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Art by FelicityStarr Group

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Richard Herrington
Richard Herrington


Special procedures accords the highest priority to addressing acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations in the field of human rights.


Based on this definition, reprisals may concern not only human rights defenders and civil society, but affect any individual cooperating with the special procedures, including individuals or groups that met with mandate holders, including during their country visits, submitted information to special procedures or provided legal or other assistance, relatives of victims of human rights violations and staff of national human rights institutions or national preventative mechanisms.

We do not tolerate reprisals and retaliation against those who share their views about Bank-financed projects. Any form of intimidation against people who comment on Bank projects, research, activities and their impact, goes against our core values of respecting the people we work for and acting with utmost integrity.

When complaints, including allegations of reprisal in connection with Bank projects, are brought to our attention, we work with appropriate parties to address them. Those who feel they have been negatively affected are entitled to seek redress through robust mechanisms and instruments.

The Bank has strong commitments against reprisals and/or retaliation within its environmental and social policies and supporting guidance. Our Environmental and Social Framework[1] integrates transparency, stakeholder engagement, and accountability into our projects to achieve the best possible development outcomes.

The World Bank Environmental and Social Framework Directive on Addressing Risks and Impacts on Disadvantaged or Vulnerable Individuals or Groups highlights the need to pay particular attention to those who could be subject to retaliation or reprisals for participating in project consultations, voicing an opinion, or raising a complaint.

World Bank financed projects are also screened for the potential for gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse. A Good Practice Note on Addressing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEA/SH) in Investment Project Financing Involving Major Civil Works contains a detailed section on grievance mechanisms. Specific measures are recommended to protect survivors from stigmatization, retaliation or reprisals, including from their own community and/or families.

Whatever the United States may have asserted twenty-five years ago, the prohibition on targeting civilians by way of reprisal today is a customary international law rule that applies even to states that are not parties to Protocol I. It consequently also applies to nuclear operations.

Some strategists share the fears of former Legal Adviser Sofaer that acknowledging the impermissibility of belligerent reprisals would remove a deterrent that presently protects American and allied civilians from unlawful attacks by U.S. adversaries. We doubt that adversaries will be more likely to launch attacks illegally targeting civilians if the U.S. declares that reprisals directed against civilians are impermissible. As we have noted, a nuclear posture that rules out the option of directing attacks against civilians would be more ethical than one that retains it; such a nuclear posture would be more likely to be followed by U.S. military leaders and thus would be more credible and more effective. Moreover, the proper application of IHL would still permit costly nuclear or conventional responses to any nuclear attack against U.S. or allied civilians, including attacks directed against legitimate adversary military and leadership targets. This prospect is more likely to deter the autocratic leaders of U.S. adversaries than would the threat of attacks against their civilians.

More fundamentally, a decision about whether to renounce the option of directly targeting civilians, even by way of reprisal, should not be driven only by strategic assessments about the impact on deterrence. As we conclude in our article in the Spring 2021 issue of International Security:

In short, for legal, ethical, and strategic reasons, it is time for the United States to affirmatively recognize the customary international law prohibition on targeting civilians by way of belligerent reprisal.

What is the intent behind the ninth Merit System Principle?The intent of this principle is to protect whistleblowers against reprisal when they disclose wrongful conduct in an attempt to create a more effective civil service. Whistleblowers help to create an effective civil service because they often are in the best position to witness agency wrongdoing. Without their disclosures, wrongdoing might go unchecked. One of the first pieces of legislation to recognize the value of whistleblowers was the False Claims Act of 1863, which sought to protect the U.S. Government against rampant fraud from unscrupulous suppliers during the Civil War by offering a percentage of the recovered damages to people who disclosed such fraud. Nevertheless, nothing in the False Claims Act specifically protected Federal employees from whistleblower reprisal.

Has the MSPB studied issues related to whistleblower protections?The MSPB has published several studies tracing the effectiveness, challenges, and successes of whistleblowers in the Federal service. A 2011 report, Blowing the Whistle: Barriers to Federal Employees Making Disclosures, examined trends in employee perceptions of wrongdoing and reprisal focused on the challenges that a whistleblower must face in order to prevail on his or her claim. Whistleblower Protections for Federal Employees (2010) cautioned that it is critical for a whistleblower to know precisely what must be proven in order to prevail on his or her claim, as any criteria found lacking will strip the MSPB of jurisdiction over the appeal. The report describes these criteria as they were in 2010 and explains what constitutes wrongdoing, how disclosures must be reported, what qualifies as reprisal or retaliation, and what other important issues must be considered in a whistleblower claim. 041b061a72


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