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US whistleblower law costly for UN

New York – A campaign led by a United Nations (UN) whistleblower that successfully changed United States (US) law could cost the UN hundreds of millions of dollars if it doesn’t adhere to “best practices” to protect any U.N. employee who reports wrongdoing.

The appropriations bill signed by President Barack Obama on Jan. 17 contains a provision to automatically withhold 15 percent of U.S. funding for the United Nations or any of its agencies unless – or until – Secretary of State John Kerry certifies to Congress that its conduct toward whistleblowers meets five “best practices.”

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Friday that the U.N. took note of the U.S. decision “while we continue to apply our whistleblower protection policies throughout the U.N. system.”

James Wasserstrom, an American who accused senior colleagues of retaliating after he alleged corruption in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press that the new law is “a major step in the right direction to put pressure on the United Nations and all of its agencies to clean up their acts when it comes to internal corruption.”   “This is not a U.S.-U.N. issue,” stressed Wasserstrom, who led the campaign to change the U.S. law. “This is an issue that affects all major donors. They should all be demanding immediate reforms of the U.N. in fighting fraud, waste and abuse.”

Wasserstrom, who was the lead anti-corruption officer at the Kosovo Mission in 2007, was awarded $65,000 after the U.N. Dispute Tribunal ruled that he was subjected to “wholly unacceptable treatment” and “appalling” acts in violation of the rule of law and human rights. The United Nations is appealing the ruling and the award, and Wasserstrom’s attorneys are appealing the amount of the award, saying it is insufficient.