Weaving together 200 tapestries of resistance

By Carmina Obanil Mar 12, 2023


Imagine 200 different tapestries. Now, imagine the hours and effort that went into weaving them: the countless strands of threads, the streams of thought behind the patterns, the complexity of the loom, and the extreme care of the weavers to ensure each tapestry is special.

This is what implementing the Community Resource Exchange (CRE) pilot has felt like. The CRE is a system to facilitate collaborations and co-develop strategies with and among communities defending their rights, in the context of international investments and development projects. So far, we have facilitated around 200 collaborations at the request of communities and human rights defenders, who allowed us to contribute to the magnificent tapestries they designed.

The key to the CRE success is that it is built by and for communities and their allies, in the Global South and across the world. Before launching the pilot in October 2020, we spent two and a half years collectively designing the collective structures of the CRE, or the “loom”, which include a secretariat, regional grant working groups, a global advisory committee, and a database of nodes and collaborators (to learn more, please see here). While the CRE is still in pilot mode, it has already established itself as essential field infrastructure. 

Just like weavers working together and mixing different threads on the loom, communities are using the CRE to weave in skills, tools, resources, and allies to advance different strategies of resistance. These include media and communications, campaigning, financial research and power mapping, community organizing and mobilization, legal support, and security support. Each connection represents a thread of a different color or texture, that communities are using to enrich the tapestries of their struggles.

The current structures of the CRE can support about 100 demand-driven linkages a year, and award about 40 small grants of about USD 5,000 each. The collaboration grants are awarded by three regional grant working groups (one each in Latin America, Africa, and Asia and the Caucasus), composed of activists in the respective regions. 

For those who cannot access our limited number of grants, we support them in accessing alternative sources of funds (such as Thousand Currents and Legal Empowerment Fund, etc.). Moreover, through the Defenders in Development Campaign’s Security Working Group, so far we have ensured access to security support for over 20 human rights defenders / defenders groups, including through risk assessment and mitigation, security training, and temporary relocation.

Complex Needs, Innovative Ideas

Participants from Armenia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan pose for a photo during the meeting and learning conversations in Tbilisi, Georgia. Learn more about the exchange here.

Each struggle entails multiple and complex needs. To ensure that communities can use diverse threads to weave their tapestries, the CRE has introduced several “innovations”, putting into action some of its core principles, such as: building power at the community level; valuing all skills, experiences and expertise; and avoiding duplication.

A key strategy is to open spaces and create opportunities for collective learning, which is crucial for our collective movements for economic and social justice to thrive. These spaces can have different formats, from targeted learning exchanges (bringing together communities facing similar issues in one or more regions), to learning circles on specific topics for a diverse group of participants, or learning labs where we bring in external facilitators or activists who can share their expertise with others and then facilitate collective discussion (to learn more, please see this blog).

For example, recently the Coalition convened a group of Indigenous and grassroots activists in Latin America for a 4-part learning lab on communications strategies. These sessions offered a space for self-reflection, and collective learning with and from each other. A participant from Colombia said: “During this learning circle, I realized how many things we have done. Every day, we conduct so many different activities to advance our struggle, but we never have time to analyze what we do, systematize the learning, and take a look back at what we have achieved. We tend to focus on reacting to emergency situations, but this space has offered the opportunity to learn and to reflect on our strategy”.

Another human rights defender from Indonesia, who is part of a similar collective learning process in Asia, said, “I learned that it is very important to support and communicate with organizations from other countries who face the same problems: these exchanges allow us to strengthen each other.”

The CRE also started bringing together some communities – facing similar issues in the same region – with the intention of advancing “communities of action” to facilitate ongoing exchanges and to encourage coordinated work towards collective actions. For example, in DRC we are collaborating with several community groups affected by transition mineral mining by Chinese companies and we are working with our member AFREWATCH on an upcoming exchange on the new Mining Code, which we hope will be the starting point of concerted collaboration between the communities and their allies.

We are also trying to scale up impact and avoid duplication through the concept of Sister Networks: when communities reach out to us, we are leveraging established or emergent networks that are aligned with the CRE scope and values, through intentionally developing working relationships, coordinating, and delegating. For example, to complement the ongoing international campaign against East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (called STOP EACOP), the CRE supported youth groups in Uganda and Tanzania to organize, mobilize, and co-develop skills and advocacy strategies, while linking them up with allies in the campaign to advance collective action internationally.

The CRE also generates evidence – and greater support from the grassroots – to push for policy and systems change. For example, one of our CRE collaborators was featured in a report on human rights due diligence by the Defenders in Development campaign (Wearing Blinders). In Latin America, the CRE linked communities affected by different power sector projects funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB), interested in pushing for reforms on the electricity sector at the bank. Some CRE community collaborators are now working with civil society policy advocates, to demand responsible withdrawal and remedy from development banks who exit projects that they should not have gone into in the first place. We are also linking CRE community collaborators with broader policy advocacy work on the Leticia Pact (a pact for the preservation of the natural resources of the Amazon Region) and on Just Energy Transition.

Building a stronger CRE 

The greatest indicator of the CRE success has been community groups returning to the CRE as their struggles evolve and referring to us new communities. However, the CRE’s loom is stretched, and there is a need to answer deeper questions on how to move forward in the context of limited resources.

As we draw to the close of the first phase of the pilot, we are excited to begin the second one. We first focused on building and testing CRE structures, now it’s time to focus on how we can sustainably scale up impact and leverage learnings to serve systemic change.

