That's a headline we never expected to write—especially in the context of the United Nations Development Program's scandal-ridden operations in North Korea. In 2007, the U.S. mission to the U.N. shined a light on the U.N. agency's record of gross mismanagement while operating in that rogue dictatorship, including large sums of money that vanished after being transferred to Pyongyang and dual-use technology shipped to the North without U.S. export licenses.
These abuses came to light thanks in part to a whistleblower by the name of Artjon Shkurtaj, an Albanian-born accountant who served as chief of operations for all U.N. operations in North Korea in the mid-2000s. Mr. Shkurtaj was outraged at the violations he saw and after two years of trying to get his superiors at UNDP headquarters in New York to take corrective action, he took his information to the U.S. mission to the U.N.
The UNDP responded by firing him and taking every opportunity to malign his integrity. When Mr. Shkurtaj complained, a UNDP-sponsored investigation found that his firing had not been in retaliation for blowing the whistle. What a surprise. The U.N. bureaucracy and its diplomatic coterie also circled the wagons and attacked the U.S. mission for daring to raise the subject.
Now, more than three years later, Mr. Shkurtaj has been substantially vindicated. On Tuesday the U.N. Dispute Tribunal ordered the UNDP to pay its former employee $166,000 in compensation for its failure to give Mr. Shkurtaj the opportunity to respond to its adverse findings against him. Judge Memooda Ebrahim-Carstens ruled that the UNDP violated Mr. Shkurtaj's "due process rights, damaged his career prospects and professional reputation, and caused him emotional distress." She let stand the UNDP's finding that the firing had not been retaliatory.
Beyond Mr. Shkurtaj's case, the judge's 24-page opinion is worth reading for its inside look at the imperious manner in which the U.N. bureaucracy operates. The infighting and buck-passing are world-class—even in the office of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who presents himself as a reformer. The ruling in Mr. Shkurtaj's case suggests that the Dispute Tribunal, established a little over a year ago, is serious about its mandate to be "independent, professionalized, expedient, transparent and decentralized." The panel has already clashed with Mr. Ban's office over other rulings.
The finding also vindicates Mark Wallace, the U.S. official who led the charge for transparency at UNDP despite hostility from the media and from Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, and with very little support at the State Department.
At yesterday's daily press briefing, a spokesperson said that the U.N. is "studying" the panel's latest decision. It's possible the Secretary-General will decide to appeal. If Mr. Ban were truly serious about cleaning up his own house, he would write Mr. Shkurtaj a letter of apology, thank him for having the courage to alert the U.N. to instances of wrong-doing, and give him his job back.