WB should cham­pion hu­man rights

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS -


of the ev­i­dence sup port­ing the emerg­ing con sen­sus that strong hu­man rights safe­guards pro­mote and en­hance devel­op­ment has come out of re­search from the World Bank. Yet the in­sti­tu­tion has been far too re­luc­tant to make ad­her­ence to hu­man rights a core prin­ci­ple by which it eval­u­ates projects in­tended to re­duce poverty and im­prove the lives of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. The bank is now in the fi­nal stages of up­dat­ing its poli­cies on how to re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial risks of projects and loans. This of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to chart a new course.

The World Bank was cre­ated in 1944 to play a lead­ing role in re­build­ing Europe af­ter World War II. As its mis­sion shifted to the de­vel­op­ing world, the bank held on to a foun­da­tional prin­ci­ple: It stays out of the pol­i­tics of the coun­tries it works with and makes de­ci­sions based solely on “eco­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions.” That may have made sense in the geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape of the post-World War II era and the Cold War. But it is anachro­nis­tic to­day. While the World Bank can­not rea­son­ably be ex­pected to be­come an en­forcer of hu­man rights law, there is much it can do to pro­tect hu­man rights and per­suade bor­row­ers to live up to com­mit­ments they have made in in­ter­na­tional treaties. Adopt­ing a clear and sub­stan­tive hu­man rights pol­icy would mir­ror the bank’s ef­forts to more care­fully con­sider the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the projects it funds.

Bank of­fi­cials, share­hold­ers and bor­row­ing coun­tries have wres­tled with this is­sue since 2012, when the lat­est re­view of the bank’s so-called safe­guard poli­cies be­gan. The first draft of the new pol­icy, which was re­leased in 2014, was widely crit­i­cised by hu­man rights ad­vo­cates for pre­sent­ing sup­port for hu­man rights as a vague, as­pi­ra­tional goal. Philip Al­ston, the United Na­tions spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­treme poverty and hu­man rights, said in a re­port last year that the bank was a “hu­man rights-free zone” with op­er­a­tional poli­cies that treat “hu­man rights more like an in­fec­tious dis­ease than uni­ver­sal val­ues and obli­ga­tions.” He and other crit­ics say the bank has failed to adopt ef­fec­tive pro­to­cols to ex­am­ine the po­ten­tial so­cial harm of projects it bankrolls. They also con­tend that the bank too of­ten passes the bur­den of as­sess­ing and mit­i­gat­ing the im­pact of devel­op­ment work to the gov­ern­ments that get the fund­ing.

Labour and hu­man rights ac­tivists have chided the World Bank for its slow and in­ad­e­quate re­sponse to al­le­ga­tions that its fund­ing was abet­ting forced labour in cot­ton fields in Uzbek­istan. The Bank In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre, a group that mon­i­tors World Bank projects, faulted it for the in­vol­un­tary dis­place­ment of thou­sands of fam­i­lies that re­sulted from an ini­tia­tive to help poor peo­ple es­tab­lish a le­gal claim to prop­erty in Cam­bo­dia. The bank has failed to play a more as­sertive role in hu­man rights in part be­cause bank ex­ec­u­tives have been re­luc­tant to add more reg­u­la­tions to the work of an in­sti­tu­tion that is al­ready in­fa­mously bu­reau­cratic. They are also mind­ful of the rise of other in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions — most sig­nif­i­cantly from China — that pay less at­ten­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal and labour stan­dards in fi­nanc­ing.

Still, the World Bank’s own re­search shows that em­brac­ing the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights as a core part of its mis­sion is more than a moral im­per­a­tive; it makes good eco­nomic sense. Bank stud­ies have con­cluded that re­duc­ing gen­der in­equity is good for pros­per­ity and that com­mu­ni­ties where hu­man rights are vi­o­lated with im­punity are more prone to armed con­flict. Mem­bers of the bank’s Com­mit­tee on Devel­op­ment Ef­fec­tive­ness re­ceived the lat­est draft of the bank’s pro­posed safe­guards on Fri­day. As they re­view it, they should aim to make hu­man rights in­te­gral to the bank’s devel­op­ment work. — The New York Times

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