To continue weaving tapestries with communities and facilitate linkages with their allies, we will keep building on the CRE’s culture of voluntarism and engagement, conduct more outreach to expand the number of collaborators in strategies and geographies where we see gaps, better map different allies and community-led struggles using our contacts and case management databases, and explore other modalities of working to scale up impact. We are also thinking about how we can support more communities to stitch together their different tapestries into massive tents, under which we can work together towards economic and social justice.

Given its broad scope and scale, the CRE has the potential to generate significant learning. We are already seeing trends, lessons, and challenges that provide a richer understanding of communities, their leadership, their allies, and their networks. The qualitative and quantitative data we are gathering will provide a more substantial evidence base to push for policy and systems change at development financiers, and to advance international advocacy. These learnings will also be extremely useful for communities, who can see how different strategies have worked in different contexts; for civil society organizations, who can learn how to better collaborate with grassroots communities; and for philanthropy and funding partners, who can identify funding gaps for community-led struggles. 

Leveraging the learnings from the CRE means bringing together grassroots groups and their allies to learn from each other, empower each other, and work together in solidarity to push forward advocacy at the local, national, regional and international levels. Only if we keep weaving our tapestries of resistance together, we can hope to achieve community-led and rights-based development across the globe.

A Local Organization Participates in COP27

Climate change and the socio-environmental crisis pose an existential threat to humanity. The roles of individuals, communities, and advocacy organizations are vital to searching for and developing solutions. All modern environmental declarations, from Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to the most recent Inter-American agreement of Escazú, agree on this and acknowledge the struggles, resistance, and dialogues in the jungles, mountains, towns, and cities of Latin America and the world. 

Despite these affirmations being included in agreements and campaign promises, the omissions and attacks against people and territories continue to raise challenges that have not been overcome. The current development model is insufficient if we want to live, today and tomorrow, with dignity. That is why questioning the status quo, the promotion of human rights, and the protection of the environment are more important than ever, even more so when we see how the supposed commitments to solutions continue to come only from the pulpits of ministers, presidents, and global CEOs and are accompanied by announcements of mega-projects for tens of millions of dollars in investments that do not respect the rights of the people.

These are projects that promise solutions to the problems of “backwardness,” “unemployment,” and now “climate change,” but are made from ivory towers by those who do not listen to, nor know, the communities, their territories, or their needs. Then, when the implementations of the projects fail, they come with batons and tanks, and if the resistance persists, the military or paramilitary arrive to clean the territory for the “common good” and “development.” 

In this context, the only alternative for those of us working in the communities is to build networks, question what is happening, and always raise our voices. For Tsikini, this is a foundational idea. That is why we seek to be part of coalitions, make alliances, and participate in all the discussion spaces within our reach: local, national and international. Examples of the partnerships we have forged are the Climate Action Network and Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, which have been fundamental to reach spaces such as UN conferences, adding to our local processes, and allowing us to sit at the table with big capital and states.

Credit: Eduardo Mosqueda

We did preparatory work before we participated in the COP that allowed us to arrive with clear objectives and with the experience to back up our proposals. Before the conference, we analyzed our organization’s challenges and defined how the COP could offer us opportunities to promote solutions. For example, we met with UN special rapporteurs, with Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, and attended a bilateral meeting with the Mexican representatives at COP 27. During the conference, we also forged collaborations for special communications and precautionary measures in the areas of social, environmental, and climate justice.

Credit: Eduardo Mosqueda

It was essential for us to participate in the panel on the recognition of the inherent rights of nature as a universal paradigm in defense of Mother Earth. There we were able to exchange ideas with great exponents and allies such as Atossa Soltani from the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, Patricia Gualinga from the Kichwa Sarayaku Community, who presented her case of Ecuador, and Christina Voigt from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. We agreed that the recognition of the rights of living nature is necessary to achieve its conservation, as well as for the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

Also, participating in the COP allowed us to learn firsthand about successful campaigns in other countries. Particularly valuable for the work we do in Tsikini was a panel on the recognition of quality air as a human right. There, the experiences of Asian countries showed us a clear path that has led to substantial improvements over the past ten years. These are lessons that we can apply to our increasingly opaque skies. 

At COP 27, in addition to alliances, we made many friends, which will undoubtedly help us meet our organization’s objectives, such as international visibility, coordination with other organizations and institutions, and learning from best practices. At this conference, we confirmed that it is essential to continue working hand-in-hand with other grassroots organizations and defenders with whom we share a vision. This is how we can reach the best of all possible worlds, recognizing ourselves as part of a global community but building from the local level.

Until dignity becomes the norm.

Eduardo Mosqueda

Executive Director, Tsikini 



  • COP27
  • CRE
  • Mexico

Defending the Cordillera Administrative Region’s last nature frontier and its ‘River People’

By Jillie Karl Basan Mar 19, 2023


This blog was written by Jillie Karl Basan, proud Isnag daughter of Kabugao (Apayao, Philippines), and one of the conveners of the Kabugao Youth.

Because of its precious and untouched natural resources, Apayao is dubbed as the last nature frontier in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). This province – in the north of the Philippines – is home to the Isnag indigenous peoples and other indigenous communities, and in its lush forests there are hidden the nests of the endangered Philippine eagle. As this is a key biodiversity area, the provincial government has recently applied to make Apayao a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

But this territory, and the rights of the indigenous peoples who live here, are now at risk. The region’s rich natural resources have attracted the interests of the government and private companies, who want to develop mining and hydro-power projects.

Already in the 1980s, the government-owned National Power Corporation had proposed to build a hydroelectric plant. Thanks to the strong community opposition, who spoke out against the potential devastating impacts of such a project, the plan did not go ahead.

