As early as 13 February 2013, UN human-rights officer Emma Reilly reported to the top UN human-rights official at the time that another senior UN official, Eric Tistounet, had been giving the Beijing dictatorship the names of Chinese human-rights advocates who were planning to attend a session of the UN “Human Rights Council” in Geneva examining the Communist Chinese regime’s human-rights record. Reilly believed that giving the names of those activists to the brutal dictatorship, which has a long history of mass murder and brutal persecution of dissidents, would put them in danger and potentially prevent them from appearing at the hearing. And it appears that her suspicions were well founded.
Six months after Reilly initially drew attention to the matter, Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli “was disappeared from the Beijing airport on her way to attend a Council session in Geneva,” GAP reported on its website. The victim, charged by the regime with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” died while in the communist regime’s custody. In addition to Shunli, a brief on the case by former UN official Gallo, citing a report by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, identifies at least two other Chinese human-rights activists, Chen Jianfang and Zhou Weilin, who were apparently detained by the regime while on their way to attend a UN human-rights training and the UN Human Rights Council’s 24th session. The brutal dictatorship, along with many of its mass-murdering communist and Islamist allies, enjoy seats on the UN council, despite their long records of brutality and human rights violations.
Instead of expressing concerns about the disappearance of key activists, however, the UN bureaucracy was apparently more interested in retaliating against Reilly, experts monitoring the case explained. “It’s a very good case study in how hard it is for a UN whistleblower to get protection,” explained Gallo, who published relevant documents in the Reilly case and has testified before the U.S. Congress on issues related to whistleblowing and UN reform.
Indeed, rather than addressing Reilly’s concerns, the practice of giving Beijing the names of Chinese dissidents set to testify against the regime continued for years. Reilly continued to report it internally, but nothing was done. By 2015, Reilly reported her concerns to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, an Islamic prince who has equated U.S. President Donald Trump and other Western political leaders with the Islamic State (ISIS). He reportedly did nothing, and neither did his deputy, Kate Gilmore.
Finally, Reilly, exasperated, turned to the Irish government, which intervened last year to halt the practice of identifying Chinese dissidents to their oppressors. And that, according to GAP and other sources, led to retaliation against the whistleblower, including harassment, exclusion, and other abuses of authority. “It became clear that Mr. Tistounet had been informed of Ms. Reilly’s report about his cooperation with the Chinese government,” reported Bea Edwards, who leads international programs for GAP.
To obtain protection from the growing abuses, Reilly turned to the UN Ethics Office for protection as a whistleblower. Instead of jumping in to defend her and protect her from retaliation, though, the office twisted itself into knots trying to claim that Reilly’s concerns about what she witnessed were not a whistleblower disclosure. The entire bizarre reasoning from the Ethics Office, along with Gallo’s commentary exposing the problems with it, is available here. “If she did not have grounds to report that, nobody has grounds to report anything,” Gallo said in a phone interview.
Edwards, with GAP, also expressed serious concerns. “This case has disturbing parallels with the Anders Kompass case, and shows the extent to which this High Commissioner’s motivation with respect to the protection of human rights is inconsistent,” she wrote on GAP’s blog. “Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the High Commissioner, requested that Mr. Kompass be investigated for giving the names of human rights abuse victims to the French government for the purpose of protecting them. In Zeid’s view, apparently, this is misconduct. However, when Mr. Tistounet, another staff member, gave the names of dissidents to a government, potentially exposing them to abuse, Zeid did not react. This seems upside down to GAP, and we continue watching developments in this case.”
Another watchdog group, UN Watch, also expressed concerns about the case. “Top @UNHumanRights official informed #China of dissident planning to testify @UN,” the organization said in a statement posted on social media. “She was detained and died in prison.”
Of course, the retaliation against brave UN whistleblowers, and the total failure to protect them from it, is actually the norm at the UN. According to a study by the Government Accountability Project in 2012, more than 97 percent of all applications for whistleblower protection are dismissed by the UN. Said another way, just three in 100 people who blow the whistle on UN crimes and abuses end up receiving protection. That sends a clear and unmistakable message to all UN staffers aware of corruption, child abuse, crime, ethics violations, and other illegal activities: Speak out, and lose your job.
