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PACE rapporteur: ‘whistle-blowers make democracies stronger’

Strasbourg, 12.11.2008 – Urging Council of Europe member states to adopt laws which protect “whistle-blowers”, the rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on the subject has said that encouraging insiders to report wrong-doing or go public with their concerns can “make democracies stronger”.

Speaking at a hearing in Moscow organised by the Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee, Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD) said: “It is the essence of democracy and the rule of law that warnings by those who are uneasy about something are reported, investigated and resolved. This makes democracies stronger, because they can avoid mistakes.”

Attendees at Monday’s hearing included lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, a former colonel in the Russian security service (FSB), who claimed to have evidence that FSB agents were involved in the September 1999 bombing of appartment blocks in Russia, as well as German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack, who was pursued by Belgian prosecutors to reveal his sources after alleging corruption within the European Commission.

Mr Omtzigt said he was “stunned” by the lengths the authorities had gone to in both cases to suppress their voices, rather than properly investigating their claims: “Mr Trepashkin faced prison and solitary confinement, when a proper investigation of the apartment bombings – in which hundreds were killed – would have been more fruitful.” In Mr Tillack’s case, the rapporteur pointed out, it was the journalist who was investigated rather than his claim of fraud.

Other participants included Elaine Kaplan, a former US Special Counsel in charge of whistle-blower protection, and Anna Myers from the NGO “Public Concern at Work” in the United Kingdom, the only European country so far to adopt a law protecting whistle-blowers.

Mr Omtzigt’s report is due to be approved by the committee during the January plenary session of the Assembly.