Today, with the pretext of bringing so-called green development and clean energy, another company is threatening the Apayao River and its people. In 2011, the Energy Department awarded the Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines Corporation (PPRPPC) a contract to construct a large hydro-power dam along the Apayao river. In 2016, the contract was amended, to construct a series of seven dams in the river tributaries.1

Three of these dams (Gened 1, Gened 2 and Sicapo) will be built around Kabugao, the capital town and heart of the Isnag indigenous community. According to the 2020 local census, almost 20,000 Isnag and other indigenous people – who identify themselves as “river peoples” – live along the Apayao and its tributaries. These communities rely on the river system as a source of livelihood, as a route to move from one village to the other, as well as for their cultural and spiritual lives. The hydro-power plants would lead to irreversible damage: they will displace thousands of people and impact hectares of land along the riverbanks where people grow their food, and where there are their burial and sacred grounds, public structures, churches, and schools.

What have we done wrong to be sacrificed for the needs and profit of outsiders? They treat us as we were insects, crawling in the forest, homeless.” (Village elder Budin Balalang)

The proposed Gened 2 dam is located upstream of Kabugao, where there is another ancestral domain. Together with the dam Gened 1, that will block the Apayao River downstream, it risks inundating a total of 21 villages of the municipality of Kabugao, including the town centre (Poblacion).

Moreover, these projects are being imposed in total disregard for the right of these communities to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), recognized by international law and the national Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). The Philippines enacted this law in 1997, to ward off a repeat of historical injustices committed against indigenous peoples in the country. With the same act, the Philippines also created the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Yet, in most cases, the NCIP is failing to uphold its mandate to protect indigenous rights, especially in the context of so-called development activities.

The indigenous community in Apayao is openly voicing out their opposition to the dam. But instead of being listened to, the most vocal members are being threatened, stigmatized, and red-tagged. They are branded as being left-leaning and anti-development. Moreover, the dam supports are trying to manipulate the community by spreading false claims, such as that only one per cent of the town will be submerged.

According to the Isnag community, it was the NCIP that brokered the entry of the company into their ancestral territory, despite their lack of consent and a flawed consultation project.

In February 2019, with a resolution of non-consent, the community rejected the Gened 1 dam. The project proponent (PPRPPC) filed an appeal, saying the community rejected the project because they were not informed about the benefits the dam would bring. In a second vote in September 2019, the community rejected it again. But the company – disregarding the community’s will and with the blessing of the NCIP agency – kept pushing for the approvation of the project.

By handpicking a few elders claiming to be local leaders, the company started negotiating only with them. In 2021 they covertly signed a memorandum of agreement, binding the whole ancestral domain into something that local indigenous communities did not consent to.

The community refers to this agreement, that will adversely affect the lives of the future generations, as the fruit of a poisonous tree, which is the result of a glaring manipulation of the consultation process to favour the company.

Aside from submitting three resolutions of non-consent, the community also lodged several petitions to denounce the violations of the FPIC guidelines, such as covert meetings between the company, local ‘dealers’, and the NCIP outside the ancestral domain; bribery; coercion; NCIP delaying tactics; and the exclusion of the whole community from the negotiation process. These acts, that blatantly disregard the collective rights of the Isnag people and curtail their right to participation, are frowned upon in the 2012 revised guidelines on FPIC.

Yet, the NCIP greenlighted the project and issued a Certification Precondition (CP), which indicates that the project went through a free, prior, and informed consent process. The Isnag community tried to appeal the NCIP decision, hoping the agency will put their rights over the company’s profit. They first attempted to oppose the decision through long and tedious administrative procedures, including through dispute settlement. But left with no choice, they had to seek legal remedies and filed criminal charges against the relevant public officials for falsification of documents and use of falsified documents. In these charges they were referring in particular to the 2019 community resolution, which authorized a group of elders to decide, negotiate, and sign on behalf of the whole Kabugao ancestral domain. The signatures in this resolution were fake, as even dead persons were included. Additional charges were also filed at the Office of the Ombudsman against the NCIP personnel and some elected local officials for graft and corruption.

The legal battle has just started: so far two villages have submitted their complaints, but there are additional cases to be filed by seven other villages. In this context, speaking out is incredibly risky. Most public officials identified in the complaint belong to powerful families and, to force the complainants to retract their affidavits, they are intimidating them and threatening them.

Despite these attacks, the Isnag peoples – since their first assembly in 2017 – are standing their ground to resolutely assert their rights. Community members from all walks of life have participated in capacity-building activities, raised their plights on various platforms, engaged and networked with their allies, and campaigned actively against the projects even outside the municipality. It is an inter-generational struggle: both the older and younger generations of Isnag are working together at the forefront, in defense of their resources and their homeland.

If the Pan Pacific Corporation, the NCIP, and their local cohorts really want to bring ‘development’ in Kabugao, they should first listen to the local communities, their elderly, their leaders, and the culture bearers. When these people are asked about their definition of development, they speak of lands they own and that they want to protect to pass them on to the next generations. They speak of farm-to-market roads, not of the destruction of their source of livelihood. They speak of electricity, but from a source that is community-managed and not owned by big corporations. Villages in Kabugao, for example, have started using solar panels as a source of power. But as they often say, “What good will it be to have electricity if we are uprooted from our ancestral lands?”

