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“Silence is too often the only safe option left” – New UN report on sources and whistleblowers

NEW YORK / GENEVA (22 October 2015) – Governments and international organizations are failing to ensure adequate protections to whistleblowers and sources of information, according to a new report* by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye.

“Countless sources and whistleblowers around the world are intimidated by officials, co-workers, and others, depriving everyone of information that may be critical to public debate and accountability,” Mr. Kaye told the UN General Assembly during the presentation of his study.

“All too often, those revealing allegations of wrongdoing lack effective protection,” the human rights expert warned. “Silence is too often the only safe option left to them, with the public left in the dark and wrongdoing left unpunished.”

In the first major UN report devoted to the subject, the UN Special Rapporteur reviews national and international norms and practices and presents recommendations to establish or improve available protections.

“The problem of source protection extends beyond traditional journalists to bloggers, citizen reporters, NGO researchers, authors, academics, and many others,” the expert noted. “How can they carry out investigative work if they cannot extend the basic assurances of confidentiality to their sources?”

“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,” he said.

The study also emphasizes 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 unauthorized 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,” Mr. Kaye underscored.

The study notes that the UN and other international organizations also frequently fail to protect their own whistleblowers. “The UN, as most international organizations, have adopted rules for enabling whistleblowing and prohibiting retaliation. Yet allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation are rarely protected effectively,” the human rights expert noted.

“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,” the Special Rapporteur said, calling upon Governments and international organizations to strengthen protection mechanisms for sources and whistleblowers.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the UN General Assembly: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/ProtectionOfSources.aspx

David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact:
In New York:
André-Michel Essoungou, (+1 917 367 9995 / Cell: +1 917 940 0685 / essoungou@un.org)
Nenad Vasic (+1 212 963 5998 / Cell: +1 917 941 7558 / vasic@un.org)
In Geneva :
Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 9431 / mdaher@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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