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‘The Whistleblower’ 15 years on; Where are we now?

June 12, 2014

Yesterday, WILPF hosted a film screening and moving discussion on ‘The Whistleblower’ at the Global Summit on Sexual Violence in Conflict in London.

The Whistleblower tells the story of what took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the conflict in 1995, when thousands of international peacekeepers flooded into the fragile state in an attempt to help repair the damage done. Horrifically however, peacekeepers and other international actors actually became perpetrators of human trafficking, sexual violence and abuse themselves, as uncovered by Kathryn Bolkovac and our very own Madeleine Rees.

For blowing the whistle on these crimes and the UN’s cover up of its involvement, both these brave women were faced with sanctions, stigma and ultimately the termination of their careers at the UN.

Now, more than 15 years later, we take stock of how being a whistleblower has impacted the lives of these women and if anything has changed in the system of peacekeeping accountabilities.

Liesl Gernholtz, Director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, discusses WILPF's Paths to Justice Infographic

Liesl Gernholtz, Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, discusses WILPF’s Paths to Justice Infographic

After the silent film screening, Kathryn Bolkovac explained the last 15 years have not exactly been fun. She has suffered emotional, financial, familial and professional turmoil since she decided to do the right thing, and still struggles to give the fight for justice a place in her daily life.

People ask me continually if I regret what I did or if I would do it again, and, as time has progressed, I would now really need to think about my answer.” – Kathryn Bolkovac

As she explained why being a whistleblower really is such a difficult thing to do, she reaffirmed her commitment to accountability and bringing perpetrators to justice.

This turned the conversation towards the current system of peacekeeping accountabilities and what steps have been taken towards bringing perpetrators to justice.

Sadly, not nearly enough has been done.

While much has been discoursed, discussed, declared and debated, real, significant and effective action has not been taken. The system is still incredibly stacked against any victim of sexual violence in the context of peacekeeping, and there are close to no records of peacekeeper prosecutions for these crimes. Meanwhile, there are now more peacekeeping missions than ever and still no whistleblower protections, vetting systems or victim-centred procedures in place.

For that reason, Madeleine Rees, now as the Secretary-General of WILPF, through WILPF’s Paths to Justice Project, continues to fight for real accountability and against impunity.

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