Along with the elders, I have stood at the forefront of the battles against these projects that risk displacing my family, my friends, and my community, forcing us to relocate to unknown places. They call us anti-development, but they failed to listen to how our community views development. They belittle our definition of progress, and have tried to sway community members with empty promises of livelihood opportunities and free electricity. They call us ‘influenced by the terrorist groups’, even though everything we have done from the beginning has always been legal: it is simply an assertion of our rights, enshrined in state legislation. They call us selfish for not wanting a ‘clean energy source’, as the global community shifts energy sources for climate change mitigation. What they are forgetting is that we, the indigenous peoples, do not have a high carbon footprint. It is them, these big corporations, that should pay the price. The mighty Apayao River sustained and nurtured our ancestors. It is our duty as younger generations to safeguard and protect what is rightfully and lawfully ours. For us, and for the Isnag-yet-unborn.

1 As of June 2022, Pan Pacific plans to construct the following dams in the province: Gened 1 (150 MW), Gened 2 (250 MW), Calanasan 1 (30 MW), Calansan 2 (220 MW), Maton (90 MW), Sicapo (40 MW), and Tabayangan (50 MW

Learning together: an analysis of different modalities of collective learning

By Siddharth A Mar 12, 2023

Participants from Armenia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan pose for a photo during the meeting and learning conversations in Tbilisi, Georgia. Learn more about the exchange here.

As a diverse, Global South-led network of social movements, civil society organizations, communities and grassroots groups, our members and partners are constantly in the process of learning and unlearning, with and from each other. 

At the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, we have certain core beliefs that unite us and inform our collective work. Firstly, communities are the experts on their own development pathways and priorities, and the rest of us need their expertise to fulfill our mission. Secondly, communities, defenders and their allies value being together and learning together in horizontal, respect-based relationships. And thirdly, exchanging information, skills, tools, and resources is crucial to build power and solidarity to advance human rights in development.

Over the years – through over 250 collaborations with communities defending their rights in the context of international investments and development activities – we have experimented with different modalities on how to be together and learn together. We are excited to articulate below some of the collective learning processes that our collaborators are finding helpful:

Learning Exchanges

We bring together two or more community groups affected by different internationally financed projects to cross-share experiences and strategies. Community groups set the agenda, can bring their key allies, and we facilitate and arrange translation and interpretation as relevant. For example, we helped facilitate a three part learning exchange between Indigenous communities in Nepal and in Panama, affected by transmission line projects funded respectively by the European Investment Bank and the World Bank Group. The Nepalese communities’ strategies to mobilize on Free Prior and Informed Consent were helpful for the Panamanian counterpart, who in turn shared useful information that encouraged the Nepalese group to further advance their advocacy with the United Nations (UN).  

Learning Circles

Learning Circles draw on the talking circle methodology practiced by several Indigenous Peoples, and are useful where there is no right answer, and no one person or group has the answers. The logic is that if we bring together enough perspectives from people with shared goals we can develop a richer understanding of the situation and the pros and cons of different strategies. It is key to have a diversity of participants, including for example grassroots communities, civil society representatives, and where applicable folks with relevant professional experiences. These are horizontal learning processes of 8 to 15 people, so they need to be facilitated such that all speakers have equal speaking time and no one participant or type of participant dominates the discussion. The key collective learnings are then documented and shared more widely, with or without attribution as the group decides. In some cases learning circles can be set up as a fishbowl, where a smaller group of participants discusses with a wider audience looking in and having the potential to ask questions. For example we hosted a learning circle on how defenders can engage development banks on reprisals, and the key learnings were documented in an infographic that has been helpful for other defenders facing similar issues. 

Learning Labs

Learning labs are used when collaborators want to learn a specialized technical skill like using a particular communications software, or writing a press release. Here too collaborators are seen as equal participants who bring deep expertise on their goals and context. The labs include sharing of skills by those with formal expertise and cross-sharing of experiences by peers using the same or similar skills. Participants then apply the skills to their own context and have the space to seek and give feedback. Learning lab facilitators may also share toolkits and templates that can be used by participants later on in their work. For example, our Communication Facilitator facilitated a learning lab on how to use Canva, an online graphic design tool. Similarly, we supported our member Inclusive Development International to organize a multi-part, in-person learning lab on doing follow the money research. 

Communities of action

Learning is crucial for our collective movements for economic and social justice to thrive. We bring people together because we believe that learning together can also build solidarity and collective action. We encourage the activists to see how their struggles, while unique, are also inextricably linked. Perhaps some of them are facing similar difficulties to see their narratives and struggles positively covered in corporate media, or perhaps they are facing trouble from electricity sector projects funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank. 

Whatever unites them, we hope that several of them start working together in communities of action, becoming a force to contend with for the financial institutions, governments and transnational corporations that are violating their rights. Indeed, in our efforts to create communities of action, we are intentionally thinking about which communities and grassroots allies to connect with each other, how to frame initial discussions, and which collaborators could complement the collective strategizing and actions.

We are sure several of you are already using these methodologies in your own work, perhaps using the same or different names. These modalities are not meant to be straight-jackets of process, but rather flexible tools that we can use in different contexts. Often when we have a meeting or a gathering, we will use multiple modalities for different purposes, so that we are using the best tool possible to advance the goals of our grassroots collaborators. No matter which modality we are choosing, our key principle is to intentionally value all kinds of expertise, and especially the expertise of local communities, defenders and Indigenous Peoples who are living and breathing the impacts of international investments and development finance. 

