No protection for whistleblowers, sources worldwide: UN

Whistleblowers and sources of information critical to exposing a wrongdoing are often intimidated and silenced across the world as governments and international organisations, including the UN, fail to ensure their protection, a UN report said on Friday.

United Nations: Whistleblowers and sources of information critical to exposing a wrongdoing are often intimidated and silenced across the world as governments and international organisations, including the UN, fail to ensure their protection, a UN report said on Friday.

According to the first major UN report on freedom of expression, countless sources and whistleblowers are "intimidated" by officials, co-workers, and others, depriving everyone of information that may be critical to public debate and accountability.

"All too often, those revealing allegations of wrongdoing lack effective protection. Silence is too often the only safe option left to them, with the public left in the dark and wrongdoing left unpunished," David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, told UN General Assembly during the presentation of his study.

"The problem of source protection extends beyond traditional journalists to bloggers, citizen reporters, NGOs, researchers, authors, academics, and many others," Kaye told delegates in the Assembly's Third Committee the Organisation's main body dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

"How can they carry out investigative work if they cannot extend the basic assurances of confidentiality to their sources?" he said.

"While there are major gaps in protections, there are also important advancements in norms protecting sources and whistleblowers around the world. Yet they are often riven with loopholes or, even with strong legal protections, not enforced in practice," Kaye said.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the study also emphasises that the right of access to information ? central to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ? requires that authorities take into account the public interest of information disclosed when adopting measures against unauthorised disclosures.

"States may restrict access to information in specific areas and narrow circumstances, yet the disclosure of information relating to human rights or humanitarian law violations should never be the basis of penalties of any kind," Kaye said.

The study notes that the UN and other international organisations also frequently fail to protect their own whistleblowers.

"The UN has adopted rules for enabling whistleblowing and prohibiting retaliation. Yet allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation are rarely protected effectively," Kaye said..

"Without protection against retaliation, few would disclose wrongdoing. Protections should be detailed explicitly in law, providing clarity for whistleblowers and others on the nature of the protection they may seek," Kaye said.  

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