethical misdeeds, conflicts of interest, and penalization of whistle-blowers. But this time the connection seems clear, as revealed by the Washington-based nonprofit Government Accountability Project.

Under General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Ethics Office is not only a mess, but the acting head of it – American Michael Dudley – is fighting charges that he retaliated against two whistle-blowers. Former U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan created the ethics office within the U.N. about a year before his term expired to ensure that U.N. appointees meet the highest standards of work.

GAP filed complaints on behalf of the two staff that alleged that they had suffered retaliation by Dudley and his predecessor, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, who had resigned last summer. Imagine that: the office that investigates wrongdoing wants to quash an investigation into wrongdoing. Dudley's reaction was to challenge the authority of its own office, which had determined that a prima facie case of whistleblower retaliation existed, and to claim that his candidacy for being named permanent director of the office would be harmed by an "illegal investigation based on a malicious complaint."

Fortunately, the U.N. Disputes Tribunal shot down his argument completely. Apparently, there have been a number of conflict of interest issues swirling around the U.N., little covered in the mainstream press, including accusations against the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, that contrary to the U.N. charter, struck a deal to ensure that 13 percent of all of its professional staff would go to Americans, comparable to a similar agreement the UNHCR had already signed with Denmark (according to an internal audit reported by New York's Inner City Press).

The Danish HCR commissioner subsequently resigned due to a sexual harassment scandal. So who was assigned to investigate the deal? American Michael Dudley, a slight problem given his record of closing cases before investigations were completed and not pursuing cases brought to his attention by a special anti-corruption unit that was disbanded in 2009.

Ban responded by lashing out at critics of his ethical record, saying not only that the created the Ethics Office instead of Annan, but adding, "I have made much progress, again, unprecedented progress." Ban didn't acknowledge the 50-page confidential (though subsequently leaked) "end-of-assignment" report filed by Ahlenius and a 76-page grievance against Ban filed by the head of the now terminated anti-corruption unit (the Procurement Task Force). Good that GAP is looking at the U.N. as well as our own government apparatus on these issues.—Rick Cohen