WIPO Assembly Adopts Revisions For Stronger Oversight, Protection Of Whistleblowers 11/10/2016 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)After much negotiation, amendments to a World Intellectual Property Organization internal oversight mechanism were adopted today by the annual WIPO General Assembly. Under the amendments, investigating allegations of wrongdoing of high-ranking WIPO officials will be made more transparent and facilitate access to documents by WIPO member states in case of an investigation. The plenary meeting of the WIPO General Assembly, which is taking place from 3-11 October, opened this morning with an exhausted crowd as informal consultations kept negotiating delegates at the table until the early hours of the morning. Some twelve hours of discussions did not advance consensus on which countries should be chosen to host new WIPO external offices. However, WIPO delegates did agree on amendments of the WIPO Internal Oversight Charter (IPW, WIPO, 7 October 2016) today. General Assembly Chair Latvian Ambassador Jānis Kārkliņš’ strident call to approve those amendments swiftly was resisted by the African Group which asked for more time for internal consultations yesterday afternoon. This morning, the African Group requesting yet more time to consult met with a forceful push by Kārkliņš, who granted the request very reluctantly. Nigeria, on behalf of the African Group (which represents 55 of WIPO’s 184 members), finally announced that the group could support the decision endorsing the amendments, but said they wished to see flexibility for other outstanding items on the agenda. The African Group is seeking to obtain two new WIPO External Offices, one in Algeria and one in Nigeria. Although other countries seem to agree that Africa should be given the priority in the attribution of those offices, negotiations are difficult as different regions are pushing for an external office of their own and the previous General Assembly decision only gives room for 3 offices in the 2016/2017 biennium, and 3 offices in the 2018/2019 biennium. WIPO’s Amended Oversight Charter Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Australia, and Nigeria expressed satisfaction with the amendment of the charter. Germany, supported by Switzerland, said the revision is a “true example of lessons learned,” and of joint constructive work. The United States said the revision fixed several problems of the old mechanism, in particular, the delegate said, the WIPO Independent Advisory Oversight Committee (IAOC) now has a clear role in providing recommendations at both the preliminary and full investigation phases. The amendments now also allow member states to access full investigative reports, the US delegate said. Finally, under the old charter, the role of the General Assembly and the WIPO Coordination Committee in determining whether a director general should be subject to a preliminary procedure appeared to many to be eclipsed by the role of the chair of those bodies, she said, adding “that has been fixed.” It will make WIPO a stronger and more transparent organisation, she said, and allow member states to more effectively perform their oversight responsibilities in the future. Stronger Protection for Whistleblowers The General Assembly also approved recommendations [pdf] of the WIPO Coordination Committee on the revision of WIPO’s General Procurement Principles to ensure clarity and transparency in WIPO’s procurement process. The Assembly also agreed with the Coordination Committee recommendation that WIPO’s Whistleblower Protection Policy and its implementation be reviewed to ensure that “the Policy takes into account lessons learned, recent developments in this area, and best practices from other organizations.” The decision also includes a request to the Chief Ethics Officer to include in the annual report information on any active cases of retaliation against witnesses who cooperate with an investigation of a report of wrongdoing. The United States welcomed the “important reforms” adopted during the General Assembly, bringing more transparency and requesting accountability for employees at all levels. For several years, the delegate said, allegations of wrongdoing have diverted the attention of member states and diminished the reputation of the organisation. Member states have a responsibility to establish robust policies to achieve ”the goal of zero wrongdoing and zero retaliation” against whistleblowers. WIPO staff whose identities have been disclosed during the investigation of the alleged wrongdoing of the WIPO director general should not have to suffer consequences, retaliation, and negative impact on their careers, for being part of the investigation, she said. Trust needs to be rebuilt between WIPO leadership and WIPO member states, and between WIPO leadership and WIPO staff, she added. Switzerland Defends Allegations of Obstruction Switzerland, in its statement [pdf] also welcomed the decisions and set to “address once and for all criticisms directed against it in the OIOS (United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services) report on the DNA case, namely the lack of cooperation by the Swiss authorities.” This refers to the allegation that WIPO Director General Francis Gurry back in 2007 directed the transfer of unknowing staffpersons’ DNA to a Geneva hospital for testing to find the identity of someone who delivered him a threatening letter. The Swiss admitted to “a problem in our communication.” The OIOS did not receive a response to a request it submitted “owing to a simple oversight,” the Swiss delegate said. “The Swiss government has since recognised this error and remedied the oversight in regard to the OIOS at the end of September.” The Swiss delegate refuted the allegation that the Swiss authorities attempted to obstruct the obtaining of information by the OIOS in any way. “Under the separation of powers, the government is not authorised to take a stance on a criminal case, nor to instruct the judiciary how to act,” he said. “If members of WIPO’s staff feel they have been adversely affected by the taking of DNA samples apparently without their knowledge, it was up to them to exercise their rights through the public prosecutor.” Race To Agreements Before Closing Time Before the end of the General Assembly, set at 6 pm today, delegates are expected to find consensus on several remaining issues. One of them is which countries will host the next WIPO external offices. Another issue is whether a high-level meeting can be organised to adopt a treaty on industrial designs. A decision also needs to be reached on a proposed new electoral cycle of the WIPO General Assembly officers, as well as on the review of allocation methodology for the income and budget for WIPO-administered unions. No agreement could be found on an Argentinean proposal to change the language of the decision on the report of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) so that it establishes a clear roadmap for future sessions of the committee, in particular on discussions on a potential treaty protecting broadcasting organisations. Argentina suggested that the original language of the decision be kept. 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