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Whistleblower protection organisations advocate for accountability in WHO whistleblower Zambon’s case

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Administrative Tribunal has accepted an amicus curiae brief submitted by Transparency International and leading whistleblower protection organisations in the landmark case of World Health Organisation (WHO) whistleblower Francesco Zambon. The joint effort by GlobaLeaks, Government Accountability Project, Transparency International, Transparency International Italy, Whistleblower Aid and the Whistleblowing International Network reflects a collective commitment to advancing whistleblower protection and advocating for transparency and accountability within international organisations, particularly the United Nations. In an important step toward clarifying international principles and best practices related to whistleblowing, the tribunal has now added civil society organisations’ amicus brief to the case file.

Francesco Zambon, a former WHO scientist, made headlines in early 2020 when he coordinated a group of researchers who prepared a report on Italy’s pandemic preparedness. The report’s findings exposed a serious lapse in the Italian Ministry of Health’s pandemic plan which had been left untouched since 2006 despite a review being required every seven years. Initially published online by the WHO in May 2020, the report was hastily withdrawn 24 hours later.

It later emerged that Zambon was pressured by a high-ranking WHO official implicated by the report to alter its findings. Following Zambon's refusal to obey an unethical order, WHO removed the report from the public domain. Zambon’s disclosures and retaliation complaint to the WHO were met with vagueness and delays, ultimately denying him recognition as a whistleblower and failing to provide him with protection.

Despite the chilling effect of an internal justice system repeatedly shown to be ineffective, Zambon is bringing his claim against the WHO to the ILO Administrative Tribunal where he is seeking recognition as a whistleblower and compensation for the suffering he endured.

The amicus brief submitted by Transparency International and its partners advocates for the protection for whistleblowers who refuse to commit unethical or illegal acts, the freedom to choose their reporting channel, protection against retaliatory criminal and civil liability lawsuits, and immunity waivers, as important cornerstones of an effective policy.

Notes to editors

Transparency International’s paper Whistleblower Protection at the United Nations highlights the pervasive risk of retaliation United Nations workers face, a major deterrent to reporting misconduct. It finds that fragmented and unclear whistleblowing policies, retaliation by staff, and a top-down culture within the United Nations threaten and undermine its whistleblowing system and exacerbate the challenges facing potential whistleblowers.

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This press release was updated on 8 November 2023 with a summary of the amicus brief.