Our Retirement Savings are Funding Projects Violating Human Rights

By Mariana González Mar 14, 2017

Originally posted on Amphibious Accounts: Human Rights Stories from the Global South, on March 1, 2017.

Every month a mandatory percentage for the retirement fund is deducted from my bimonthly payment, which is part of the Mexican social security system. The same applies to the 21 million economically active people and with social benefits, as in Mexico about 58% of the employed population (28.7 million) work in places that elude registration with social security, meaning that they do not offer any benefits to guarantee health care, medical care and to ensure a livelihood, among others.

Although not all the economically active population of the country participates in savings for pensions, we are talking about a large amount of public money that until a couple of decades ago was managed by the state. Today, after a series of reforms to the Law of Savings Systems for Retirement, this money went from being administered by public to private entities and is being used to finance infrastructure projects such as roads, hydroelectric plants, and energy projects to just mention a few. These projects put at risk the savings invested without the taxpayers being aware on the one hand, and on the other, in many occasions – to not say all of them – violate human rights and increase the inequality gap in the country. For example, the conversion project of the Cerro de Oro dam to a hydroelectric plant in the state of Oaxaca would use retirement savings without taxpayers having mechanisms to know in what kind of projects our money is being invested and what their impacts are. In addition, the project entails severe impacts on the territory and violations of the rights of the Chinantec and mestizo communities of the region.

At the end of the 1980s, the Mexican pension system was in charge of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) and had a more guarantor scheme of distribution and defined benefits. However, in the early 1990s, the ratio of active to retired workers decreased significantly, among other things, as a result of an increase in life expectancy and declining birth rates. This was the perfect excuse for the country to begin adjusting itself to the recommendations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and transforming pension funds into a tool for financial markets and a permanent source of long capital term.

Over the last few years, various reforms have been made to change the scheme of the pension system, to relax the restrictions on the investment of these funds, allowing more investment in instruments that benefit the private sector and are administered by the latter through Retirement Fund Managers (Afores), the private financial institutions in Mexico that manage retirement funds and through which everyone has to manage their funds for retirement. That is, private entities in charge of public resources. Currently the pension funds represent 13.6% of the gross domestic product of Mexico, which are invested in projects with high risks such as capital investments (34.6%); infrastructure (30%); real estate (23%); energy (5.2%); forestry (4.1%); and financial services (3.1%). In order to invest public funds in these projects, the government has created mechanisms that are very technical and difficult to monitor (such as certificates for capital development – CKD) and which benefit the private sector. These mechanisms reduce the risk for the sector as we as taxpayers assume the risk without knowing it.

This is not something that happens in isolation in Mexico, but represents a global trend. In recent years, representatives of governments and the private sector have come to a consensus that infrastructure is one of the main pillars for development and global economic growth. The argument is that investment in infrastructure is an opportunity to promote sustainable and inclusive growth. Currently, some estimate that total spending on infrastructure is $2-3 trillion dollars a year and that an additional $4 trillion annually until 2030 will be required to cover infrastructure needs. Much of this amount is planned to be covered through large pension funds from countries such as Australia, Canada, Brazil, the United States, the Netherlands, and Chile, to name a few.

In this way, the construction of the Cerro de Oro hydroelectric project was planned on indigenous territory and work began without having consulted and obtained the consent of indigenous peoples. This would have had irreversible environmental impacts and involve the resettlement of hundreds of people. Furthermore, the energy production had been previously granted to various private companies, as well as the returns. The project did not guarantee the right to energy, a healthy environment, water, and participation to decide over the community’s own development, among others. Part of the financing came from the savings of Mexican taxpayers, without them being aware of it. Also, part of the financing of a wind farm in Juchitan, Oaxaca has been highly controversial for reasons similar to those mentioned above; it comes from the Dutch pension funds without people knowing it.  And it is not only a question of using these public resources without the knowledge and consent of the owners in projects that violate human rights, but we as the taxpayers assume the financial risk of projects, which completely benefit, once again, entrepreneurs.

Mexico’s National infrastructure Program states that infrastructure investment is a strategic issue and priority for Mexico because it represents the means of generating economic growth and development and is the key to increasing competitiveness. One of the challenges of the program is funding, providing a total investment of 575 billion through 743 projects. The government has planned that at least 37% of this funding will come from the private sector. One of the incentives for the latter to invest in the project portfolio is the retirement savings system reforms.

Currently, there is a need to make the use of these resources transparent, so that the projects in which money is invested can be monitored, as well as to inform taxpayers about the use of the resources that we compulsorily pay twice a month, every single month, and with which markets speculate. Do you have savings in pension funds? Do you know what they are being invested in?

Tags:

  • infrastructure
  • México
  • risk

World Bank Geothermal Project Continues to Disregard Indigenous Rights

By Coalition Intern Feb 14, 2017

Community members gather to discuss the mediation agreement

On February 16, the World Bank Board is scheduled to review a proposed Action Plan to remedy harm caused to four Maasai villages which were resettled in 2014 to make way for the Olkaria IV geothermal development in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a project financed by the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the German development bank, KFW. The Action Plan follows an investigation by the Inspection Panel, the World Bank’s independent accountability mechanism, which found a lack of compliance with World Bank policies, especially the failure to trigger the Bank’s Indigenous Peoples Policy. This disregard for bank policies led to significant harm to indigenous Maasai villages.

The communities were resettled onto land less than half the size of their previous land, and marked with steep ravines such that the Maasai’s main livelihood, pastoralism, is no longer viable. Another staple industry for the villages – tourism – has been devastated as their main Cultural Centre is now surrounded by wells and uninhabitable. The resettlement area lacks essential infrastructure including adequate water and roads. Contrary to Bank policy, the communities were not provided with a share in the benefits derived from the commercialization of their natural resources and today still lack legal title to their new lands. As a result, many find that their economic and social welfare has significantly deteriorated and their ability to practice their culture has been significantly compromised. As one community member stated, “I can’t practice my tradition because I am no longer a Maasai.”

In May of 2016, a mediation process with the implementing agency, the Kenya Electricity Generation Company (KenGen), concluded in a Mediation Agreement, yet the vast majority of KenGen’s commitments remain unfulfilled. Community members are pressing for the World Bank to ensure that KenGen satisfy its commitments, and that additional measures be taken to remedy the harms caused to the resettled communities and to bring the project into compliance with the Involuntary Resettlement and Indigenous Peoples policies.

This week 32 organizations around the world sent a letter to World Bank Directors urging that any approved Action Plan include concrete time-bound commitments and strong corrective measures, including on the following:

  • Provision of additional grazing land
  • Conveyance of freehold title as community land
  • Repayment of project funds until roads and water mains are repaired
  • Completion of a livelihood assessment and full restoration of livelihoods
  • Negotiation of a benefit-sharing agreement
  • A participatory process to monitor resolution of housing/compensation complaints
  • Use of independent experts and community-based monitoring

The history of this project shows a continuing lack of will on the part of KenGen to comply with World Bank policies and a lack of adequate supervision and monitoring by the World Bank. If the Bank had properly applied its Indigenous Peoples Policy, communities would have been safeguarded from many of the subsequent project failures. Instead the Bank even granted additional financing to the project in June of 2016 without addressing any of the compliance issues. This lack of adherence to protections for indigenous peoples is a growing problem at the World Bank – one that threatens the rights of indigenous peoples around the world and their ability to benefit from development.

As one community member said, “the banks financing this project should give the project affected people their rights, and also they should be keen when they give out their money not to destroy life of people”.

See a video of community members here.

Tags:

  • AFD
  • Energy
  • European Investment Bank
  • geothermal
  • Indigenous
  • JICA
  • KenGen
  • Kenya
  • KFW
  • Masaai
  • World Bank

“Development” Finance and the Roll-back of Social and Environmental Protections

By Gretchen Gordon Jan 27, 2017

This infographic produced by the Coalition for Human Rights in Development together with Otros Mundos and Movimiento M4 tells the complex story of “Development” Finance and the Roll-back of Social and Environmental Protections currently impacting communities all around the world.

Today, governments and big development banks are investing billions of dollars in infrastructure, energy, and agriculture projects in the name of development. But instead of designing projects to meet the needs and priorities of poor communities, too often these development projects are designed to maximize corporate profits. Without strong protections to ensure that local communities and marginalized groups are consulted and their human rights are respected, development projects can result in the eviction of communities or the plundering of their natural resources.

Many of the big development banks have social and environmental safeguard policies to ensure that their investments do not cause harm. But too often these policies are not enforced. Some banks are moving to weaken their safeguards and only rely on the national laws where they’re investing. At the same time, around the world, governments are watering down these social and environmental protections, like labor laws and environmental licensing rules, in an effort to attract investors and speed up “development”. Governments are using public private partnerships to effectively privatize public goods and services. Development banks are encouraging and even facilitating this rollback of national laws. What’s more, corporations are using free trade agreements and tribunals run by the World Bank to challenge national laws and regulations that threaten their profits.

Communities and civil society groups have fought hard to push national governments and development banks to develop laws and safeguards to protect human rights and the environment. But now when communities fight to defend their human rights in the face of harmful development activities and this rollback of social and environmental protections, they can face intimidation and violent repression. Governments are increasingly restricting the space for civil society to participate in development processes and to have a say in their development.

“Development” Finance and the Roll-back of Social and Environmental Protections tells the story of 12 countries that have rolled back national social and environmental protections in recent years in order to attract investment. It introduces the many national and multilateral development banks and other financial institutions that are not only driving investment in development, but in many cases facilitating a weakening of regulatory frameworks around the world. The purpose is to show how these different actors and processes are all connected – how the construction of megadams in Brazil and the privatization of public services in Tunisia are connected to the weakening of land rights in India, the slashing of environmental protections in South Africa, and the crackdown against civil society in Mexico.

By understanding the global landscape of development finance and the rollback of social and environmental protections, we can better see how our different struggles are in fact intricately connected. In this way we can fight not just to change a single development project, but to bring about a new model of development – one that responds to the needs and priorities of poor communities and marginalized groups, and one that respects human rights and preserves our environment.

The infographic is available for download in English, Spanish, FrenchPortuguese, and Hindi and can be printed as a poster in A2 or A3 size for use in workshops and other educational activities.

