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UN Experts Urge World Bank to Adopt Human Rights Standards

UN Experts Urge World Bank to Adopt Human Rights Standards On the Eve of Key Gathering In Washington

GENEVA (18 April 2013) – A group of United Nations independent experts on extreme poverty, indigenous peoples, right to food and foreign debt called on the Word Bank to adopt human rights standards this weekend, during the review of its environmental and social policies—also known as ‘safeguard policies’—which apply to project finance.

“All activities supported by the World Bank, not only its investment lending, should be included in the review to ensure consistency with international human rights standards,” the rights experts urged. “Doing so would improve development outcomes and strengthen the protection of the world’s poorest from unintended adverse impacts of activities financed by the Bank.”  

The first consultation period of a two-year review of the Bank’s safeguard policies for project finance concludes this weekend, 19-21 April. A first draft of the revised policies, which will be open for public comment, is expected in the next few months.

The review offers an important opportunity for broadening their scope in key areas related to human rights such as disability, gender, labour, land tenure, and the rights of indigenous peoples. The experts underscored, however, that “amendments to the safeguard policies must not dilute their force, but should build on the advances already made and strengthen mechanisms for their effective implementation.”

“Unfortunately, economic development can have negative as well as positive impacts,” said the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda. “Often, the poorest of the poor do not benefit from development, or even worse, it is undertaken at their expense.”

“In order to avoid adverse impacts of development projects and maximize the benefits to the poorest and most marginalized, the World Bank should adopt a requirement to undertake human rights due diligence, including a human rights impact assessment, on all activities proposed for World Bank financing, particularly regarding the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable persons,” she underlined.

For the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, “this review is an opportunity for the World Bank to heed the call of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides that States, intergovernmental organizations, and UN specialized agencies, including the World Bank, shall promote respect for full application and realization of, its provisions.”

“World Bank financed large-scale development projects often have an impact on land used by small-scale farmers, negatively affecting their right to food,” said the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter.

In his view, “the updated safeguard policies must ensure that the voice of affected communities is more effectively heard, through inclusive and participatory impact assessments and through effective accountability mechanisms that provide effective remedies for any harm caused.”

The Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Cephas Lumina, noted that the excuse that the World Bank is precluded by its Articles of Agreement from taking human rights into consideration in the design and implementation of its policies and projects is no longer acceptable.

“A purposive interpretation of the Articles suggests, as the former General Counsel of the World Bank opined in 2006, that the Articles allow, and in some circumstances, enjoin the Bank to recognize the human rights implications of its development policies and activities,” Mr. Lumina said. “In addition, the Bank’s own past practice indicates that it has not rigidly adhered to this injunction.”

“As a development institution and a member of the UN family, and in line with the Declaration on the Right to Development, the Bank is obligated to ensure that its policies and activities do not undermine national development priorities or imperil the achievement of sustainable development outcomes,” he said.

“This requires, among other things, that the Bank gives due weight to international human rights standards and related obligations of its member States,” stressed Mr Lumina. “We should not forget that States must also adhere to their international law obligations when they act through international organizations. The World Bank is no exception.”


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