Rights watchdog slams World Bank for inadequate human rights standards

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 1:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 4:29pm


The World Bank funds programmes that worsen or contribute to human rights abuses, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Monday.

“The World Bank pays tens of billions of dollars every year to support development efforts around the world,” said Jessica Evans, senior advocate on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement. "But it needs to stop undermining its efforts by making sure it isn’t contributing to human rights abuses.”

While other groups financing development projects had moved in a direction that better protected human rights, the World Bank had “fallen behind,” according to the 59-page report.

At present, the bank lacked a clear commitment to rights issues, leaving its staff without guidance on how to deal with human rights concerns and responsibilities, it said.

Although the bank was committed to not funding projects that go against the borrowing country’s obligations under international environmental treaties, it remained silent on human rights obligations, according to the watchdog.

The report Abuse-Free Development: How the World Bank Should Safeguard Against Human Rights Violations cited various cases, among them projects in Ethiopia and Vietnam.

In Ethiopia, the bank financed the Promoting Basic Service programme aimed at improving access to health care, education and sanitation, but HRW researchers discovered that the initiative included the forced relocation, involving violence and intimidation, of roughly 1.5 million indigenous and marginalised communities to new villages.

In implementing the programme, the Ethiopian government also discriminated against its citizens based on their perceived or real political opinions.

The bank did not sufficiently acknowledge or monitor these human rights violations, and even initially denied the existence of this forced “villagisation”.

It has now launched an investigation into the programme, but declined to comment until the inquiry was complete, reported the BBC.

In Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, the bank reportedly funded 14 drug detention centres where HRW documented cases of forced labour, torture, arbitrary detention and other forms of mistreatment.

HRW recommended the bank exercise greater due diligence to identify and analyse the human rights risks involved in projects that they fund.

The bank, which could not be reached for comment, is now in the two-year process of reviewing its environmental and social safeguard policies, and its board of directors will meet on Tuesday to discuss the review and draft a framework for reforms.