 

Safeguarding Women Defenders in Development

By Gretchen Gordon Nov 30, 2016

Moon Nay Li

Moon Nay Li   Photo credit: International Accountability Project

This week, as we celebrate Women Human Rights Defenders Day, November 29th, we honor the courageous work of women defenders around the world fighting for their human rights and their communities. Women defenders are on the front lines of the struggle for sustainable, equitable development. They run agricultural cooperatives and deliver health and education services. They raise their voices, organize, and mobilize to shape development proposals and to fight against ill-conceived investments that threaten the well-being of their communities.

For this work, they face discrimination, threats, intimidation, sexual violence, detention, and even death.

Moon Nay Li is the General Secretary of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), which runs empowerment and sustainable development initiatives with Kachin women in Thailand and Burma/Myanmar. KWAT operates critical programs ranging from health clinics and vocational training to anti-trafficking and political empowerment programs. Moon describes the challenging environment she faces while doing this work. “My networks and I receive threats and pressure from authorities including the police, military and local government officials who try to crack down on our movement.”

According to Moon, this repressive environment poses serious challenges for civic engagement and public participation. “There are many restrictions. If we want to do a big event, we have to file a report with the police officials in the city. They tell us ‘You can walk on the street but be silent, don’t shout.’”

Earlier this year, Moon and her colleagues organized a march to celebrate International Women’s Day. “Although we were told to be silent, we shouted because it is our right to do so. Then police officers came to talk to our leaders. They asked many questions and gave a warning to our leaders,” explained Moon. “It is very difficult to mobilize people when the authorities threaten the very people who do the mobilizing.”

The World Bank and other development banks are ramping up investments, especially private sector investments, in Burma/Myanmar and other “fragile and conflict affected states”. While the banks acknowledge that sustainable development requires human rights principles like transparency, access to information, public consultation, and accountability, they haven’t seriously grappled with how to ensure these principles are followed in environments where public participation and fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly are severely restricted.

According to research by Global Witness, some of the fiercest attacks on women and other human rights defenders occur in the context of development investments. Governments often clampdown on human rights in an effort to curtail potential opposition to development projects. As a Human Rights Watch investigation revealed, when communities speak up, they are labeled “anti-development” and subjected to threats, harassment, and violence at the hands of authorities or public and private security forces.

Moon explains that in Burma, there is no public participation around development projects. “They say when development happens, it is always for the good of the people and nobody should complain about development projects. We cannot ask further questions and there is no consultation with local people,” says Moon. “We can even directly and openly talk about human rights abuses but not about development. Development is more difficult to resist.”

Moon’s story demonstrates why it is critical for development finance institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to ensure that there is an enabling environment for human rights and public participation around their investments. In their social and environmental impact assessments, development banks should be assessing differentiated impacts on women and girls and identifying risks to women defenders, which may be different than the risks faced by men. They should ensure that their investments aren’t causing, contributing to, or exacerbating human rights abuses. And where threats arise, they should have protocols in place to protect defenders and to minimize and remedy any harm.

Around the world, women are doing the heavy labor of sustainable development every day. It’s time for development financiers to ensure that women can participate in development processes and raise concerns about development proposals without putting themselves in danger. It’s time for development financiers to safeguard women defenders.

You can learn about the campaign to get development financiers to safeguard human rights defenders and read the rest of Moon’s story at www.rightsindevelopment.org/hrd.

Corporate Accountability and Development in Africa

By Gretchen Gordon Sep 29, 2016

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Participants engage in the Business and Human Rights Short Course – Photo credit: Centre for Human Rights

On the African continent, “development” is big business. The banks that finance roads, energy and agriculture projects have a major impact on both governments and corporate actors. As such, these development financiers can play a determinative role in deciding whether development activities work to support the realization of human rights or end up facilitating corporate abuses. Development banks can play a positive role in supporting business and human rights – requiring their clients to address human rights risks, or helping to strengthen national human rights protections, such as rules around resettlement or access to information. They can also play a negative role – financing polluting industries or promoting privatization of public services.

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ACCA General Assembly – Photo credit: ACCA

To explore the impact of development finance on business and human rights in Africa, the Coalition for Human Rights in Development teamed up with the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability and the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, for several energy-filled days of capacity building and strategizing.

During the ACCA General Assembly, which brought together approximately 100 ACCA member organizations and allies from across the continent, the Coalition organized a panel discussion titled “Accountability in Development Finance.” In the session, Nomonde Nyembe of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies in South Africa explored with ACCA members the connections between development financiers and corporate activity, and illustrated the various ways that financing may come into play in a corporate transaction, especially as development actors increase their reliance on the private sector.

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Reinford Mwangonde highlights campaign strategies

Reinford Mwangonde from Citizens for Justice in Malawi and Delphine Djiraïbé with Public Interest Law Center in Chad shared two case studies where development banks were used to hold corporations and governments accountable for their human rights impacts. Djiraïbé shared how PILC used the World Bank to pressure Exxon Mobile and the government of Chad over human rights and environmental abuses stemming from construction of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. Reinford Mwangonde shared the experience of Citizens for Justice in using development finance connections to stave off a plan by Malawi’s water company to install paid water meters and threaten public access to water.

Paul Guy Hyomeni with Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’homme (RECODH) in Cameroon and Coalition Coordinator Gretchen Gordon highlighted future opportunities for possible ACCA engagement, including the bi-annual meetings of the African Governors of the World Bank and IMF, policy development at the BRICS New Development Bank which will soon open a regional office in Johannesburg, a regional consultation by the African Development Bank, as well as monitoring and advocacy around the hundreds of development projects impacting communities in Africa.

The same week, the Coalition facilitated a half-day “Training on Development Finance and Corporate Accountability” as part of a Short Course on Business and Human Rights hosted by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria for approximately 50 LLM students, ACCA members, and staff from various African national human rights institutions.

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Paul Guy Hyomeni discusses the Lom Pangar Dam

Hyomeni presented a case study of the Lom Pangar dam project in Cameroon to demonstrate the range of human rights impacts implicated in development activities. This project, financed by the African Development Bank, World Bank, and European Investment Bank, affects 17 different communities and involves the resettlement of over 500 households. These families, who engage primarily in farming and artisanal mining, have been pushed from their lands and sources of livelihood without meaningful consultation or fair compensation. RECODH is hoping to be able to pressure the development banks to secure protections for the communities before construction begins on the next phases of the project.

Mwangonde and Gordon used the example of the Lilongwe water project in Malawi, financed by the African Development Bank, World Bank and European Investment Bank, to illustrate the different steps that can be taken to impact development activities. In this water project, Citizens for Justice engaged with local communities, collected data on community concerns and environmental impacts, engaged in advocacy with World Bank representatives and allied government representatives, and explored options for judicial and non-judicial remedies.

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Wilmien Wicomb questions the IFC’s arguments – Photo credit: Centre for Human Rights

Wilmien Wicomb of the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa and Nyembe used the case study of the Trident project – the largest copper mine in Zambia – to illustrate challenges and opportunities for securing accountability in development activities. While the environmental and social performance standards of the International Finance Corporation, which was an equity investor of the mine, should have applied, Wicomb explained that from risk categorization to impact assessment and resettlement compensation, IFC rules were ignored. The mining company pressured traditional authorities to cede an enormous tract of community land without community consultation. The IFC has since divested in the company, so remedy options are challenging.

Throughout the week of events, the issue of development finance was a reoccurring theme. Members of the Coalition and ACCA used the opportunity to issue a statement to the World Bank signed by thirty-four African civil society groups calling on the institution to strengthen its safeguards to ensure protection of human rights. ACCA is also exploring ways to incorporate engagement on development finance within its work.

As development financiers and corporations increasingly look to Africa for investment opportunities, African civil society is working to identify opportunities and strategies to ensure that development supports the realization of human rights for all, not just profits for a few.

For more information, check out the Coalition’s primer on Development Finance Institutions in Africa (and in French).

Tags:

  • BRICS
  • Cameroon
  • corporate accountability
  • Malawi
  • NDB
  • South Africa
  • World Bank
  • Zambia

6 Questions as BRICS Bank Turns One

By Gonzalo Roza Aug 23, 2016

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Last July 20-21, the city of Shanghai (China) hosted the First Annual Meeting of the New Development Bank (NDB), the multilateral financial institution established in 2015 by the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The event, which marked completion of the Bank’s first year, included meetings of the NDB’s Board of Governors and Board of Directors, as well as a “High Level Seminar” open to the public.

Although the first year of operations of the Bank has shown some positive aspects that reflect its potential to become something “new” in development financing, there are still significant concerns regarding transparency, engagement with civil society and the social and environmental safeguards applied to projects; and many questions remain on how the Bank will operate.

What type of investments will NDB support?

During the annual meeting, the Bank approved a $100 million loan to the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and the International Investment Bank (IIB) for a small-scale energy project involving the construction of two hydropower plants with a combined capacity of about 50 megawatts in the region of Karelia, Russia. Together with loans approved in April, the Bank has now confirmed its first tranche of projects, one in each of its five member countries, totaling an amount of $911 million.

The projects include the following:  a $250 million loan to India’s Canara Bank for 500 megawatts of renewable-energy projects in India; an $81 million loan for 100 megawatts of rooftop solar power in China; a $300 million loan to Brazil´s national development bank, BNDES, to develop 600 megawatts of renewable energy capacity in Brazil; and a $180 million loan to South Africa’s public electricity company, Eskom, for investment in transmission lines and the connection of renewable electricity capacity to the national grid.

What rules will apply?

According to the Bank, its projects involve “green and sustainable infrastructure”, but is not clear yet how the Bank defines those concepts and what environmental or social criteria the bank took into consideration during project selection or appraisal. Bank staff have provided contradictory information on whether a social and environmental policy framework has been finalized. No such policy has been made public. Bank officials have stated a preference for reliance on the domestic legal and regulatory systems of NDB member countries and a confidence that these standards are well developed. This is worrying, given that in many areas BRICS country systems – either in law or in practice – don’t provide adequate protection for people and the environment.

The NDB did announce the approval of an Interim Information Disclosure Policy. Such an instrument will be essential not only to have access to the operational policies of the Bank, but also to ensure that communities and the public at large have access to information on NDB-financed projects. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to know whether the Bank´s Disclosure Policy will be adequate for this purpose, as it has not yet been disclosed.

Where will the Bank lend?

