In response to the proposed modifications to the World Bank’s social and environmental safeguards, a large group of UN human rights rapporteurs launched tough critiques of the proposed changes, requesting via a letter addressed to the President of the World Bank that human rights be properly considered in the guarantees that the financial institution demands.
On December 16th of last year, 28 special rapporteurs for the United Nations Human Rights Council sent a collective letter to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, severely criticizing the proposed modifications to the Bank. These modifications have been in full discussion and have been an ongoing project for FUNDEPS. According to the human rights rapporteurs, the proposed modifications “appear to move in opposition to progress” considering that they would reduce the amount of social and environmental guarantees that the Bank requires when approving loans, especially in regards to human rights. According to the special rapporteurs,“the document seems to go out of its way to avoid any meaningful references to human rights.”
Philip G. Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, maintains that the principal reason for these modifications appears to be the Bank’s intention to compete with alternative financing initiatives (mainly backed by China, Russia, and India) which do not apply these minimum safeguards. Nevertheless, Alston explained that this is not sufficient reason to reduce the existing safeguards, considering that the World Bank, in their Articles of Agreement, are formally committed to the elimination of extreme poverty and to improving the quality of life for people in developing countries. The pursuit of these goals does not line up logically with the proposed modifications.
The authors of the letter hold that “the international community has already accepted that development and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.” That is why, in keeping with international law, they maintain that the World Bank should consider the relevance of human rights in its programs’ objectives, as well as incorporate human rights into its policies.
Ultimately, after appending a list of well-founded criticisms to the original letter sent to the President of the institution, the rapporteurs recommend that the Bank only finance projects that satisfy the established requirements. Further, they should withhold support from projects that do not comply with human rights obligations. In the screening process for each project, the Bank should rely not only on the information provided by the loan applicant, but should itself carry out the pertinent investigations, keeping in mind the affected or potentially-affected groups, as well as human rights defense groups and civil organizations. In this context, the rapporteurs pointed out that many vulnerable groups remain unprotected under projects funded by the World Bank, an issue that inspired protests at the Bank’s most recent annual meetings . In the same vein, they maintain that the proposed modifications should utilize stricter language that through clarity and precision would minimize discretionality when approving loans.
Here at FUNDEPS, we will continue participating in these global discussions, and in this way attempt to ensure that the World Bank establishes respectable human rights standards in its operational processes.
Gonzalo Roza, Area Coordinator of Global Governance
Translated by: Elizabeth Laudenslager and Julian Novales Flamarique