Do these different collective learning modalities resonate with you? Have you tried any different pedagogical approaches in your schools, networks and organizations, which you think we can incorporate in our work? We would love to learn together with and from you! Email us at contact@rightsindevelopment.org

Uzbekistan: the anatomy of fear

By Mark Fodor Nov 25, 2022


Site of one of the landfills, whose expansion will be funded by the EBRD. Credit: CEE Bankwatch Network

“It smells horrible and there are flies everywhere: we can’t even open the windows! When it catches fire we have smoke here for days…everyone here, every single household here, is against the landfill!”

In Uzbekistan’s arid Karakalpak region, dozens of people are living just over 500 metres away from a series of landfills. The conditions are unbearable. But the fate of this community, far away from the largest cities in the eastern region, does not receive much attention.

The landfills, on the contrary, are about to receive new funds. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has recently proposed to expand and transform some of these facilities, to develop better waste management and recycling systems.

We went there to meet the local communities, understand their concerns, and ask them what they thought of the landfill and the proposed expansion. They were all against the project. They were clearly very angry and keen on venting about their problems with us, a group of foreigners.

But when I asked, through our Karakalpak interpreter, whether they had raised this with the authorities or with the company managing the landfill, all but one person said no. 

I pressed on with the interpreter: “Why?”. Nobody answered. The interpreter tried to fill the void: “you know, in our country…”, but she stopped half-way, with a sad, resigned look on her face. When I suggested “People are afraid?”, she nodded. 

The only one who dared to speak out publicly and lodge formal complaints is a pensioner. We met him while he was tending to his livestock outdoors. He told us he wasn’t afraid, he didn’t care; but his neighbours had warned him he shouldn’t complain, that it would be dangerous for him to do so.

Two men who seemed somewhat out of place were sitting facing our table, where we were having a meal with a group of local activists, in one of Uzbekistan’s largest population centres. They were dressed in all black. When I looked their way, they were staring at the television just above our table, showing static pictures of far-away seaside holiday destinations.

Three people in our group had noticed them. When we left the restaurant, we discussed among ourselves that they looked a bit suspicious. Then we got a message from one of the activists we had been with, confirming what we feared: the security services were monitoring us and one person had even seen one of the men filming the group with his phone.

Two days later another message came through: at least two of the activists were called in by the security services. They were questioned about meeting us. In Uzbekistan, civil society organizations need to request a permit to organize a meeting. They were told that our meal together in the restaurant amounted to an unsanctioned meeting and warned not to participate in similar activities in the future.

She was almost crying. Up until then she had been steadfast, indignant and even angry about how the company was destroying livelihoods including her own, polluting lands and paying labourers ridiculously low wages. She had been telling us about all this for close to two hours. Then we asked her about her own security and whether she had faced any threats or other retaliations for publicly voicing her concerns.

Police had taken her in for eight hours just weeks before. The internal security services were abusive, hurling insults at her while detaining her. They took her to “visit” a prison and showed her the prison conditions she would have to live in, if she would not stop complaining about the company that had come to “do good” for the country. They threatened to have her siblings fired from their jobs. Her siblings then also put pressure on her to stop.

When we spoke about people being called in for questioning, the officials at the international development bank financing the company were not too surprised. You could expect security services to interrogate pretty much anyone in the country if you dare raise your voice: this is Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has become a major recipient of development bank funding in Central Asia, receiving millions in investments from the likes of the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank. These banks all pride themselves in how they listen to voices on the ground. They all recognise, at least on paper, that allowing people, especially impacted people, to have their voices heard makes their projects stronger and more sustainable in the long run. 

This all sounds great until you see that development banks are supporting the expansion of a landfill that has left people living in unbearable stench, without a single mention of any complaints from communities nearby. They seem to be ignoring the fact that people are simply too afraid to speak out. And we all know why.


  • EBRD
  • Uzbekistan

Faith’s Blog: Why I Joined the Coalition

As the Africa Facilitator of the Community Resource Exchange, I closely collaborate and learn from the people who should be driving the development agenda: the local communities, the people who really matter. I am learning how they solve their problems and keep up with their struggles, while helping share their knowledge with other communities around the world.

Community members’ willingness to fight for their right to survive is unmatched. They are prepared to go the extra mile, set aside their own interest, and work for the benefit of the unit. It is difficult to express the challenges and risks that grassroots human rights defenders are exposed to and how far they are willing to go to ensure justice prevails. As their allies, the best we can do is offer a helping hand when they reach out for support, listen, understand and create opportunities for them to share their stories and struggles.

I initially joined the Coalition as an intern, conducting research  with the Defenders in Development Campaign. At that time, I was seeking to focus more on advocacy and human rights campaigning. The research was quite different from what I had been doing before and it opened my eyes to the reality of development aid, something I had passionately advocated for.  By working closely with local communities and human rights defenders, I learned who the rights holders are and how they can hold the duty bearers (such as development finance institutions, private companies or State authorities) accountable. This gives me hope and something to look forward to.

Before joining the Coalition, I worked at Child.org as a program officer in rural Kenya and helped coordinate a 6-week course on maternal and child health for 5700 pregnant women. We tried to bridge the gap between the communities and the public health services in their region, liaising with government officials to provide better health services to individuals and families in hard-to-reach areas. We also used media outlets to inform communities about the services offered at health facilities for expectant women. Through this, I learned the importance of listening to local communities: what do they want? How do they want to address their challenges? Getting solutions from the community members proved to be very successful, since they assigned themselves responsibilities and were accountable to their actions. Moving forward, I will continue to listen to what communities want and try to identify with them innovative ways  to voice their concerns and solve their  problems.