BRICS-BANK-Sanghai

Till now, the NDB has only financed projects within the five BRICS countries. In the meeting in Shanghai, however, officials identified that the Bank will move forward with bringing in new members. According to the NDB’s Brazilian vice president, Paulo Nogueira Batista, now that the Bank is established, it should broaden its membership in order to attract the highest possible credit rating and strengthen its legitimacy. Thus, new members are expected to join by 2018, with the Bank targeting big emerging economies such as Mexico or Indonesia.

According to Leslie Maasdorp, NDB´s South African vice president, the Bank may lend for projects outside its member countries, as long as the projects in some way benefit the member countries. This lending criterion is quite unclear. It also calls into question the Bank’s argument that it does not need a strong environmental and social safeguards policy since it can rely on what it asserts are strong legal and regulatory systems within BRICS nations.

To whom will the Bank lend?

Thus far NDB has focused on sovereign-backed loans within the BRICS countries, so in other words, loans to national development banks or other public banks. In Shanghai, however, NDB Directors Luis Antonio Balduino Carneiro, Brazil’s Secretary for International Affairs, and Sergei Storchak, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Finance, highlighted the importance of leveraging private sector financing through direct lending to the private sector as well as public-private partnerships. This again raises the question of what rules will apply to this new private sector lending.

 What about civil society?

Despite the Bank´s stated intention of becoming a green institution with a new development model, a criticism raised by many groups is the lack of proper and institutional engagement with civil society.  For instance, many groups pointed to the lack of accessibility of the Annual Meeting, citing a registration window of under a week, lack of notice, and denials of registration for some participants. Civil society participation was limited to two panel discussions during the High Level Seminar, only one of which was on the NDB. There were no civil society speakers in the event.

More importantly, as groups have continually raised, the Bank suffers from critical lack of transparency and has no provisions for meaningful engagement with civil society. While it appears that social and environmental policies have been established, there has been no consultation with civil society on these policies.

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The reason given by bank officials in Shanghai for the lack of engagement with civil society is that the Bank is new and it has a small structure, with staffing constraints. However, this alleged lack of institutional capacity is not a valid justification for the lack of engagement with civil society, especially if the Bank is already financing projects and looking forward to expanding its membership and engagement with other stakeholders, such as the private sector.

If the Bank is truly looking for a new development model, it should promote an effective and proper engagement with civil society. Meaningful participation and listening to stakeholders, especially to communities affected by NDB projects, is a prerequisite for effective development.

What’s Next?

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Civil society groups from BRICS countries are presently preparing to bring these and other concerns to the next Civil BRICS Forum to be held October 3-4 in New Delhi, India. The organizers of the Civil BRICS Forum, which will gather civil society organizations from BRICS countries, are hoping to make an impact on the official 8th BRICS Summit, which will bring together heads of State from the BRICS countries October 15-16 in the city of Goa, India. Civil society groups may also organize a more grassroots Peoples Summit in conjunction with the official summit.

The events surrounding the BRICS Summit represent a good opportunity not only for CSOs and other interested stakeholders to influence NDB and BRICS agendas; but also for the Bank to promote a more transparent and institutionalized engagement with civil society and start addressing the many concerns that the NDB’s first year of operations has raised.

 

Gonzalo Roza coordinates the Global Governance Area of Fundeps (Foundation for the Development of Sustainable Policies – Argentina) and the NDB Working Group of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, a global coalition of social movements, civil society organizations, and grassroots groups working to ensure that all development finance institutions respect human rights.

Tags:

  • BRICS
  • NDB

Reprisals against Members of the Boeung Kak Community, Cambodia

By Human Rights Watch Jul 13, 2016

People look on as a house is demolished at Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh on September 16, 2011. © 2011, Reuters

People look on as a house is demolished at Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh on September 16, 2011. © 2011, Reuters

In 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh leased 133 hectares of land in the Boeung Kak Lake areas to Shukaku Inc., a private company owned by ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin, for a period of 99 years. The company planned to develop the land into a high-end residential, commercial, and tourism complex. From that point onwards, the company and the Cambodian government began pressuring residents of the area to relocate, offering deeply inadequate compensation in exchange.

On August 26, 2008, the company started pumping sand into the lake, causing residents’ homes to flood and the destruction of some houses. By this time, the government and company had persuaded or coerced more than 3,000 of the 4,000 affected families from the land, despite many of the affected families having strong legal claims to the land under the Land Law. The municipality then issued a final eviction notice in April 2009. The government along with the company began forcibly evicting the remaining residents.

As discussed below, over the course of the last seven years, Cambodian security forces have threatened and harassed current and former residents of Boeung Kak Lake areas in Phnom Penh for campaigning against their forced evictions. Cambodia’s security forces have aggressively denied the right to peaceful assembly by violently breaking up peaceful protests. The authorities have filed trumped-up charges against protesters or would-be protesters. Those charged have been routinely denied bail, convicted after expedited and truncated trials that did not meet international standards and did not give the accused adequate time to prepare and put forward a defense, and given significant prison sentences.

The World Bank Inspection Panel later investigated and found that there was a direct link between the Bank-financed $23.4 million Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) in Cambodia, which was approved in February 2002, and the forced evictions suffered by residents in the Boeung Kak Lake area.

Criminalization of Protests and Trumped-Up Charges against Community Members

Since 2009, Cambodian security forces have carried out a string of arrests of Boeung Kak Lake activists. Initially, police typically released the activists after one or two nights in detention. But since the May 2012 arrests of 15 Boeung Kak Lake residents and former residents, police have charged many detainees from the community with criminal offenses. In several cases, courts have convicted them in trials that do not meet Cambodia’s Code of Criminal Procedure or international fair trial standards.

May 2012: Boeung Kak Protestors Arrested, Charged, and Convicted

On May 22, 2012, about 80–100 residents of Boeung Kak Lake peacefully gathered, intending to host a press conference as 18 families sought to mark the boundaries of their now demolished homes. Police arrived almost immediately. Police confiscated the residents’ tools and prevented them from demarcating the boundaries of their houses.

As the hours passed, most of the gathered residents moved into the shade. A small core group remained on the sand lot where the lake used to be, singing songs. At about 11:30 a.m., a mixed force of regular police and district public order para-police surrounded the group and, as the demonstrators dispersed, chased down and arrested 13 women. One protestor described how she was arrested when trying to help a friend, whom security personnel had captured. She said:

They were chasing people like they were trying to catch dogs. Some stepped on my friend’s children.… They pushed me in the car and drove away very fast. I couldn’t get up. I wanted to jump even if I died but then I thought of my grandchildren.

Nget Khun, who was 72-years-old at the time, told Human Rights Watch, “Four or five [security personnel] carried me like they were carrying a pig and then threw me in a car.”

Read the full article here, originally published in Human Rights Watch report, At Your Own Risk, June 2015.

Tags:

  • cambodia
  • forced evictions

Threats and Intimidation against Communities in Chamoli, India

By Human Rights Watch Jul 13, 2016

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©Human Rights Watch, 2014

The Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydroelectric Project (VPHEP) in Uttarakhand, India, is a hydropower generation scheme on the Alaknanda River, one of two headstream tributaries of the Ganga River. The project is financed by a $648 million loan from the World Bank and is being developed by the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd. (THDC), a joint venture between India’s central government and the state government of Uttar Pradesh. The project is currently under construction.

The hydroelectric project’s backers have promoted it as an important new source of electricity for India’s power-hungry economy and as an effective tool to help India reduce greenhouse emissions. A majority of the people living in the villages affected by the project has accepted the project, and some even welcomed it. However, some community members fear profound negative impacts from the project including during its construction phase. In particular, these community members have expressed concern that, amongst other adverse impacts, the project would:

· Undermine religious and cultural practices that rely on a free-flowing Alaknanda River;

· Create water shortages, diminish water quality, and impede livelihood opportunities linked to the river; and

· Limit women’s freedom of movement and safety.

Human Rights Watch spoke with some of the community members protesting the project who said they had faced several years of threats, including gender-based threats, intimidation, and acts of violence by THDC employees and contractors.

At the forefront of the protests have been a handful of families who reside at Harsari hamlet, adjacent to Haat village, who have been resisting relocation to make way for the project. Their resistance has received support from some community members in nearby villages who also have concerns about the project. More recently, as discussed below, residents in neighboring Durgapur village have been protesting the construction of a tunnel for the project and the blasting associated with it that they believe is endangering their homes.

The flash floods of June 2013 which caused massive loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, including to Vishnuprayag hydroelectric project, just 35 miles upstream of VPHEP, intensified concerns among these community members regarding the potential environmental impacts of the project.

Human Rights Watch wrote to THDC to seek the company’s views on the allegations that its staff and contractors were involved in threats and intimidation of community members. In its response, the company emphasized that it takes its responsibilities towards host communities very seriously, and stressed that there have been no violations of human rights in the project area. It said that the project is being implemented in accordance with all national laws and in conformity with the environmental and social safeguard policies of the World Bank. It did not answer any of the questions that Human Rights Watch had asked regarding specific allegations, but said that it was looking into the matters that Human Rights Watch had raised and would “deal with them as necessary.”

Threats and Intimidation against Community Members

In July 2012, several community members filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel raising social, cultural, and environmental concerns about the project’s impacts. The complaint also highlighted concerns about “women’s freedom” as a key issue. In particular, complainants argued that the presence of so many male company employees and contractors, including migrant laborers, around the communities was a real threat to the safety of local women, especially given the prevailing environment of intimidation.

Read the article in full here.

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Persecution of Uzbekistan’s Independent Monitors

By Uzbek German Forum Jul 13, 2016

*Editor’s note: On July 30, 2016, a victim of forced labor in cotton production and three Uzbek human rights defenders filed a complaint on June 30, 2016, against the World Bank’s private sector lending arm. The complaint against the International Finance Corporation (IFC) was filed with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, an independent accountability unit for the IFC. It seeks an investigation into forced labor connected to a $40 million loan to Indorama Kokand Textile, which operates in Uzbekistan. The forced labor victim, who requested confidentiality, and the rights defenders Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva, and a third who requested confidentiality, presented evidence that the loan to expand the company’s manufacturing of cotton goods in Uzbekistan allows it to profit from forced labor and to sell illicit goods. The complainants additionally detailed a disturbing pattern of harassment and attacks on labor monitors and human rights defenders. See the press release from the Cotton Campaign coalition, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, International Labor Rights Forum, and Human Rights Watch.

