Smith Chairs Hearing on U.N. Accountability, Need for Drastic Reform at World Intellectual Property Organization
Whistleblowers Sound Alarm on UN Corruption
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), head of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee charged with oversight of International Organizations, including the United Nations (UN), convened a hearing today on “Establishing Accountability at the World Intellectual Property Organization: Illicit Technology Transfers, Whistleblowing, and Reform.”
Smith warned that “The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a critical component of a global system of intellectual property and patent protection. Unfortunately, WIPO has lost its way under its current Director General, Francis Gurry, and is putting at risk United States IP security.”
Under Gurry, WIPO–part of the UN system–was apparently complicit in the illicit transfer of key technology to North Korea and Iran. Allegations that whistleblowers who sought to bring these bad acts to light were retaliated against were also aired at the hearing.
Two of these whistleblowers–Miranda Brown and Jim Pooley, both former high-ranking officers at WIPO–testified to the illegal transfers and other abuses they uncovered, their efforts to correct the problem, and the retaliation they have suffered.
“I applaud these individuals for their courage in brining wrongdoing to light, despite the personal cost. WIPO is too important to be abandoned and written off. It is essential that we conduct vigorous oversight and demand accountability to help refocus this organization on fulfilling its vital mission,” according to Smith.Click here to read Smith’s opening statement.
Testimony from Pooley and testimony from Brown called for a number of reforms at WIPO and steps that could be taken, with Pooley citing President Ronald Reagan in his remarks: “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what is morally right.” Click here to watch video of the hearing.
Pooley’s and Brown’s testimony was followed by that of Matthew Parish, attorney for the WIPO Staff Council, who called upon the results of a UN investigation into the conduct of Mr. Gurry to be made public.
WIPO, through its Director General Gurry declined the opportunity to brief Congress, though it did submit documentation for the record. The Government Accountability Project also submitted a statement for inclusion in the hearing record.
Pooley said there are “profoundly serious” problems with governance under the Director General Gurry, who is an Australian who started working at WIPO over 30 years ago.
“The agency, in my opinion, is run by a single person who is not accountable for his behavior,” Pooley said. “He is able to rule as he does only with the tacit cooperation of member countries who are supposed to act as WIPO’s board of directors. And he is ultimately protected by an anachronistic shield of diplomatic immunity.”
Brown’s testimony focuses on what happened following her report to the US Government of WIPO’s shipment of computers to North Korea, her cooperation with the House Committee in 2012, and subsequent retaliation against her as a whistleblower, as well as providing information to the Committee on “what I believe is an ongoing pattern of abuse of authority and impunity by Mr Gurry.”
“I felt I had a responsibility, as a UN staff member, to blow the whistle and report a UN agency that was supplying high-end American IT equipment to North Korea, in violation of US domestic sanctions and without consulting the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees,” Brown said. “The retaliation following my blowing the whistle on these shipments to the US Government was severe. Mr Gurry accused me of disloyalty and of leaking documents to the US Mission and to the media.”
Parrish testified in his capacity as private legal counsel to the WIPO Staff Council, the sole staff union available to employees of the organization. He noted a report not yet made public written about Gurry by the Office of Internal Oversight Service of the United Nations (OIOS) , which took jurisdiction over allegations against Gurry. Parrish said Officials of the OIOS subsequently opened an investigation, reached conclusions, and prepared a provisional report. They then submitted a copy of that provisional report to Mr. Gurry for his review, Parrish said.
“The report should also be released to the Staff Council,” said Parrish, so that the more than 1,000 WIPO staff, the majority of whom are naturally aware of the serious accusations levelled against their Director-General, are appraised of the investigation’s outcome.
“In view of the considerable power that the Director-General has over WIPO staff in terms of their job security, I decided not to share any drafts of my written testimony with WIPO staff so that Mr. Gurry can’t consider them to have taken any individual actions that would lead him to terminate them summarily from their jobs with WIPO,” Parrish said. “
In addition to Smith’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, the subcommittees on the Middle East and North Africa and on Asia & the Pacific also cosponsored the hearing, given the technology transfers to Iran and North Korea.