My hope is that more and more communities and groups will be empowered to understand that they have the right to their development, one that doesn’t put them in harm’s way. That the law can work in their favor, and their needs can be taken into consideration at all levels of power. And I hope international investors will change their approach and create opportunities for community-driven development.


  • community-led development
  • CRE
  • Human Rights

 The Community Resource Exchange: learning as we create together

By Carmina Obanil Apr 29, 2022


Weaving a tapestry requires time and patience. When looking at single, loose threads, it is difficult to imagine the shapes they could form. But once threads are intertwined, the subtle filaments turn into a strong cloth and beautiful patterns emerge.

We are constantly learning from communities who want to nourish  deep collaborations with allies to lead powerful struggles. This is why, together with grassroots and civil society partners, we started weaving an ambitious tapestry: the Community Resource Exchange (CRE)

The CRE is a system where communities can connect with collaborators around the world and work together on a diversity of strategies, to strengthen their ability to defend their rights in the context of international investments and development projects. In 2021 we launched a three-year pilot of the CRE, hosted by the Coalition for Human Rights in Development. As we embark on year two, we want to share a glimpse of the emerging patterns and the many lessons learned. 

We have been busy putting together the framework for the CRE – in a sense, the loom. We established a 13-member advisory committee, created three regional grant working groups, and brought on four staff for the CRE secretariat, including a coordinator and regional facilitators in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. We designed the call for proposals even as we started doing outreach to groups.

Outside the call for proposals, we conducted outreach to 143 potential collaborators, and began developing systems for mapping out and tracking collaborations. And we also started working on 23 requests for collaboration outside the call process.

In June 2021, when we issued the first call for proposals, we received 188 applications, half of which were eligible and fell within the mission of the CRE. We are now working to facilitate collaborations for 58 community struggles, including providing financial support for 16 of those. 

Weaving a tapestry takes time. However, some of the collaborations being weaved on the CRE loom are starting to take shape in ways that bridge local, national, regional and international efforts.

For example, in Armenia, the CRE secretariat is continuing to support the environmental organization Green Armenia, that has been involved in the struggle against the Amulsar gold mine for over a decade:

“We’re fighting to protect the Amulsar mountain with all our strength. The support we received is very important for us and for the local community. The environmental license issued for the mine is being challenged in court now, and we’re monitoring the hearings, continuing to identify ecological problems, and finding solutions for the eco-community in our region”, says Tehmine Yenokyan, President of Green Armenia.

Protest against the Amulsar mine in Armenia, 2018.

The CRE is also closely working with the Early Warning System (EWS), a sister network and database managed by the International Accountability Project (IAP), which tracks projects funded by the main development finance institutions. Hayk Abrahamyan, IAP’s Community Organizer and member of the CRE Advisory Committee, says:

“We closely work with the CRE, to ensure communities have verified information about projects in their territories and connect them with different collaborators. We also jointly identify trends in community-led responses and support peer-to-peer learning between communities. For example, we are planning a learning exchange for communities from Armenia and Georgia who are fighting against destructive mining projects.”

Lessons learned and next steps

As we move the CRE forward, there are some lessons that we know will make the CRE work better and stronger: 

  1. Maximizing and mobilizing existing networks at the local level

Knowing the local context and dynamics is crucial to ensure the support is provided to those who need it most. Through this first call for proposals, we learned that we need to maximize and mobilize the already existing structures and networks, especially at the regional and national level. We plan to work with them on targeted outreach and communication work to make sure that communities have a better understanding of the CRE, and to ensure that the evaluation or proposals and creation of linkages is as fully informed regarding local dynamics as possible. In some countries and regions, we also identified some gaps and we are working on building capacity through training, learning circles, or through directly connecting communities to international groups that can assist them.

  1. A clearer explanation

We need to do a better job of ensuring that communities fully understand the CRE, before they go through the effort of submitting a proposal. And we need to take the time to explore with communities what types of collaborations can be developed and what are the strategies that would be most effective for their struggles. This is crucial since half of the total (94) applications we received were ineligible. On one hand this can be expected since communities are also in a learning process to see how to use the CRE. On our end, we are learning that rather than asking communities to identify all the threads they would like to use, we need to discuss what kind of textile they want to weave; we can then look with them at the types of threads available and suggest which might fit best.

  1. Collaborations at the forefront

The true heart of the CRE is facilitating effective and mutually beneficial collaborations. However, in the applications to the first call for proposals, and in their evaluations, the focus became  the small number of grants the CRE can offer (about 24 grants of USD 5,000 each). Evaluating and following up on the 184 requests for financial assistance we received with the love and care they deserve took more time and resources from the CRE than expected.  

On reflection, we have learned that we need to reshape some processes in order to ensure that collaborations are always at the forefront. Rather than issuing another global open call for proposals, for the next cohort of financial assistance we will be spending the bulk of the year deepening the collaborative work with the communities that have already reached out to us. We will then reassess the best modalities for offering financial assistance, weighing the pros and cons of targeted outreach, open calls, or some combination. 

  1. Seeing the patterns

As we focus on weaving together groups working on specific collaborations, we also see the broader potential of the CRE – to gather learning and understanding from the aggregate patterns and trends.  Even given the limited sampling of the proposals received so far, we can see different patterns emerging in our tapestry. For example: 

  • Most requests came from indigenous groups and women’s organizations. 
  • Communities confronting mining, oil and gas, infrastructure, forestry and land investments have been reaching out to the CRE across all regions,  with some thematic regional focuses (such as electricity and hydro projects in Latin America; mining, land rights and fisherfolks rights in Asia; and oil and mining projects in Africa).
  • Many communities have requested support for campaigns involving projects financed by various development banks. 
  • Many requestors want to identify the financiers behind development projects, and better leverage media and narrative strategies to advance their goals.