By the Uzbek-German Forum For Human Rights

The government has responded with particular vehemence to attempts by activists to monitor labor and human rights issues related to cotton work. In 2015 this harassment reached unprecedented levels as the government used arbitrary detention, threats, degrading ill-treatment, and other repressive means to silence monitors and undermine their ability to conduct research and provide information to the ILO and other international institutions.

This interference undermines the government’s stated commitments to take steps to reform its cotton sector and calls into serious question the government’s role as a good faith partner in reform. Interference with the work of independent monitors should raise deep concerns on the part of the World Bank, ILO, and other international partners. Independent monitors who met with the World Bank and the ILO told us that these institutions did not appear to prioritize the safety of independent monitors, rarely making inquiries and not making public statements or offering other support when monitors were arrested, ill-treated, or experienced other trouble.

In 2015 the government imposed spurious criminal sanctions on one Uzbek-German Forum monitor that prevent him from future human rights monitoring work and forced another to flee the country. The government’s persecution of independent monitors is deeply troubling both for the individual harms suffered and also because it threatens the ability to carry out independent monitoring of cotton harvest labor practices at all.

Home Burning and Charges against Dmitry Tikhonov

 

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Credit: Uzbek German Forum

Dmitry Tikhonov, a journalist, civic activist, and human rights defender, has worked for four years with the Uzbek-German Forum to document labor and other human rights issues connected to cotton production in Uzbekistan. Tikhonov, who was based in Angren, and had a home office in nearby Yangiabad, conducted this work openly and, over the last several years has regularly provided information to the ILO, World Bank, and international organizations working in Uzbekistan. In August 2015, Tikhonov learned that the police had begun questioning his friends and acquaintances to gather information about him and his work.[1]

On September 19, a group of about 10 people, including several mahalla chairpersons, approached Tikhonov when he was observing laborers departing for the cotton fields from a central square in Angren, and began demanding his documents and shouting accusations, including that Tikhonov was gathering information intended to taint Uzbekistan’s reputation. After the incident, three mahalla chairpersons complained to the police that Tikhonov was interfering with the campaign to mobilize workers to pick cotton and that he insulted and swore at them. The next day, while Tikhonov was again observing departing workers, a man approached him and told him that he did not want to pick cotton and was forced to hire someone to pick in his name. The police took Tikhonov and the man to the police station where they were held in separate rooms. Police questioned Tikhonov and told him to write a statement explaining why he is “against cotton.” A senior officer entered and swore at him, threatened physical violence, and began hitting Tikhonov repeatedly on his face and head with a thick stack of paper, yelling, “cotton is the achievement of our fatherland! Cotton is our nation’s wealth!”

Several days later, Tikhonov was briefly detained after a spurious traffic stop. A police officer temporarily confiscated his research materials including mobile phone, smartphone, and flash drives, and Tikhonov credibly believes police copied the materials.

On September 30, Tikhonov arranged for an ILO monitoring team to meet with people from Angren who were forcibly mobilized to pick cotton. On the way to the meeting he noticed he was followed by plainclothes men in three cars. He later learned that police visited the workplaces of all the people who spoke to ILO monitors and interrogated them.

Tikhonov learned that police charged him with hooliganism, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 15 days’ administrative detention, stemming from the complaint made by the three mahalla chairpersons.[2]

After several fabricated cases and false accusations, Dmitry's house in Angren was burned in October last year.

After several fabricated cases and false accusations, Dmitry’s house in Angren was burned in October last year. Credit: Uzbek German Forum

Tikhonov remained away from home for several weeks until October 27, when he learned that there had been a major fire at his home in Yangiabad October 20. The police knew about the fire when it occurred, but failed to inform Tikhonov’s lawyer, who maintained regular contact with them. Tikhonov found that only the room he had used as his home office had burned but the entire room and its contents were completely destroyed—even the roof had collapsed. He lost everything he used for his work, including two computers, a laptop, a printer/scanner, video and sound equipment, all his contacts, papers and files as well as his legal library. Tikhonov’s cash savings in the amount of $1500 was also burned and most of his clothing was destroyed. Tikhonov also noted that a box containing about 100 legal guides on child and forced labor that he had created for distribution had disappeared even though it was kept in another room that did not burn. In addition, Tikhonov said that his two hard drives went missing after the fire. One contained his archive and database, and the other had his current work. The hard drives were stored in a metal box that Tikhonov dug out of the burned debris. The box was there but the hard drives were missing and no parts of them were visible.

Around the same time, police brought two more administrative cases of hooliganism against Tikonov, one stemming from video recordings the officials could only have accessed from his equipment or email, since he had the only copy and the video was never made public, alleging that he made the recordings without permission. The other charges allege that on October 27, the day Tikhonov went to assess the damage at his home, he caused a scandal with some people in Angren, 13 kilometers away. Tikhonov does not know the other people allegedly involved. Committing a third administrative offense in the course of a year can result in criminal, rather than misdemeanor charges, and Tikhonov feared that he could go to prison. Eventually he was convicted and fined on the third set of charges. In addition, a series of articles appeared on pre-government websites discrediting Tikhonov, accusing him of corruption and of being an American agent. Some of the articles “analyzed” Tikhonov’s unpublished research findings that could only have been taken from his computer and email. Fearing possible spurious criminal prosecution and other forms of persecution, Tikhonov was forced to flee Uzbekistan and is now residing outside the country, unable to continue his monitoring.

Arrest and Sentencing of Uktam Pardaev

Uktam Paraev and his family

Uktam Paraev and his family. Credit: Uzbek German Forum

Uktam Pardaev, a human rights defender from the Jizzakh region, for years has advocated on behalf of victims of corruption and monitored the use of child and force

d labor in the cotton sector. On November 16, 2015 police arrested Pardaev on spurious charges of taking a bribe, insult, and fraud on the basis of a complaint allegedly made by someone who had previously sought Pardaev’s assistance with whom Pardaev had never exchanged any money. In the weeks prior to his arrest, Pardaev noticed increased surveillance of his activities. The National Security Service, known widely by its Russian acronym, the SNB, summoned several of Pardaev’s acquaintances and people he had assisted and interrogated them, beating some of them. He told staff at several international embassies that he feared arrest.

Pardaev was held for 57 days in a pretrial detention center in the Dustlik district of Jizzakh and on December 26 was transferred to pretrial detention in Khavast, in the Syrdaryo region. Guards there beat him severely in one occasion, apparently for failing to get undressed quickly. Pardaev went to trial on January 11, 2016. After a single hearing, a judge of the Dustlik district court convicted Pardaev of all charges and sentenced him to 5 and a half years in prison. The judge suspended the sentence, imposing three years’ probation, and Pardaev risks prison if found to violate any conditions of his probation, which include a 10 p.m. curfew, registering twice monthly at the police station, and not traveling outside the Jizzakh region. Police have also told him that he is forbidden from all human rights work, although this prohibition is not included in the sentencing documents.

Arbitrary Detentions and Ill-treatment of Elena Urlaeva

Elena Urlaeva on the cotton field.

Elena Urlaeva on the cotton field. Credit: Uzbek German Forum

A long-time human rights and civic activist, Elena Urlaeva, head of the Tashkent-based Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, has monitored labor rights and the cotton harvest for many years and met regularly with the ILO during the 2015 season.[3] She was arrested on at least four occasions during the 2015 cotton harvest as well as twice during the spring planting and weeding season. On one occasion, on September 19, police in Kuychirchik, in the Tashkent region, arrested Urlaeva, her husband, their 11-year-old son, a family friend and a farmer who had invited them to stay on his land. Police arrested them ostensibly because Urlaeva “photographed the fields without permission,” when she was walking with the farmer. Urlaeva and her family were released late that evening after lengthy interrogations, but police held the farmer in custody overnight.

Police also arrested Urlaeva twice in May when she distributed information about the prohibition against forced labor when local officials were sending people to weed the cotton fields. Police in Chinaz arrested Urlaeva on May 31, 2015, as she observed the forced mobilization of medical workers to the fields. They held her for 11 hours and subjected her to severe ill-treatment, including forcibly injecting her with sedatives, subjecting her to a forced x-ray, and carrying out a body cavity search to look for a flash drive. Police refused her access to a toilet, making her relieve herself outside in front of police officers, who filmed her and humiliated her. They later posted a video of the incident on the internet. Urlaeva also observed near constant surveillance from August through November, including plainclothes men posted outside her home, following her, and taking video recordings and photographs of her. She described this as psychologically exhausting as well as a serious impediment to her work.

On March 9, 2016, Urlaeva checked into the Tashkent City Psychiatric Clinic after experiencing multiple traumatic events, including ill-treatment by the police during her efforts to monitor the cotton harvest.  In late April, Urlaeva’s doctor informed her and her son that she was in good health and would be released on May 2. However, the hospital then refused to release Urlaeva without citing any medical reason, citing “official orders,” in effect using the hospital as a means of punitive, arbitrary detention. The hospital finally released Urlaeva on June 1, after significant international pressure. 

After her release, Urlaeva reported that she suffered ill treatment during her detention. “Hospital staff turned aggressive patients on me, who beat me and dragged me by the hair. They did this first to break my will, knowing I am a human rights defender,” she said. “One time, I tried to defend myself from these patients with an iron chair The staff then started filming me on their mobile phones and said the video would be evidence that I was aggressive and ill.””

Arrests of Malohat Eshankulova and Elena Urlaeva

Elena Urlaeva and Malohat Eshankulova (Khorezm region, September 2015)

Elena Urlaeva and Malohat Eshankulova (Khorezm region, September 2015). Credit: Uzbek German Forum

Malohat Eshankulova is a Tashkent-based independent journalist and activist who has monitored and written about labor rights in the cotton industry for several years, including with the Uzbek-German Forum.[4] On September 27, police in the Saikhunbad district of the Khorezm region arrested Eshankulova along with Elena Urlaeva and held them at the police station for several hours.

On September 29, Eshankulova, Urlaeva, and two local activists who together were observing college students being sent to the harvest in the Khazarasp district of Khorezm. Police arbitrarily detained them for 14 hours, during which they were interrogated constantly about their activities and accused by the police of “treason to the motherland.” Police also subjected Eshankulova and Urlaeva to a strip search and body cavity search. Police released them without charge after threatening to kill them if they ever returned to Khorezm.