The original UN whistleblower, Paul Bang-Jensen, who sought to expose Soviet infiltration of the UN and protect the identity of witnesses to Soviet atrocities, ended up dead in a “suicide” that was almost certainly a murder. His death came after months of terrible abuse, persecution, and retaliation for his bravery.
In recent years, the situation has become so bad that the U.S. Congress finally felt the need to intervene, even threatening UN funding. Eventually, lawmakers passed a law requiring that some U.S. tax funding be withheld from any UN organization that did not implement and rely on proper whistleblower protections. Under the Obama administration, UN bureaucracies were able to flaunt the law with impunity. Finally, though, Congress, realizing that whistleblowers were still being viciously persecuted by UN bosses, held more hearings and made more threats.
But obviously, the scandalous problems continued, ensuring that UN bosses could perpetrate crimes with impunity and with little risk of even being publicly exposed — much less having their “immunity” waived so they could be brought to justice. Now, with Trump in the White House, UN officials realize that they had better shape up, or the U.S. funding will be slashed in accordance with U.S. law. And so, the new UN boss adopted some minor updates to UN whistleblower policies that have been widely criticized and ridiculed by experts, whistleblowers, and others.
After GAP’s report, the UN OHCHR exploded, sending out a statement slamming its critics and alleging that their claims were false. “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly rejects the totally unsupported allegation by the Global Accountability Project (GAP) [sic] and the Inner City Press blog that it endangered four Chinese human rights defenders who attended the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2013,” the UN outfit said in a screed so filled with factual errors that it even misstated the name of the organization it was lashing out against.
The UN statement also claimed Reilly “has never faced reprisals,” despite the fact that an alleged “investigation” into that question is supposedly being conducted by the UN Ethics Office now — a “review” that has been ongoing for over 200 days. Ironically, even the deficient UN Ethics Office probe that has been completed found that Reilly’s complaint was based on facts, and that the UN office did in fact identify the Chinese human-rights activists to a brutal regime infamous for murdering dissidents. The OHCHR has never denied that Shunli, who died in Chinese detention, was identified to the regime by the UN.
GAP’s Edwards responded by pointing out multiple misrepresentations and errors of fact in UN OHCHR’s statement. “In short, the UN spokesman’s account is inaccurate, defensive and self-serving,” Edwards wrote, noting that GAP stands by its account of the facts. “He did not even get GAP’s name right.”
Critics say it is time for UN human-rights boss Hussein to step down, for more than a few reasons. “The most recent intemperate and uninformed outburst of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling the Trump Executive Order excluding terrorists from the United States ´mean-spirited´ (noticeably far beyond the measured assessment of new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres), just confirms his unfitness for the important high UN office he currently holds,” said Ed Flaherty, an international lawyer based in Geneva who has worked with and represented a number of prominent UN whistleblowers in recent years.
“Whether it be the retaliation against whistleblowers in his own office such as Anders Kompass or Miranda Brown (and now a third who revealed the apparent complicity of his office with the suspicious death of a Chinese human rights activist), or his undisciplined screeds against democratically elected presidential candidates and leaders of the developed world (a legitimacy he is himself sorely missing), Prince Zeid has become an abject embarrassment, and should have the decency to resign immediately before he does irreparable harm to the institution entrusted to his stewardship (and the world’s most helpless and vulnerable he is being paid to protect), or before the US withdraws its funding from a rogue UN organ run by a loose-cannon,” Flaherty said in an e-mail. He has provided a list of recommendations on these issues to the Trump administration.
Former UN investigator Gallo, who also was unsuccessful in his bid to secure whistleblower protection, emphasized how important this case and whistleblowing more broadly are to the public. “Whistleblowers play an invaluable role in the system of accountability and prevention of fraud in all organizations, but it is particularly important in the UN,” he said, noting that the UN is immune from national laws, has its own “internal justice” system biased in favor of management, and spends billions of dollars with virtually no oversight.