Going forward

 “As this is a pilot of the CRE effort, we are embracing the messiness of the process” explains CRE Coordinator Carmina Obanil. “We are open to experimenting to find the best models for facilitating collaborations, and for bringing more collaborators into the system. There is a lot of potential work that the CRE can take on but time is needed to make sure that the work is done right and in such a way that those participating have ownership of the process.”

It has been an exciting first year for the CRE secretariat. As we keep working on the tapestry of the CRE with others, we will continue encountering knots and snags, and we will learn and adapt with humility and curiosity. We will keep weaving each thread with love and care,  responding to those knots and snags with patience, and a deep appreciation for all the hands creating this with us. We can already see some beautiful symbols, patterns, and textures emerging which though blended are very distinct as well. What keeps us going is the knowledge that this tapestry of resilience and resistance we are weaving together will be greater than the sum of its parts. 


We invite you to share your experience and thoughts about how the CRE moves forward together. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below this blog or write to lcotza@rightsindevelopment.org if you wish to write a blog on your CRE experience.


  • community-led development
  • CRE
  • Human Rights

Two decades of relentless resistance

By Lorena Cotza Dec 15, 2021


This blog was written by Saswati Swetlena and Sreedhar Ramamurthi, who work for our member organization Environics Trust (India).

The “Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti” movement is legendary. For 12 years, in the Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha (India), they have put up a stiff resistance against the South Korean steel-making giant POSCO. In March 2017, they managed to force POSCO back off: the company had to hand over to the Odisha government the land they had acquired.

The struggle, however, continues. In the same location, the Jindal Steel Works (JSW) group is trying to develop another steel plant complex, which is being met with equally strong resistance. This so-called “development project” will heavily impact tribal, fisherfolk and farming communities across the state.

The Indian government, despite the opposition of local communities, has used its status of “eminent domain” to invite JSW, an Indian-based multinational corporation, to set up a new mega-project: an integrated steel plant, with an associated cement grinding plant, captive mines and power plants, that will produce 13.2 metric tonne per annum (MTPA) of crude steel. 

With the aim of ensuring transparency and fairness, In 2013 the Indian government replaced the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, a legacy of the colonial times. According to the new law, the State has to return back land which is acquired for public purpose if within five years the public purpose is not served. 

The State government’s decision to take the POSCO acquired land under its “landbank” is a distortion of the law, and therefore it purports to be illegal. The community has had to come back to ground zero and the movement renamed itself as the “Anti-Jindal Anti-Posco movement”.

The impacts of such a humungous project will not only be in the area where the plant is being developed, but in the wider region. The livelihoods of the local residents, mainly farmers and fisherfolks, heavily depend on their betel vineyards, cashew plantations and the fish caught in a creek in the Bay of Bengal. Most inhabitants are Adivasi, and the project has violated their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). 

There are also thousands of villagers whose forest rights have not been settled and they would be heavily impacted by this project. Most importantly, there is an upfront violation of the environment clearance procedure, which has not been recognised by the environment ministry and the expert committee. Moreover, the affected villagers are still facing intimidation and repression from the local administration.

Despite facing these insurmountable challenges, dirty tactics and divisive politics from the administration (that for example is trying to create conflicts between different villages), the movement has been successful till date in delaying the JSW project, on the grounds of its faulty environmental impact assessment and unfair public consultations. They are now mobilizing other communities across the region and they have been sitting on dharna ( in protest). They won’t stop their protest till their demands are met and the project is withdrawn. In a letter submitted recently to the Collector and District Magistrate, the villagers made it loud and clear- “For the last 20 years, we have been trying to protect our lives and livelihoods by safeguarding our forest land, which we have been dependent on for the last 200 years. We are clear on our stand that ‘We don’t want any industry on our land’, that may be POSCO in 2001 or JSW in 2021. The forest land is our only bread and butter, and we will not tolerate illegal diversions of the same which we have already conveyed through our strong demonstration during the proposed POSCO India project earlier.”

Environics Trust continues to stand in solidarity with the movement!


  • community struggle
  • India

Tity’s blog: why I joined the Coalition

When I talk about the work of the organization I joined at the beginning of 2021, I always get the same reaction: “So…you are going to talk about human rights to financial institutions?!

It seems incongruous to put human rights and financial institutions in the same sentence, and even more so to think that the latter should integrate the former in their approach. Why talk to financial institutions about human rights and think that they should listen?

It is because these financial institutions have a development mandate. The most active and oldest in Africa is the African Development Bank, which was created in 1964, amidst high hopes raised by the wave of countries gaining independence. The mission of the Abidjan-based Bank is to reduce poverty and improve the living conditions of Africans.

No matter how one formulates this and through what prism one looks at it, improving living conditions gets down to respecting human rights. And this is exactly why talking about human rights to financial institutions makes absolute sense: it would be foolish to think that the key to poverty reduction is exclusively financial. 

I joined the Coalition for Human Rights in Development in February 2021, after spending almost ten years working in the “traditional” human rights field, in organizations where the primary focus of advocacy were the states as signatories and primary duty bearers for the human rights of their citizens. I have had the privilege of working with women and men for whom the respect of human rights was a personal matter.

However, in many contexts – and even more so in the African context – the actors whose actions and decisions influence people’s lives are not necessarily state actors. 