Security services officers in the Ellikkalа and Beruni districts of Karakalpakstan, sites of World Bank-funded projects, prevented Eshankulova and Urlaeva from meeting with teachers and medical workers forcibly sent to the cotton fields in October.

 


[1] The information in this section comes from letters, emails, and telephone interviews with Dmitry Tikhonov from September 2015-February 2016.

[2] Minor hooliganism is art. 183 of the administrative code.

[3] Information in this section comes from telephone conversations and email correspondence between Elena Urlaeva and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.

[4] Information in this section comes from telephone conversations and email correspondence between Malohat Eshankulova and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.

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  • Uzbekistan

Despite threats, activists fight for labor rights in Jordan

By Ahmad Awad Jul 08, 2016

The Phenix Center is an independent think tank in Amman, Jordan that promotes workers rights and carries out policy analysis in order to build a sustainable development model based on principles of democracy and human rights. Our organization and other civil society organizations play a crucial role in promoting freedoms, rights and democracy in Jordan’s development.

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Houses near power plant in al Manakher. Credit: BankWatch

Today, international financial institutions are beginning to fund more renewable energy, agriculture, and other development projects in my country. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in particular is looking to increase their investments here and in the countries in the region viewed as more stable and favourable for investment.

However, after a period of increasing public freedoms on the wave of the Arab spring and some progress toward democracy, Jordan has taken several steps backwards in recent years in terms of freedom of expression and association and the space for civil society organizations. Successive governments have started to limit public freedoms under the banner of security and fighting terrorism. There is a double discourse wherein the government emphasizes in its statements that confronting extremism and terrorism implies the promotion of human rights of all citizens. In practice, however, several policies and drafted several laws, imposing restrictions on freedoms of opinion, expression, and assembly.

As soon as I started advocating for the rights of trade unions, I received several threats from the official authorities, who said that my work was jeopardizing the possibilities of receiving foreign investments. We started receiving calls from government authorities, trying to intervene in our activities. Training workshops we organized were canceled by the official authorities, on the grounds that the support we are giving to new and independent trade unions is “putting the stability of Jordan at risk”. Official authorities asked me more than once to stop working on freedom of association. Moreover, many unionists have received calls from official authorities asking them not to collaborate with our organization. Companies whose employees we have supported in strikes have presented accusations against us to the government.

The government recently introduced several draft laws that criminalize workers’ right to strike and prevent civil society organizations from participating in the social and political life of the country, by limiting their space of action. Many civil society groups have reported being forced to stop working on projects after the official authorities contacted them.

Ahmad Awad

Ahmad Awad

There are several development projects in planning by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other banks, such as the Red Sea – Dead Sea corridor. There the workers are mostly migrants and don’t have the ability to express themselves. They don’t have rights, are foreigners here, and they are very afraid. We tried to get them to organize to defend their rights, but we failed.

We have met with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and other international financial institutions to urge them to take seriously the situation of civil society in Jordan and the region, and to promote an enabling environment for participation and freedoms of assembly and association. We have had consultations and discussions on various issues. But the development banks still struggle when it comes to actually implementing their own safeguards or ensuring basic transparency and access to information.

What we try to do is use the Banks’ information, plus make contact with local groups impacted by development projects to find out how we can support them to improve working conditions and prevent environmental contamination. But in some cases, the government and management of the projects have refused all suggestions regarding implementation of safeguard policies or refused to respond to complaints about contamination. The EBRD’s IPP4 Al-Manakher Power Project, for instance, is considered a “strategic” project for Jordan, so the government doesn’t want anyone to challenge it.

I can say I am pretty able to express myself freely; but of course I know I have to consider the possibility of receiving threats or being put under pressure. I do not see the situation improving in the short-term, but we will continue our organizing campaigns, speeches and activities to advocate for human rights and in particular freedom of expression in Jordan, and we will keep on developing and building a network of cooperation and relationships with other civil society organizations and associations in order to prevent any potential violations that may occur.

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  • EBRD
  • Jordan

The persecution of Pastor Omot Agwa in Ethiopia

By Human Rights Watch Jul 08, 2016

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Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas / WG Film

On September 7, 2015, the Ethiopian authorities charged Pastor Omot Agwa under its draconian counterterrorism law, having already detained him for nearly six months. Omot, of the evangelical Mekane Yesus church in Ethiopia’s Gambella region, was an interpreter and facilitator for the World Bank Inspection Panel when the Panel  visited in February 2014 to investigate a complaint by former Gambella residents alleging widespread forced displacement and other serious human rights violations connected to the World Bank’s Protection of Basic Services (PBS) program. The charge sheet refers to a food security workshop, which was organized by a food security group and two international organizations, as a “terrorist group meeting.”

Omot was arrested on March 15 with six others while en route to the workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Three were released without charge on April 24, 2015 and a fourth on June 26, 2015. The authorities charged the two others, Ashinie Astin and Jamal Oumar Hojele, also under the counterterrorism law.

The World Bank’s Protection of Basic Services (PBS) program funded block grants to regional governments, including paying salaries of government officials. The former residents alleged that the program was harming them by contributing to the government’s abusive “villagization” program. The program forcibly evicted indigenous and other marginalized peoples from their traditional lands and relocated them to new villages. In its report to the World Bank board of directors, which was leaked to the media in December 2014, the Inspection Panel concluded that the Bank had violated some of its own policies in Ethiopia.

In February 2015, the World Bank board considered the Inspection Panel’s recommendations. Shortly thereafter, Omot reported that he was under increasing pressure from Ethiopian security personnel. While the Inspection Panel had not disclosed Omot’s identity in its report, it included a photograph of him with other community members, which was removed from subsequent versions. The week before his arrest, several people told Omot that a well-known federal security official from Gambella was looking for him.

Several days after Omot’s arrest, a witness saw four armed federal police officers and four plainclothes security officials take Omot, in chains, to his house in Addis Ababa where they removed computers, cameras, and other documents. The seizure of Omot’s computers and other materials raises concerns about the security of other Gambella community members the Inspection Panel interviewed. Given the severe restrictions on human rights investigation and reporting in Ethiopia, it is virtually impossible for rights groups to learn about reprisals in the villages the Inspection Panel visited.

The food security workshop in Nairobi was organized by Bread for All, with the support of the Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO) and GRAIN. Bread for All is the Development Service of the Protestant Churches in Switzerland. ASO is a London-based registered charity that seeks to support the rights of indigenous peoples in southwest Ethiopia. GRAIN is a small international nonprofit organization based in Barcelona, Spain that received the 2011 Right Livelihood Award at the Swedish Parliament for its “worldwide work to protect the livelihoods and rights of farming communities.”

The objective of the Nairobi workshop was to exchange “experience and information among different indigenous communities from Ethiopia and experts from international groups around food security challenges.” Participants from Ethiopia were selected by ASO based on their experience in supporting local communities to ensure their food security and access to land.

The charge sheet accuses Omot of being the co-founder and leader of the Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM) and communicating with its leaders abroad, including ASO Director Nyikaw Ochalla, who is described in the charge sheet as GPLM’s London-based “senior group terrorist leader.” Omot faces between 20 years and life in prison. Ashinie is accused of participating in the GPLM, including communicating with Nyikaw and preparing a research document entitled “Deforestation, dispossession and displacement of Gambela in general and Majang people in particular.” Jamal Oumar is accused of being a participant of a “terrorist group” and of organizing recruits to attend the Nairobi workshop.

The GPLM is not among the five organizations that the Ethiopian parliament has designated terrorist groups. GPLM is an ethnic Anuak organization that fought alongside the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to oust the repressive Derg regime in the 1990s. In 1998, GPLM was folded into the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) power structure. Currently the GPLM has no public profile, no known leadership structure, and has not made any public statement of its goals.

“For the government to make criminal allegations against me because I assisted in coordinating a workshop about land and food issues in Ethiopia is simply incredible,” said Nyikaw Ochalla, ASO executive director. “Trying to give indigenous people a voice about their most precious resources – their land and their food – is not terrorism, it’s a critical part of any sustainable development strategy.”

Within days of Omot’s arrest, Human Rights Watch and other organizations alerted the World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim, and the European Union, United States, and Swiss missions in Addis Ababa. But on March 31, the World Bank board approved a new US$350 million agriculture project in Ethiopia. On September 15, the World Bank approved a $600 million Enhancing Shared Prosperity through Equitable Services project, which is replacing one of the subprograms of the PBS program.

World Bank staff assert that they have privately raised the case with Ethiopian government officials, but the nature of any communications is unclear. In a May meeting with nongovernmental organizations in Washington, DC, World Bank staff said that the government had informed them that Omot’s arrest was in accordance with Ethiopian law and unrelated to the Bank’s accountability process.

The chair of the Inspection Panel has emphasized the Panel’s concern privately and, when it was informed of the interpreter’s arrest by Human Rights Watch, immediately informed senior Bank staff and asked for “their assistance to inquire about [the] arrest with the government and ensure his well-being and release.” On September 25, the Panel published a statement calling “on the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that Pastor Omot’s rights to due process and other protections under the rule of law are respected.”

All three detainees were moved to Kalinto prison, on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, after spending more than five months in Maekelawi, the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector in the city. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented torture and other ill-treatment at Maekelawi. Omot, and possibly the other two detainees, were held in solitary confinement for three weeks upon their arrest, and all have had limited access to family members. Jamal and Omot have reportedly been in poor health.

The detainees were held 161 days without charge, well beyond the four months allowed under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, and a period in violation of international human rights standards and among the longest permitted by law in the world. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August 4, 2016.

Since 2011, Ethiopia’s counterterrorism law has been used to prosecute journalists, bloggers, opposition politicians, and peaceful protesters. Many have been accused without compelling evidence of association with banned opposition groups.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented numerous incidents in which individuals critical of Ethiopia’s development programs have been detained and harassed, and often mistreated in detention. Journalists have been harassed for writing articles critical of the country’s development policy.

Ethiopian authorities should immediately drop all charges and release Omot and the two other local activists charged with him under Ethiopia’s repressive counterterrorism law. The World Bank should vigorously respond to this reprisal against Omot Agwa, by – at a minimum – publicly denouncing his arrest and pushing the government to drop the charges and release him.

For more information, see: Human Rights Watch, “Dispatches: Ethiopian Pastor Pays the Penalty for Speaking Out” and “Ethiopia: World Bank Translator, Activists Face Trial.”

