UN Expert urges the World Bank to conform to human rights standards

Press release
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The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Mr Alfred de Zayas, presented yesterday (15/09/2017) his report on the impact of the World Bank’s financial and economic policies, the outcome of extensive research carried out since October 2016. In his restitution to the Human Rights Council, gathered for its 36th ordinary session, he stressed the urgent need for the World Bank to align both its governing documents (the “Articles of Agreements”) and its operational policies to human rights standards that have long been recognized by the international community.

“In the twenty-first century, there are no “human rights free zones”, (…) international law cannot create “stand-alone regimes” or “legal blackholes” " articulates Alfred de Zayas [1]. However, the World Bank tends to remain an exception. Often referring to its Articles of Agreements established in 1944, representatives of the institution have waived numerous calls to align with human rights standards, stating that the promotion of human rights and environmental protection constitutes a prohibited “political activity” [2] . The impermeability of the World Bank to human rights standards is very problematic considering the tremendous impact of World Bank policies on the ground.

In fact, the report enumerates many allegations of human rights violations committed by World Bank funded companies, including “land-grabbing, brutal evictions, involuntary resettlement, forced labour, child labour, sexual abuse, massive pollution, destruction of the environment, reprisals against human rights defenders, corruption and money-laundering”. As the report highlights, these violations often tie to mega-infrastructures projects, such as hydroelectric dams, mining and agribusiness. Yet, those mega-infrastructure projects are increasingly supported by the World Bank without carrying out sufficient human rights due diligence.

Last May 2017, FIDH published a report on the infrastructure project “Cuyamel II” in Honduras, and reached similar conclusions on investment institutions responsibilities regarding human rights. In its recommendations, FIDH called on investment institutions to refrain from financing project in protected areas, from supporting legislative reforms that impair the protection of communities’ human rights, and to conduct human rights due diligence throughout their activities. Drawing on its experience of human rights violations in the context of investment institutions funded projects, FIDH adds its voice to the call of UN Independent Expert Alfred de Zayas: the World Bank should formally incorporate human rights standards in its Articles of Agreements, promote their realization through its development programs, and conduct thorough human rights due diligence in all its activities.

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