Protecting Whistleblowers

Talk Tuesday 17 June 2014, 7:00 PM

Governments often fail to protect whistleblowers and instead subject them to various forms of retaliation, including prosecution, for disclosing information governments wrongly want to keep secret. This includes information about human rights violations.

A panel of speakers with first-hand knowledge of these issues will talk about the experience of whistleblowers who face retaliation for their actions. They will explore how whistleblowers can be protected, and by extension protect the public’s right to information. This includes implementing measures such as those laid out in the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (“Tshwane Principles”). These principles, which gained the support of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, provide critical guidance for ensuring that the public’s ‘right to know’ is protected.

Chaired by Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International.

The panel:

Frank La Rue has been the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression since 2008. He has worked extensively on a range of freedom of opinion and expression issues, including the links between the right to access to information and the right to truth. La Rue participated in the development of the Tshwane Principles. He has worked on human rights for over 30 years and is the founder of the Center for Legal Action for Human Rights (CALDH) in Washington DC and Guatemala. He also brought the first genocide case against the military dictatorship in Guatemala and has previously served as a presidential commissioner for human rights in Guatemala, as a human rights adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, as president of the governing board of the Centro-American Institute of Social Democracy Studies and as a consultant to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Avigdor Feldman has practiced law since 1974 and obtained his master’s in civil rights in 1985. He worked for the Israeli Association for Civil Rights (ACRI), is a key founder of B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), and co-founded the Public Committee Against torture in Israel (PCATI). He founded the Litigation Center of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and received the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He has worked on many prominent criminal cases related to civil rights and of a political nature including Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower who was abducted by Mossad agents in 1986 and brought to trial in Israel, charged for leaking information about Israel’s nuclear capacity to The Sunday Times newspaper. He represents Vanunu today mainly relating to a string of punitive restrictions, which include barring him from leaving Israel, and which, after over ten years of appeals to the Supreme Court, remain in force. Feldman has petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court many times on behalf of human rights organizations including in a case calling for a judicial inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982; the torture case relating to the use of physical force in Israel’s General Security Service’s interrogations; and Israel’s targeted killings police in 2006.

Peter Hounam is a British investigative journalist who has worked for The Sunday Times, The Mirror, the London Evening Standard, and the BBC, and has also published several books including The Woman from Mossad: The Story of Mordechai Vanunu and the Israeli Nuclear Program. Hounam interviewed Mordechai Vanunu in Australia in 1986 and, with other members of The Sunday Times Insight Team, investigated his story of the inside workings of Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant. The story was published that September but beforehand Vanunu was abducted by Israeli secret service (Mossad). On behalf of The Sunday Times and the BBC, Hounam went to Israel for Vanunu‘s release from his 18-year prison sentence in April 2004. He was arrested the following May by plainclothes officers of the Israel security agency, Shin Bet, while working on a documentary about Vanunu, allegedly for nuclear ‘spying’. The Jerusalem district court imposed a gag order preventing further details of the arrest being disclosed but after international protests he was released without charge the next day, though 10 years later he is still banned from returning to Israel.

Kathleen McClellan works for the US Government Accountability Project (GAP) as National Security and Human Rights deputy director. GAP is a leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organisation, which advocates for cases including Edward Snowden. McClellan supports national security and intelligence community whistleblowers, with a focus on the issues of torture, surveillance, excessive secrecy and political discrimination. She has represented whistleblowers from the National Security Agency (NSA), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, representing their interests in forums that include the Offices of Inspectors General, the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel and federal court. Working with National Security and Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack, she has represented NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake and CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou.

Nancy Hollander is lead counsel for Chelsea Manning on appeal. She is an internationally recognised criminal defence lawyer in the US firm of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias and Ward P.A. as well as being an associate tenant with Doughty Street Chambers in London. Her work is largely devoted to representing individuals and organisations accused of crimes, including those involving national security issues. She has also been counsel in numerous civil cases, forfeitures and administrative hearings, and has argued and won a case involving religious freedom in the United States Supreme Court. Hollander served as a consultant to the defence in a high profile terrorism case in Ireland, assisted counsel in other international cases and represents two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. She has qualified as a lead counsel for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and for the list of counsel for the International Criminal Court. She has written extensively on these and other criminal law topics.

Lieutenant Colonel the Reverend Nicholas Mercer was admitted as a solicitor in 1990, and commissioned into the Army Legal Service in 1991, serving in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus and Germany. Later, as the former legal advisor to the UK army in Iraq, he revealed information about the UK’s complicity in the abuse of detainees in Iraq which he described as “institutional”. He made recommendations to the UK authorities to ensure the protection of detainees from torture and other ill-treatment to which, as he later said, no response or action was taken. He was named Liberty Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 2011.

Read more:

Amnesty logo