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  • Ethiopia
  • Inspection Panel

NGO Employees Surveilled, Threatened in Uganda

By Human Rights Watch Jul 08, 2016

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A woman stands outside the temporary shelter she built after security forces forcefully evicted her and thousands of other residents of Mubende and Kiboga districts in Uganda for the development of pine and eucalyptus plantations. © 2011, Echwalu Photography

The Ugandan government has increasingly intimidated activists working on sensitive subjects and has obstructed civil society reporting and advocacy in recent years. Amongst those targeted by the government have been community members and independent groups who have been critical of proposed development initiatives, including initiatives funded by the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private sector arm.

According to NGO and media reports, between 2006 and 2010 security forces forcibly and brutally removed several thousand people from Mubende and Kiboga districts in Uganda to make way for the IFC-financed New Forests Company to operate pine and eucalyptus plantations over several years. In doing so, the government ignored interim High Court orders barring the evictions pending a full hearing, among other violations of the rights of the community. The government labeled the residents “illegal encroachers.” In September 2011, Oxfam published a report on land conflicts in various countries around the world, which included a case study researched and written by Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) together with Oxfam documenting the forced evictions. New Forests Company has strongly denied any involvement in evictions or violence and challenged the NGO findings. In December 2011, several community representatives, ULA, and Oxfam filed a complaint on behalf of the affected communities with the IFC’s independent accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). This led to a mediation process resulting in settlements between the communities and New Forests Company in July 2013 and May 2014.

Senior government officials criticized the report findings and sought retraction, then public “clarification,” apologies, and amendments to Oxfam’s report. In April 2012, the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs launched what it called an “investigation into the alleged improper conduct” of Oxfam and ULA. The minister alleged that the activities of the NGOs had “incited local communities into violent and hateful acts against the New Forests Company” and that this caused “economic loss to some investors … [and] tainted the Country’s international image on investor management, the respect and promotion of human rights and even brought the person of the President in to disrepute.”

The Ministry of Internal Affairs tasked the government’s NGO Board to conduct a wide-ranging investigation which went well beyond the legal mandate and technical capacity of the board. Ultimately, the NGO Board investigation recommended that the NGOs have their permits withdrawn if they did not take “corrective action,” that the Oxfam report be “withdrawn,” and that a retraction be issued. Furthermore, the board said that the NGOs should “make apologies” to the Ugandan government and to the president.

In response, ULA publicly stood by the report and its conclusions, and pressed the government to address the problems documented in the report. They also expressed alarm that the government’s heavy-handed reaction to their investigation would create a chilling environment for others. “The price for Uganda Land Alliance’s investigations into cases of land grabbing has been set so high,” the group said, “that once paid, it will become extremely risky for anyone attempting to question the vices of land grabbing and forceful evictions of innocent citizens.”

In a May 2012 letter to ULA, the minister of internal affairs called the group “contemptuous,” and accused it of seeking to “ridicule” the government’s authority and institutions. The minister reportedly told ULA and Oxfam that they would lose their licenses to operate, and therefore have to close down if they did not retract their report findings and apologize. In his opening remarks at the National Civil Society Fair, the minister further accused ULA of “peddling lies” and said that he would “bring them to order so that they don’t spoil the image of the country, the head of state, and the first family, and any other institutions of government.” On June 14, 2012, ULA publicly expressed regret for inaccurate or speculative statements that the media might have made when writing on the content of the report and apologized for misunderstandings.

According to current and former employees at ULA, the organization and some staff members faced threats and surveillance after ULA published the report on the evictions in Mubende and Kiboga and later filed a complaint with the CAO. Unidentified men began telephoning both the executive director and the communications officer, telling them to “back off” this issue.

Anonymous callers threatened two activists on various occasions. Community members also reported to ULA that they had faced threats and harassment for articulating concerns about the project, and said they had been under surveillance.

A ULA employee at the time described being followed by unknown men whom she could not identify but assumed to be with the security forces. She also observed plainclothes security personnel monitoring community meetings in which ULA was participating. She said:

From the moment we filed a complaint with the CAO, government officials accused us of spoiling the image of the state… We received threats… My colleague claimed he received threats via his mobile telephone. One day, someone I know said to me, “If you don’t do these things, they will kidnap your children.” He had connections with the government and told me he was just telling me “as his friend, to drop the case.”

Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, a human rights defender and journalist who covered the forced evictions said that he also received numerous threatening telephone calls, beginning around January 2010. Prior to this, in around October 2009, Ssebaggala had been arrested for photographing the police arresting community members who were resisting eviction. He was told he would be released provided he deleted the photograph. Ssebaggala recalls receiving a telephone call from a private number when he was working in Kampala one day, at around 9 a.m. The caller said he was from “security” and said, “If you don’t back off your involvement in the land issue, it will be a matter of life and death.” Ssebaggala received several more calls over the following two years, often from the same man, who once said, “You’ve refused, but we’ll get you, anytime.”

According to Ssebaggala, in mid-2010 his home was burgled and his laptop and telephones were stolen, while everything else was left untouched. He reported the threats and burglary to two separate police stations, but was told at each that they needed money to “facilitate” any investigation. He told Human Rights Watch that the World Bank should have done more to respond to these reprisals against him and other critics of the project:

Free speech is the cornerstone of transparency and accountability. Where World Bank projects are being implemented, citizens must have a voice.… The World Bank should have done more to protect the security of people speaking out against this project. It’s us who facilitate the voice of the people. I’m not aware of them [the World Bank] doing anything [about the reprisals against critics of this project].… This makes me believe they think free speech is not an issue for them.

ULA staff noted that the fallout from their research on the IFC-financed project has continued to plague them. One ULA staff member said:

There is still the stigma. We don’t go out as strong any more. We are very cautious about what we say. We don’t say anything controversial in a meeting any more. It affects how we do our things.

When ULA makes a statement critical of government action, some staff members feel that the government’s response continues to be that ULA is motivated by a desire to undermine government programs.

On May 17, 2014, the ULA office in Kampala was burgled and information-rich property, such as computers and cameras, were stolen, while other more valuable property was left untouched. It is unclear if this event was connected to the evictions reporting, but some observers felt it may have been. ULA reported the burglary to the police, but it remains unsolved.

Throughout this period, the CAO’s progress reports were silent about the government’s attacks on Oxfam and ULA. According to the World Bank’s country manager at the time, ULA did inform the World Bank country office about the government’s threats of deregistration. In addition, the government’s hostile verbal attacks on ULA, including threats of deregistration and demands for apologies, were well reported in the Ugandan media. But to the best of the knowledge of former and current ULA employees interviewed, the World Bank and IFC did not emphasize to the government the important and legitimate role ULA, Oxfam, and other independent groups play in scrutinizing development projects or urge the government to cease their public attacks and efforts to close their offices.

The former World Bank country manager conceded to Human Rights Watch that they had not taken concrete steps to help create or protect any kind of a space within which community members, NGOs, and journalists could publicly raise concerns about this or other projects. Rather, the Bank viewed free speech issues and the broader crackdowns on civil society as being best handled by bilateral donors. The World Bank representative also said that while ULA had reported the attacks to the World Bank, they had not expressly asked that the Bank do anything about the attacks they were facing.

Published in Human Rights Watch report, At Your Own Risk, June 2015.

In Nepal, Fighting for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

By Abhijeet N Jul 06, 2016

Credit: Accountability Counsel

My name is Abhijeet*. I am a community member in Sindhuli, Nepal and I am actively resisting against human and environmental rights violations in the construction of the Khimti-Dhalkebar Transmission Line (KDTL Project). The KDTL Project is a high-voltage transmission line that will cross the area of Sindhuli. It is being funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA).

The KDTL Project is violating the fundamental human rights of indigenous and local peoples of Sindhuli. We are directly and indirectly affected by the transmission line and are very concerned about its impacts, especially health impacts. However, the project developers have not provided adequate information to us or consulted with us. Even after people went to the project office, requesting information, they still did not provide the requested information. They didn’t post information or notices in the project construction area either. Nor did they provide information through print media or radio media.

Armed Police Force intimidating and dispersing peaceful protesters. Credit: Accountability Counsel

In April 2016, when communities affected by the KDTL Project engaged in a peaceful protest on their own lands, the police responded with violence, injuring several people. On the same day, the police also arrested community leaders. The leaders were only released the next day after they signed a document in which they agreed to no longer obstruct project construction.

Right now, in Nepal, the political situation is very bad. The new constitution is highly discriminatory and excludes the rights of Indigenous peoples, Madhesi people, Dalit people and women as well. In fact, the government has killed more than 40 peoples in clashes related to the new constitution. Currently, there is much conflict between civil society and the government. One of the key issues is that the government is not implementing its existing laws that protect and promote the human rights of Nepalese Indigenous peoples. The general perception is that the government is narrowing the space for civil society organizations, which is having a chilling effect.

I have provided technical support, such as writing letters and demanding information from authorities, to protect and promote the rights of fellow local communities affected by the KDTV Project. Because of my efforts, I have been threatened by security and project officials. They tried to intimidate me into stopping my acts of resistance. I am not able to participate and freely express my thoughts about development projects. Development projects are a key priority for the central government of Nepal, which has been repressive towards the issues of local and Indigenous voices while pushing forward its development agenda.

I have worked hard with other project affected peoples and allies including the Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples to challenge these limitations. Now, the KDTL Project issue has become internationalized, and we are getting support and engagement from international human rights organizations. We have filed complaints in the Nepalese Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission (Nepal) and the Inspection Panel of the World Bank. As a result of the sustained resistance of the local struggle committee in Sindhuli, project affected peoples have been offered more compensation, although the amounts are still highly inadequate. Unfortunately, the NEA and the World Bank have still not provided proper information or consultation.   

I hope that civil society will have the opportunity to contribute towards sustainable peace and development in Nepal. Unfortunately, the fundamental human rights of many voiceless peoples are being systemically violated as a result of development projects. I have faced limitations while helping mobilize project affected peoples against the KDTL Project. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to mobilize while also being safe from risk.

Construction being pushed forward in the presence of the Armed Police Force. Credit: Accountability Counsel

For my colleagues facing similar situations around the world, I think it is really important for us to build our capacity by accessing training and sharing experiences. This will enable us to have knowledge of the best practices and have the best tools. We can also benefit much from being plugged into and helping build a word wide network of human rights defenders.  Others from outside my country can support civil society within Nepal by capacity building, including providing us expert advice, and supporting us in our strategic planning.

