29 October 2012
The story of Mr. Muratore, a former professional staffer of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR - is a great testament to the continuing controversy of the interconnection of current ineffective accountability mechanisms for oversight of the UN and the limitations of the UN judiciary to provide legal remedies that are deemed necessary.
Rated as belonging to the best 2% of UN staff in 2003, Mr. Muratore lost his job in 2006 when he complained through UN internal control channels about some 140 professional posts which had been attributed by OHCHR to candidates who would have not been selected had the proper rules been followed during a recruitment scheme called “Post Regularization Exercise”.
Mr. Muratore told UNJustice that “the fraud was organized in 2005 – 2006 by a group of UN employees, and its negative financial implications continue to date: as result, at the very least approximately USD 135 million of public funds were embezzled. It all started when OHCHR, UNOG (the UN Office in Geneva), and UN-OHRM (the UN Office for Human Resources Management) organized the so-called OHCHR Post Regularization Exercise, whereby 132 regular professional posts at P3, P4 and P5 levels were assigned in derogation to applicable UN recruitment rules and procedures.
Such derogation treated temporary staff members holding Geneva OHCHR contracts older than November 30, 2003 as «internal candidates», contrary to applicable UN rules. This was on the basis of an ad hoc «agreement between OHCHR and OHRM», as some senior OHCHR officials explained to Geneva staff.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Post Regularization Exercise, in April 2006, I learned from the OHCHR Chair of the Steering Committee on post regularization, that the above-mentioned agreement did not exist. Therefore, the whole exercise was illegal. I reported the facts the moment I learned of them to the then Deputy High Commissioner; I also wrote to the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit, to the United Nations Office for Internal Oversight, to the UN Ethics Office and to the UN Ombudsman. This was to no avail, as they refused to intervene.
My reports led only to increasing forms of retaliation against me. I was even intimidated by a staff member who told me very bluntly that my chances of continuing my career at OHCHR were close to zero, as I was «perceived as speaking too much». A few weeks later, in fact, my contract was brought to an end, despite my excellent past professional evaluations in the UN system, the availability of funds for the post I occupied, and the existence of administrative promises of renewal”.
Six years later, Mr. Muratore eventually obtained a favourable judgment by the UNDT, which declared that "the regularization exercise was illegal" and ruled that he had “suffered significant material damage, as well as a high degree of moral damage.” Moreover, the court found that “there was a bias against” him and he was “deprived of a very real chance of obtaining continuing employment” [UNDT/2011/129].
However, despite awarding him financial compensation – a comparatively petty sum of seven months’ net base salary - the UNDT didn’t concern itself with the effects of an unlawful decision which is still in place, and which according to Mr. Muratore “is wasting international taxpayers’ money at the appalling rate of at least USD 20 million per year”. Furthermore, neither has the tribunal ordered his reinstatement as Human Rights Officer.
The UN views its whistleblower protection policy as one of its most important internal reform programmes but, like the majority of those persons who have contacted UNJustice, Mr. Muratore explained that his career was destroyed when he blew the whistle on the Organization and that this has created insurmountable difficulties and unwarranted privations also for his family. Under the circumstances, Muratore’s battle for justice and dignity is far from over.
“I am above all seeking my rehabilitation and reinstatement as Human Rights Officer,” he said to UNJustice. “I have reported several violations of the rules and of my human rights, I have lost my job because of that. Now UNDT has ruled that I was right, but I have not got my job back and those who violated the rules are still there. Is this acceptable at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights? Well, it seems it is, but it shouldn't be tolerated in my view.”
After the UNAT recently reaffirmed the UNDT judgment [UNAT/2012/245], Muratore drew his concern to the attention of the head of his former agency, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay. She has not replied yet.
The hope is that the High Commissioner will give priority consideration in other applications for OHCHR posts to Mr. Muratore, who has not been selected again for the various UN jobs for which he has applied. The OHCHR should also commence as a matter of urgency an independent, impartial, thorough and effective investigation into all aspects of this “Post Regularization Exercise”, particularly to ensure that public resources are put to the best possible use during the economic crisis that has affected the world community.
UNJustice notes that during the past few years the General Assembly has repeatedly called on the Secretary-General to report on measures in place to provide for the accountability of officials who cause financial loss to the Organization, including recovery action, as well as actions taken to enforce such accountability. These laudable initiatives risk becoming meaningless since it is widely believed that the accountability of UN officials too often remains in the realm of “the broad discretion of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters” – as it is defined the current UN Secretariat work context, and is not real or substantial.
UNJustice is also very concerned about the well-being of those men and women who risk their professional lives and livelihoods by seeking to expose wrongdoing within the Organization, for which they should be commended, not punished. UNJustice believes that the opportunity to ensure proper remedies are provided for Mr. Muratore, and to other innocent persons when their fundamental rights are violated by the administrative authority of the Organization, would be an indication that it is possible to reverse a trend which is troubling all those who hold close to their hearts and live by the ideals and proper functioning of the UN.