"Ethical Challenges and the United Nations: A Whistleblower's Tale"
Thursday February 14, 2013
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Upon graduation from the Fletcher School in 1980, James Wasserstrom joined the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in New York through its first management training program for development professionals. Over the next two decades, he served with the UN system in various capacities, including with UNDP in Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and the Republic of Korea; and with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in New York as Chief Financial and Fundraising Officer and subsequently Senior Program Manager for a number of African countries.
In 1999, he took leave from UNCDF and for two years worked on Wall Street at American Express International as Vice President of Strategic Alliances in the company’s Foreign Exchange Services division.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, in 2002 Mr. Wasserstrom returned to the UN system, this time in its Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). He was sent on a brief assignment to Afghanistan, then to the UN Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) as head of logistics for that 17,000-person operation. In 2003, in addition to the logistics assignment he was asked to establish and lead a new office overseeing Kosovo’s public utilities and to take on the role of lead anticorruption officer for UNMIK.
After uncovering allegations of massive corruption involving a $500 million kickback scheme from which his immediate superior, the Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), and Kosovo’s Minister of Mines and Energy at the time, were to benefit, he became a whistle-blower.
Upon being fired in 2007 and subsequently put under criminal and administrative investigation by UN and Kosovo authorities for a year on charges of which he was eventually cleared, Mr. Wasserstrom was forced out of the UN system. He filed a lawsuit in the UN court system claiming these and other related acts were retaliatory because of his whistle-blowing and that they were undertaken in collusion with UN headquarters, including the Secretary General and other senior staff. In a landmark ruling in June 2012, the UN Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) upheld Mr. Wasserstrom’s claim and found the Secretary General liable for damages.
Over the years, the case has attracted considerable media and policy interest internationally for its implications for the UN, its jurisprudence, internal justice system, ability to police itself both at Headquarters and in peacekeeping operations with respect to corruption, and for other organizations and jurisdictions which have nascent anticorruption protections or are considering introducing them. Mr. Wasserstrom and the UN Secretary General are currently awaiting the UNDT’s determination of damages, a decision which will be closely watched by UN observers, anticipated for early in 2013.
Since 2010, Mr. Wasserstrom has been working as Senior Advisor on Anticorruption for the US Embassy and USAID in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mr. Wasserstrom is married to Fletcher alumna Denise Plaza.
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