And there is much that the World Bank and others financiers need to do in this project. They should effectively monitor and evaluate the KDTL project to ensure it respects the environmental and human rights of project affected peoples. They should ensure that communities have complete information about the project in their local language and put large billboards in all construction areas to disclose basic information about the project. It is also important that they ensure that there is an impartial dispute resolution mechanism for communities, and that resettled people are provided adequate compensation and training or jobs to restore their livelihoods.

Most importantly, these financiers must respect and uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples and secure their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) to development projects that impact their lands or resources. From my academic courses, I have read that consultation is the cornerstone of FPIC, and FPIC-compliant development. However, neither I, nor my community, have ever been consulted about our development plans and priorities by the government, a corporation, or a development finance institution.

*The author is an indigenous community member in Sindhuli, Nepal. Their name has been changed due to security concerns.

 

 

Tags:

  • Nepal
  • World Bank

Time for a power shift in Power Africa

By Gretchen Gordon Feb 02, 2016

Families evicted for geothermal development in Kenya.

Families evicted for geothermal development in Kenya.

This past week, government representatives from the U.S. and across Africa came together with public and private investors at the 2nd Annual Powering Africa Summit, in Washington D.C. The Summit coincided with the launch of a new Roadmap for Power Africa, a multi-stakeholder partnership that sits within the U.S. Agency for International Development and promises to leverage private sector resources to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

The three-day Summit included African energy ministers, representatives from corporate boardrooms, and powerful financial institutions like the World Bank and the African Development Bank. At a cost of USD 2,000-a-person to get in the door, however, African civil society members were shut out.

It seems that in energy deals, power access is one thing, while access to power is something else.

In a statement January 28th, 18 civil society organizations from 10 African countries called on governments and financial institutions participating in the Summit to find socially and environmentally sustainable solutions to Africa’s energy needs. The statement urged Summit organizers and African leaders to “promote energy solutions that are accessible and meet the development needs of poor and vulnerable groups and respect all human rights.”

The dynamics around last week’s Summit highlight some of the fundamental challenges for Power Africa as it gears up to address a pressing and vast energy gap, wherein over two-thirds of the population – about 645 million people – lack access to electricity.

Access is not the same as affordability

Power Africa aims to add 30,000 Megawatts of new power generation and expand access to power, with 60 million new household and business connections. But measuring the number of new connections is not enough. It matters where those connections are, whom they serve, and whether they are affordable. While Power Africa is largely silent on affordability, it promotes elimination of subsidies and full-cost recovery – both measures likely to increase costs for consumers.

It is possible for investment to get in the way of development

The logic behind Power Africa is that there are not enough financial resources to meet Africa’s energy needs, so countries need to leverage corporate investment. And, because investment in energy infrastructure is complex and risky, they need to sweeten the deal. Through the initiative, development banks provide technical support for legal and regulatory reforms to increase private investment opportunities, including through privatization of public utilities. According to the Roadmap, over half of the power generated by Power Africa today is drawn from privatizations. But how will Power Africa deal with the negative development impacts that often come with privatization, such as decreased access and affordability, loss of public revenues, and decreased quality employment?

Renewable does not necessarily mean sustainable

A laudable aspect of Power Africa is its focus on renewable energy (though note that half of the current operations involve natural gas). That said, renewable does not mean sustainable, especially with regard to a project’s human impacts. In a statement on the Summit, the Narasha Community Development Group in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley cited a string of negative impacts local communities have suffered as a result of geothermal development on their ancestral lands, including “eviction, pollution and health hazards, threatening of livelihood of the pastoralist community in the region and loss of historical and cultural sites, among others.”

Safeguards must be strong, clear and enforced

The Power Africa Roadmap states that projects will have to meet best practices for social and environmental safeguards. It remains unclear, however, which policies or practices those are and how they will be implemented and monitored. As the Narasha Community stressed, “leaving the [development] activities to the national government will not ensure protection and mitigation of the effects.” In particular, it is critical that Power Africa include measures to identify and manage social risks and impacts, including those relating to human rights.

Who controls energy and who benefits?

The fundamental questions of energy access are “Who controls the resources?” and “Who benefits?” As African civil society groups explained, “too often local communities are evicted, relocated or harassed in the process of acquiring land for energy projects. To prevent this, local communities should have the opportunity to negotiate utilizing portions of their land for shared energy production and be able to take part in benefit sharing directly.”

Open the door to African civil society

To provide effective energy access and development, Power Africa must be steered by those it is meant to benefit. According to its Roadmap, Power Africa is to ensure that project developers “consider the full spectrum of needs and concerns of those whose lives and communities will be most impacted.” But there is no mention of how this is to be accomplished. Power Africa needs mechanisms for systematic and ongoing communication between project implementers, financiers and local communities so that communities have meaningful access to information and the ability to influence projects and proposals that will affect them. Just as Power Africa boasts a toolbox for governments and the private sector, civil society needs tools to access information, to understand contracts and budgets, to negotiate with companies, to influence development proposals, to devise their own community-based energy projects, to monitor impacts and revenues, and to defend their human rights.

 

by Gretchen Gordon.

*this post originally appeared on rightingfinance.

Follow the Money: Using development finance to hold corporations accountable

By Coalition Dec 03, 2015

Two weeks ago, at the United Nations’ fourth Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, multi-stakeholder groups discussed ongoing challenges and trends in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). While the discussion around business and human rights has tended to focus primarily on States and the private sector, it is beginning to explore a critical area where these two entities increasingly converge – development finance.

Participants at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. credit: Kindra Mohr

Participants at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. credit: Kindra Mohr

Why development finance matters for business and human rights

A new factsheet from the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable explores the myriad reasons why development finance matters for business and human rights. Here, we’ll explore just a few.

First, if you follow the money behind a corporate activity, in many cases you’ll find it leads to some form of development finance – official development assistance, national and multilateral development banks, or other Development Finance Institutions (DFIs).

Development finance to the private sector takes many shapes. Development banks provide direct loans and credit lines to corporations, and can even be equity investors in private businesses. Development banks are also increasingly lending through financial intermediaries like commercial banks and private equity funds, which then “lend-on” funds to their clients. More and more, States are relying on the private sector to meet their development objectives, including through public-private-partnerships for the provision of public services or infrastructure development.

Second, the projects financed by DFIs often raise significant potential for corporate human rights abuses.

Projects often take place in countries or contexts in which the rule of law and institutional capacity regarding human rights are weak. A lack of accountability and inadequate human rights due diligence standards within DFIs creates the potential for human rights abuses by corporate actors. The International Finance Institution’s (IFC) corporate clients, for instance, have recently been linked to various human rights abuses – from forced evictions to killings.

Third, with robust due diligence, development finance can help to raise the bar for corporate conduct and prevent human rights abuses.

Civil society has made significant strides over the years in securing operational policies within DFIs, especially multilateral development banks. These standards place requirements on business activities, ranging from consultation with local communities and disclosure of project information, to protections for workers and indigenous peoples.

Fourth, DFIs can provide accountability avenues for those who have suffered human rights abuses as a result of corporate activities.

Communities challenging business activities financed by development banks may be able to file a case with a bank’s independent accountability mechanism to secure redress or gain leverage in negotiations. Advocates have also successfully targeted DFIs as a strategy to gain increased media attention and political traction for a given human rights campaign.

Finally, the policies and standards adopted by large financial institutions like the World Bank and the IFC often have an enormous ripple effect globally.

The World Bank’s resettlement policy, for example, has been adopted by governments and used by communities as a model to demand better treatment in the absence of adequate national regulations. The IFC’s Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability are globally recognized good practice and serve as the basis for the Equator Principles, which have been adopted by nearly 80 banks and financial institutions.

The World Bank presently is revising its entire suite of social and environmental policies. By taking advantage of opportunities to strengthen the human rights coherence of DFIs, business and human rights advocates can influence corporate conduct at a global level.

The Guiding Principles and development finance

The UNGPs apply to both the supply and demand side of development finance in a variety of ways. States’ duties to respect and protect human rights, for example, apply to States’ actions as recipients of development finance, as financiers, and as decision-makers within multilateral and domestic DFIs.

Principle 4 for instance, speaks to the duty of States to take additional measures to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that receive substantial support and services from State agencies, including by requiring human rights due diligence. Principle 8 declares that States should ensure that government agencies and State-based institutions that shape business practices are aware of and observe the State’s human rights obligations. Principle 10 declares that when States act as members of multilateral institutions that deal with business related issues, they should ensure that those institutions do not restrain the ability of member States to meet their duty to protect or hinder the ability of business enterprises to respect human rights, and should encourage those institutions to promote business respect for human rights.

National Action Plans

The UN Human Rights Council has called on all Member States to implement the UNGPs through the development of National Action Plans (NAPs), and civil society in many countries is now using the NAPs process to strengthen national regulatory frameworks for corporations. NAPs, however, also present a valuable tool for strengthening the human rights coherence of development finance.

Of the States that have completed NAPs, the majority have addressed development finance or public financial institutions in some way. Finland committed to promoting human rights within international development organizations; Sweden will encourage multilateral institutions like the World Bank to promote corporate respect for human rights; and Spain will coordinate with international financial institutions to strengthen access to remedy.

However, the potential for using NAPs to shape development finance is much greater still. As civil society organizations make recommendations for NAPs, many are including specific proposals toward this end. These include proposals that States mainstream human rights in the policies of the World Bank and other international financial institutions; ensure that international financial institutions have proper procedures and tools in place to guarantee effective remedies when abuses do occur; make certain that development banks providing credit or insurance follow the UNGPs; and require national development agencies’ private sector partners to undertake human rights due diligence. The Coalition for Human Rights in Development has put together a discussion memo to provide examples and generate discussion around how NAPs can promote human rights due diligence within development banks and other public financial institutions.

A foundation for action

As development finance becomes more intertwined with the private sector, the business and human rights community can play a critical role in helping to define and strengthen human rights due diligence standards and practice within development finance. This work will involve campaigning and advocacy targeted at development finance institutions and at national governments. It will also require support for frontline communities engaged in defending their rights in the face of harmful development projects.

