On December 11, the 10th Conference of the States Parties (CoSP 10) to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) commenced in Atlanta. CoSP is the main policymaking body of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the largest anti-corruption gathering in the world. It meets every two years and adopts resolutions and decisions to further the mission of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
Throughout the opening day, multiple state delegates and UN officials highlighted the importance of whistleblower protections in anti-corruption efforts. Furthermore, two resolutions focused on increased whistleblower protections were introduced and discussed.
Strong Statements of Support
The Conference, which is being hosted in the United States for the first time, began with addresses by high-level U.S. officials, including United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Secretary State Anthony Blinken who highlighted the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, the U.S.’s first whole-government approach to fighting corruption.
These remarks were followed by video statements by UN Secretary General António Guterres and President of the UN General Assembly Dennis Francis.
The first mention of whistleblowers at CoSP10 came in the opening remarks of Ghada Waly, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Waly noted that among the 13 draft resolutions tabled before the session were those concerned with whistleblower protections.
Waly went on to state that: “Journalists and whistleblowers bring light into the hidden corners where corruption festers.”
Following the High Level opening, the first day of CoSP10 continued with statements delivered by delegates of each of the States parties. These statements highlighted the anti-corruption efforts of the delegates’ countries and specific areas that the delegates believed CoSP should address.
Multiple delegates highlighted their countries work in increasing whistleblower protections and the key role whistleblowers play in fighting corruption. Countries whose delegates highlighted whistleblowers include Zimbabwe, Italy, Croatia, Portugal and Ghana among others.
Romania’s delegate underscored her country’s work to strengthen whistleblower protections and stated that “Whistleblowers are the frontline defenders of integrity.”
13 draft resolutions were introduced to be discussed at CoSP10 and potentially adopted by UNCAC States parties. Among these resolutions were two, introduced by Serbia and Palestine respectively, which center on whistleblower protections.
Both draft resolutions look to build upon Article 33 of UNCAC “Protection of reporting persons” which states that “Each State Party shall consider incorporating into its domestic legal system appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention.”
Serbia’s draft resolution highlights the shortcomings of the implementation of Article 33, citing a UNCAC report which states that “a significant number of States parties have not established comprehensive whistle-blower protection measures or were found to be only partially in compliance with the provision under review.”
Both Serbia and Palestine’s draft resolutions seek to further the protection of anti-corruption whistleblowers by encouraging States parties to implement strong reporting systems and anti-retaliation protections which afford whistleblowers anonymity. They also encourage States parties to share their technical expertise and insights in protecting whistleblowers and call on UNCAC to conduct a study on whistleblower best practices.
Furthermore, Palestine’s draft resolution suggests that States parties consider implementing whistleblower awards, stating that it “encourages States parties, in accordance with their domestic law, to consider exploring whether appropriate [incentives or] awards could be offered to reporting persons who provide accurate and effective information that supports a successful corruption prosecution.”
Serbia’s draft resolution seeks to firm up UNCAC Article 33’s mention of “good faith” which whistleblower advocates can be held against whistleblowers and turn their cases into trials over their intentions. It “encourages States parties that use the term ‘good-faith reporting’ to define it as the fact of having reasonable grounds to believe that what is reported is true, or to replace ‘good faith’ with the concept of reasonable grounds to believe that the information is true.”
On the opening day of CoSP10 closed-door discussions were held on each of these draft resolutions featuring consultations by other States parties delegates. Certain attendees suggested that discussions might be held on the possibility of merging the two whistleblower resolutions.
Ahead of CoSP10 a number of whistleblower groups called for a UNCAC resolution focused on whistleblower protection. Both Serbia and Palestine’s draft resolutions align with many of the recommendations made by whistleblower advocates, though National Whistleblower Center (NWC) strongly supports a resolution calling for mandatory whistleblower awards, which is absent in Serbia’s draft resolution.
“CoSP10 needs to go beyond just calling for a whistleblower resolution. We need to call for a whistleblower resolution of substance,” said Stephen M. Kohn, whistleblower attorney and Chairman of the Board at NWC. “The data shows us that whistleblower programs work most effectively when whistleblowers don’t have to take huge risks. They need to know that their identity will be protected, that they can remain financially stable, and that their information will result in successful enforcement.”