PRESS RELEASE: Defending Human Rights in Development

Global Call to Ensure Local Communities’ Role in Bank-Financed Projects

(Washington, July 14, 2016) – Development banks should respect human rights in their investments around the world and ensure their activities are not putting human rights defenders at risk, the Coalition for Human Rights in Development said today in a joint petition signed by over 150 development, human rights, and environment groups.

Major development banks have long touted the importance of public participation for effective development, the organizations said. But a growing number of governments have been shrinking the space for safe and effective participation in development processes through criminalizing activities by land, environment, and human rights activists and adopting restrictions on nongovernmental groups.

“I hope that civil society will have the opportunity to contribute towards sustainable development,” said Abhijeet, an Indigenous community member in Nepal who does not want his identity disclosed for security concerns. “Unfortunately, the fundamental human rights of many peoples are being systemically violated as a result of development projects. And when we help communities defend their rights we are met with threats and violent attacks.”

The petition is directed to international financial institutions (IFIs), including the World Bank, African, Asian, European, and Inter-American Development Bank, as well as the newest institutions, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and BRICS New Development Bank.

In March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a renowned indigenous land rights and environmental defender in Honduras, was killed in the middle of the night as she slept in her bed. Two of those facing charges for Cáceres’ murder were employees of a company involved in the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, a project that Cáceres and her organization, Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), have long opposed and campaigned against. The murder sparked a high-profile movement to demand accountability of the Dutch, Finnish, and Central American banks financing Agua Zarca for failure to ensure their investments weren’t fueling human rights abuses.

But as recent reports have documented, the Cáceres case is not unique.

“In Uzbekistan, the World Bank is pouring money into projects that benefit the government’s abusive cotton sector, marred primarily by systemic forced labor,” said Dmitry Tikhonov, an Uzbek human rights defender who is in exile following government reprisals. “The World Bank has not taken any meaningful measures to ensure that independent human rights defenders like me can monitor for abuses linked to the projects they fund. Nor have Bank staff spoken out against the government’s attacks on my colleagues and I.”

Human Rights Watch has recently documented numerous abuses against individuals and communities impacted by projects financed by the World Bank and its arm for corporate loans, the International Finance Corporation.

“Those who try to engage in development processes have suffered threats, harassment, physical assault, or worse,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Development banks have a responsibility to ensure that their investments don’t interfere with human rights, and that people can participate in or express their opinions about development projects without fearing for their safety.”

The joint petition – International Financial Institutions’ responsibility to ensure Meaningful and Effective Participation in their Investments – details ways in which the institutions should “ensure that the activities they finance respect human rights and that there are spaces for people to participate in the development of IFI projects and hold IFIs to account without risking their security.” The organizations call on the financial institutions “to actively support the realization of rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and related human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights in all their activities.”

“Development banks and their member states can’t hope to achieve sustainable development or eliminate poverty if their investments are contributing to human rights violations or if those who are meant to benefit from development find themselves subjected to abuse,” said Adam Shapiro, Head of Communications and Visibility for Front Line Defenders. “The banks should take responsibility for the outcomes of their investments and take meaningful action to safeguard human rights defenders on the ground.”

For more information and stories of human rights defenders, please visit:

The Coalition for Human Rights in Development is a global coalition of social movements, civil society organizations and community groups working to ensure that all development finance institutions respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.







The Coalition for Human Rights in Development is a global coalition of social movements, civil society organizations, and grassroots groups working to ensure that all development finance institutions respect human rights. We strive to bring more coordination to a global movement led by communities and supported by civil society organizations. Download the Coalition overview here. Read our Impact Report 2016 to learn more about our work (download the full report: English, Spanish, French).

Press Release

World Bank Leaves Holes in Safety Net

Civil society groups to hold Bank accountable for human rights outcomes

(August 8, 2016) On Thursday, the World Bank approved a new Environmental and Social Framework to replace its existing safeguard policies. Members of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development criticized the missed opportunity to adopt robust protections for the human rights of communities impacted by Bank projects, and committed to holding the Bank accountable for the outcomes of the new policy.

The Coalition for Human Rights in Development is a global coalition, whose member organizations around the world have engaged in the review of the World Bank safeguard policies – those policies designed to protect communities and the environment from harm – during a four-year review process. While the groups welcomed some improvements with the new draft, including provisions on non-discrimination, they criticized the shift in the overall framework to looser protections for communities impacted by Bank-financed development projects.

“Throughout the review process, civil society groups from around the world have expressed their concerns in relation to a possible dilution of the safeguards, and have asked the Bank on many occasions to include strong human rights protections in the new framework,” said Gonzalo Roza, with Argentina-based Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables. “Seeing the final policy, it seems that the Bank and our governments adopted some beneficial provisions, but didn’t meaningfully take into consideration civil society’s input on critical issues.”

Labor groups welcomed the addition of a new policy on labor, but criticized the lack of coherence with international standards on the rights of workers. “The new policy will, for the first time ask the borrowing countries to abide by some basic workers’ rights and working conditions in Bank-financed projects,” said Ahmad Awad, of the Jordan-based Phenix Center for Economics & Informatics Studies.” Unfortunately, it leaves workers at risk by failing to include core labor standards and suggesting that freedom of association in projects financed by the Bank will not be required in countries that do not have national laws protecting this right.”