Working together we can reinforce our common human rights objectives and achieve greater success at holding corporations, States and DFIs accountable and ensuring that human rights are respected and protected.

by Gretchen Gordon, Coordinator for the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, and Stephanie Mellini, Research and Advocacy Fellow with the Coalition.

*this post originally appeared on the UN Forum Series  of Measuring Business and Human Rights.

Interview with Mariana González Armijo of Fundar

By Coalition Nov 02, 2015

Every year countries receive and spend over $100 billion in loans and grants from development banks like the World Bank. These investments may go to any number of activities, from infrastructure projects, to social services delivery, to policy reforms.

Fundar’s Diagnostic Report released this past September

These investments may go to any number of activities, from infrastructure projects, to social services delivery, to policy reforms. his development finance can have a critical impact on the enjoyment of human rights in a host country – positive or negative. So how are these critical decisions around development finance made? Decisions like what loans are taken, what sectors of the economy are prioritized, how a specific development project will be designed or implemented. In much of the world, these decisions are made behind closed doors, with little to no public input or accountability.

This blog is part of a series highlighting the work that members of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development are doing to change the way development decisions are made within their countries and to ensure that the development process is transparent, participative, accountable, and rights-respecting.

We spoke with Mariana González Armijo, Researcher on Transparency and Accountability at Fundar, an organization located in Mexico which works to transform the relations of power between society and government, to encourage a society that is fair, participatory, and respects people’s human rights.

Q: What change would you like to see in how Mexico engages with development finance?

A: Our main goal is to secure strong standards on transparency, to guarantee that human rights are respected within development finance, and to make it more clear what our government is doing in the name of development with all the resources it expends. This is important since in many cases development projects end up increasing inequality and don’t achieve the outcomes they had promised in the first place.

Q: What is your strategy?

First, we are working on a diagnostic which exposes the lack of transparency around the loans that Mexico accepts. Mexico is one of the main clients of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, with 9.2% and 18.83% of the global portfolios, respectively. Most of the time, once resources from development banks enter Mexico, they’re merged with the federal budget, so there is no way to track them. One step to guarantee that the money doesn’t go to a project that violates human rights is to make the loans transparent.

Additionally, we have worked on a strategy with other CSOs to increase the transparency around financing in the area of climate change. Many IFI loans are going into climate change, but there are no specifics on national budget documents identifying where the money is coming from. If we succeed in getting this transparency around climate projects, we may be able to expand it to other sectors.

At a broader level, we analyze public policies and enhance national-level normative frameworks related to the implementation of development projects. For example, regulations relating to energy reform, public private partnerships, and environmental assessments have a huge impact on development projects implemented in Mexico.

Finally, we conduct research on specific development projects, working with communities to enhance their capacity to defend their territories and rights, providing technical assistance and using strategic litigation at the national level.

Q: Why is this work important?

A: The right to information is necessary to guarantee the realization of other rights. Once a community has information regarding projects that are going to be implemented in their territory, then they can decide if they want to be consulted or participate in projects that are going to affect them. Participation is important because it can guarantee the right to consultation and consent.

Mariana González Armijo

Mariana González Armijo, Researcher on Transparency and Accountability at Fundar

Q: Have you had any successes engaging with your parliament or finance ministry or other ministries regarding development finance decisions?

A: This has been one of our major challenges. One strategy we have is talking directly with the Finance Ministry. Another strategy is to advocate for changes within the Federal Income Law. Mexico’s Federal Income law is the instrument which defines the ceiling for external debt, including loans from IFIs. So we have tried to put an article in that law to oblige the government to provide details regarding where money is coming from, what specific projects it will be used on, and who will be responsible for implementing each project.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face in this work?

A: One challenge is the fact that development finance is such a technical theme, so it can be difficult to communicate and to bring in other partners. We have to make the link between development finance and other agendas, such as health and women, from a human rights perspective. If we can manage to make these critical linkages, it is easier to have a stronger impact.

Q: What are the next steps in your work?

A: In September we released our diagnostic: Development Loans in Mexico: a Transparency Assessment. The report attempts to clarify the legal framework that governs the flow and execution of Mexico’s development loans; the type information that is available on these loans; and which information, when requested, is supplied by the Mexican government.  It was shocking to find from this assessment that we have a really strong constitutional level framework around development finance; the government is just not complying with it. The assessment shows the lack of transparency around development loans and will help us to advocate for a specific mechanism at the national level to allow citizens to track the resources coming from IFIs.

Mariana can be reached at mgonzalez@fundar.org.mx 

* Responses may not be exact quotes.

A new development model for the BRICS New Development Bank

By Gretchen Gordon Jul 23, 2015

 21 July 2015. Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong, Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei and KV Kamath, president of the New Development Bank, celebrate together as the New Development Bank, was officially launched in Shanghai. Credit: www.ndbbrics.org


21 July 2015. Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong, Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei and KV Kamath, president of the New Development Bank, celebrate together as the New Development Bank, was officially launched in Shanghai. Credit: www.ndbbrics.org

Earlier this month at the 7th BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) inaugurated a new multilateral financial institution. BRICS Heads of State pledged that the boldly named New Development Bank (NDB) will be a driving force for South-South cooperation – a development bank that can deliver for emerging and developing economies where the traditional banks like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have failed.

Unfortunately, merely calling something “new” or “better” doesn’t make it so. Creating a global bank that is able to provide real development for the Global South requires much more than a good name. It requires a new model of development.

The BRICS countries have been outspoken critics of the World Bank, IMF, and other traditional international financial institutions, citing anti-democratic governance structures and a long history of strong-arming the developing world for the benefit of northern corporations. As South African President Jacob Zuma said, “There must be an alternative.”

But the first key question for many is not whether the NDB will provide an alternative to the predominant development banks, but whether it can provide an alternative to the predominant development model.

Forging a new development model

As Caio Borges, a lawyer from the Business and Human Rights project at Conectas Direitos Humanos stated, “we hope that the New Development Bank reshapes not only global geopolitics, but the landscape of development finance, towards a model of partnership that puts first and foremost the fundamental human rights of individuals and vulnerable groups who are most affected by development projects.”

Last week, Conectas and over 50 civil society organizations and social movements from around the world sent an open letter to the BRICS delegations, identifying four principles for a new development model for the New Development Bank:

1) Promote development for all: financing inclusive, accessible, participative development that is driven by communities, reduces poverty and inequality, removes barriers to access and opportunity, and respects human rights, local cultures, and the environment.

2) Be transparent and democratic: ensuring that development policies and operations are accessible and that the development process engages communities and civil society in choosing, designing, implementing, and monitoring NDB projects.

3) Set strong standards and make sure they are followed: adopting standards and accountability mechanisms based on human rights and environmental best practice to ensure that development activities do not harm communities or the environment.

4) Promote sustainable development: supporting environmentally sustainable, long-term solutions and climate resilience, and respecting communities’ land and resource rights.

The NDB’s brand of development

While the NDB officially opened for business last week, the BRICS still have not spelled out what they mean by “infrastructure and sustainable development” and the bank does not yet have an operational policy framework. So the second million dollar question, or in this case, the USD 50 billion question, is what type of development will the NDB deliver and how?

As many commentators have pointed out, the BRICS’ firm embrace of resource-intensive megaproject development both at home and abroad does not inspire hope for the social and environmental impact of the NDB’s investments. Large infrastructure projects carry extensive human rights and environmental risks, especially where domestic legal frameworks are weak or enforcement capacity is low. Unfortunately, several BRICS and NDB officials have expressed a distinct disdain for lending safeguards or standards which might provide a minimum safety net, viewing them as conditionalities or overly rigid.

At the same time, many of the BRICS countries have strong domestic social and environmental legislation which could be used to argue for parallel protections in NDB operations. China has in recent years strengthened its regulatory framework for overseas investments, and has strongly encouraged compliance with international norms and best practice. Chinese officials pledged that the new Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank will embody “the highest standards”. These developments indicate some openings for the NDB.

With the NDB now officially inaugurated, and its first projects expected to be approved in early 2016, the institution will have to establish a clearer direction and policy framework. At a minimum, this provides civil society the chance to influence the institution from its inception, and hopefully to incorporate some of the lessons learned from decades of fighting the World Bank and other IFIs.

Where we go from here

While the BRICS summit in Ufa has finished, the real work continues. In BRICS countries, civil society groups are pushing their finance ministries and parliaments to try to influence the NDB’s direction and policy framework and to shape the concept of what real development is. Thanks to advocacy from civil society groups like the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, South Africa’s parliament issued instructions to the South African department of finance to promote human rights through BRICS processes. Through the Bank on Human Rights Coalition and other fora, BRICS civil society groups are strengthening their connections with each other, as well as with counterparts in non-BRICS countries, in order to share strategies and enable coordinated advocacy.

Another critical area of work is ensuring that frontline communities who will bear the greatest impacts from NDB projects have the resources and solidarity they need to advocate for their development priorities and to defend their rights. The coalition-building by communities and civil society groups around BNDES, the Brazilian national development bank, and around Chinese overseas investment, is growing stronger, connecting communities impacted by foreign banks with national groups in the banks’ home countries. These connections and collaborations provide a strong foundation for building the solidarity necessary to shape the NDB and its investments and to hold it accountable.

While we cannot hope the New Development Bank will be something new or better just because it has a clever name or because different flags fly outside its offices, we can continue to fight for a new model of inclusive, community-led development that respects human rights, regardless of the bank signing the check.

Originally posted at righting finance.org on JULY 23, 2015

Gretchen Gordon is Coordinator of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, a Coalition of social movements, civil society organizations, and community groups working to ensure that all development finance institutions respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Deepika Padmanabhan is an intern with the same Coalition.

Tags:

  • BRICS
  • safeguards

Questioning Development Finance

By Coalition May 15, 2014

Right now, your government is likely making important decisions related to development finance. Whether it’s the establishment of new institutions like the BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or policy developments like the revision of the World Bank’s Safeguards or priorities for your national development bank, governments are making decisions that will impact how development activities are designed and implemented, and whether they actually benefit communities and the environment, or instead, cause harm and increase poverty.

In order to assist civil society groups in investigating how their governments make decisions regarding development finance, and to ensure that these processes are transparent and respect human rights, the Coalition for Human Rights in Development put together the attached: Questions to ask your government regarding development finance.

You may adapt this questionnaire for use in your advocacy. Please share the responses you receive, and to let us know if you have any suggestions for improvements.

Tags:

  • national advocacy