Indigenous peoples organizations have raised serious concerns regarding the new revised policy on indigenous peoples. “The proposed new policy represents a step forward from the existing policy in that it includes a requirement for free, prior and informed consent from indigenous peoples, however, it still fails to meet international human rights standards by defining consent as “collective support” rather than ensuring respect for the results of affected indigenous peoples’ independent and collective decision-making processes,” said Prabindra Shakya, with Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. “Further, the requirement of FPIC is restricted to very narrow situations rather than all projects that impact indigenous peoples as identified in participatory assessments.”

Two other major criticisms regarding the new policy on indigenous peoples are that it weakens the requirement that indigenous peoples benefit from commercialization of their resources and replaces the legally recognized term “Indigenous Peoples” with the confusing phrase “Indigenous Peoples/ Sub-Saharan African Historically Underserved Traditional Local Communities” in response to certain governments who do not want to recognize “indigenous peoples”. “The bank should understand that there are no international protocols or treaties that speak of ‘Sub-Saharan African Historically Underserved Traditional Local Communities’ and this retrograde terminology should not be introduced in the 21st century where indigenous people know and understand their rights,” said Jackson Shaa with the Narasha Community Development Group in Kenya. “The suffering we are experiencing due to World Bank projects is enormous and the Bank should understand that we are human beings and we need our rights to be respected.”

Women’s rights and LGBTI groups criticized the fact that the Bank did not include meaningful safeguards on gender or sexual orientation and instead removed references to various groups which might be at risk of discrimination out of the main text and into a separate directive, decreasing the visibility of these groups. “Women’s and LGBTI groups are disappointed that the Bank refused to finally create a gender safeguard to prevent harmful impacts on women and sexual minorities and ensure they enjoy full access to development benefits,” said Elaine Zuckerman of Gender Action. “A separate directive listing women and LGBTI persons within a string of ‘vulnerable groups’ does not substitute for a deserved safeguard against gender discrimination.”

While the new safeguards framework includes provisions to prevent discrimination in Bank-financed projects and an aspirational reference to human rights within its vision statement, it does not include a commitment to respect human rights or a binding requirement that projects not contribute to human rights abuses. In fact the references to human rights conventions or guidelines were removed from the main text.

“The Bank and its members have an obligation to respect human rights and to ensure that they are not financing human rights abuses, and they missed a big opportunity to do that,” said Gretchen Gordon, Coalition Coordinator. “But regardless of what this new policy framework requires, the Bank and its member countries are still accountable for their human rights impacts and so we will continue pushing them to strengthen rights protections, and we’ll continue working with civil society to monitor projects and ensure that local communities’ rights are respected.”

Now that the policy is approved, the Bank will begin development of procedures and guidance notes to facilitate implementation, and Coalition members urged the Bank to use these tools to remedy shortcomings in the policy framework.

“The lack of binding requirements to uphold human rights and provide appropriate remedy for violations, the weakened requirements for use of national regulatory systems or financial intermediaries, as well as a lack of requirements to disclose real information about potential impacts at project level leave communities unprotected in World Bank financed projects,” said Sukhgerel Dugersuren, of OT Watch Mongolia. “I see this as an obvious move away from its mandate to reduce poverty around the world.”

Download the release here.


Coalition for Human Rights in Development members are not-for-profit civil society organizations, social movements, and community groups committed to ensuring that all development finance institutions respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Click on this map to explore our members and learn more about their work.

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The Coalition for Human Rights in Development is coordinated by a Steering Committee whose members serve for two-year renewable terms. The Steering Committee includes:

The Coalition operates as a project of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs, which serves as our fiscal sponsor.


The Coalition is supported by an International Secretariat:

  • Gonzalo Roza,
    Latin America Secretariat Staff
    Córdoba, Argentina
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Jobs and Internships

The Coalition is seeking qualified individuals for advocacy, communications, and translation opportunities in human rights and development finance.

Human Rights Intern – Spring 2018

The Human Rights Intern supports the Coalition’s advocacy activities, which may include assisting in the development of advocacy tools, discrete research assignments on trends in development finance and human rights, preparation of case studies, attending and reporting on Coalition meetings and events, providing support to working groups, and providing some administrative support.

Human Rights Fellow – Spring 2018

The Human Rights Fellow supports the Coalition’s advocacy activities through in-depth research, as well as through writing on trends in development finance and human rights, preparation of case studies, attending and reporting on Coalition meetings and events, and providing support to working groups, with responsibilities adjusted accordingly. Fellowship positions are geared toward advanced graduate students and professionals with advanced research skills.

Communications Intern – Spring 2018

Communications Intern supports the global, multilingual communications of the Coalition. The internship is based in Washington, D.C. or remotely. For more information please visit the link above.

Human Rights and Development Finance Translation Intern – ongoing

The Coalition is seeking bi-lingual undergraduate students, graduate students, and graduates for the opportunity to gain experience in translation in the field of human rights and development. For more details, please see the link above.