The Coalition for Human Rights in Development is a coalition of about 100 organizations worldwide, including about 30 members in Africa; a coalition of social movements, civil society organizations and grassroots groups working together to ensure that development is community-driven and respects, protects and fulfills human rights.

In reality my work has not changed much: the topics are different, the approaches are different, the targets  are different, but I still work to ensure human rights are respected. And it is about talking about human rights to institutions that, in some cases, still do not understand their importance. It is about reminding the African Development Bank, for example, that its development agenda has no chance of success if the communities concerned are not consulted, integrated, involved in, and –  yes, even leading – in the process of creating projects that impact their lives. This is human rights IN development.

* Tity Agbahey is the Coalition’s Africa Regional Coordinator. If you want to get in touch with her, please drop an email at: tagbahey@rightsindevelopment.org


  • Human Rights

Development banks should end all public finance for industrial agriculture

By Lorena Cotza Oct 18, 2021


Inclusivity, sustainability, human rights. If someone were to read their declarations and trust their words, it would be easy to think that development banks are humanity’s saviours and they are making this world a better place. Unfortunately, though, these words are nothing more than a smokescreen.

On October 19-20, over 500 Public Development Banks (PDBs) will be invited to gather at the second edition of the Finance in Common (FIC) Summit. Co-organized by the Italian bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, this year’s Summit will focus on transformation of food systems.

The Summit will try to address a key question: how will we feed millions of people while tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity and ensuring development is sustainable? The problem, though, is that the people who are the most suited to answer this question have been left out of the conversation.

Despite the repeated use of the word “inclusivity”, Indigenous Peoples, farmers, fisherfolks, herders, women and local communities – who are directly impacted by PDBs projects – will have no space in the Summit. Their expertise is disregarded, their voices excluded, and their concerns will remain unaddressed.

This comes as no surprise, as this year’s FIC follows in the footsteps of another high-level international forum that has been heavily criticized for excluding local communities’ voices, despite being hypocritically branded as “people’s summit”: the United National Food Systems Summit (UNFSS).

The event, which took place in September in New York, has been marred by controversy since its outset. Hundreds of civil society organizations, grassroots groups, academics and UN experts have slammed the UNFSS for having “turned its back on those most impacted by failed food systems”, allowing big corporations to set the agenda.

At FIC, PDBs will follow suit, aligning their funding priorities with a corporate-driven international agenda which diverts funds from the public sector to the private one. A doomed model that can only exacerbate inequality, debt, and injustices.

PDBs are a key player when it comes to food systems. According to IFAD, they invest about 1.4 trillion dollars per year in the agriculture sector. They also invest heavily in polluting sectors related to food production and distribution. With their trillions, they have the power to affect the lives of millions of people.

In Morocco, for instance, several PDBs – including the European Investment Bank, the French Development Agency and the African Development Bank – have invested in a heavily polluting fertilizer factory, run by the Office Chérifien des Phosphates. People living in the nearby villages of Safi and Jorf Lasfar suffer from severe respiratory and eye diseases because of the toxic emissions and there have been reports of unusually high rates of cancer in the area.

Many PDBs also give “technical advice” and help shape national-level laws. In 2020, India approved three controversial farm bills following the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. According to local farmer organizations, these policies will further impoverish them, as they will lead to the closure of regulated markets where minimum prices are assured, forcing them to negotiate prices with big agribusiness corporations.

Tens of thousands of farmers in India have taken to the streets to protest against these laws. On October 4th, the protest turned deadly: the son of a minister ran over the farmers with his car, killing four of them. A dramatic example of what can happen when policies or projects are imposed without consulting those most affected by them, who end up facing brutal reprisals simply for speaking out.

To achieve real solutions to the global food crisis and climate change, we need fully public and accountable funding mechanisms, based on people’s actual needs. Sustainable solutions already exist, but they need more support. Public funds should be supporting projects based on the agroecology model, that “embraces and encourages diversity—of crops, people, farming methods, and knowledges”. If the PDBs are unwilling and incapable of doing so, then they have no business being involved in the food system. A growing number of social movements and civil society organisations have already reached this conclusion.

* This joint op-ed was written by Lorena Cotza (Coalition for human rights in development), Collins Liko (ESCR-net), FIAN and GRAIN.


  • agribusiness
  • Climate Change
  • community-led development
  • Finance in Common
  • food systems
  • Human Rights

Salome’s blog: why I joined the Coalition

After having worked almost nine years with Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Kenya, I decided to join the Coalition as the Community Resource Exchange Regional Facilitator, to work with local communities confronting development projects and international investments in Africa.

I am a trained community organizer who loves working with diverse people. Although I have never focused on international finance institutions before, I believe this position will give me an opportunity to venture into this new field and learn new things, while building strong community networks and continuing to support those promoting and protecting their collective and individual rights.

Prior to joining the Coalition, I was working for the Defenders Coalition, the only national organization in Kenya that works primarily for the protection of HRDs in the country, and that also supports defenders in the East Africa region. As the Director of  programs within the Defenders Coalition, I connected HRDs at risk with partners locally, regionally and internationally to get the support they needed. I also launched the Protection working group that brought together all civil society organizations working to protect HRDs so they could better coordinate among themselves without duplicating their efforts, and I initiated community networks to enhance collective safety and security of HRDs.

When I look back at the organization I have left behind, and the journey it took to turn it from a small project into a fully-fledged national organization, I feel inspired as I know that the Community Resource Exchange (CRE) pilot project can also grow. It will become a big project that will build powerful networks of communities who collaborate with each other in protecting their rights against development projects supported by financial institutions.

As a community organizer, I know how strong is the power that lies within communities, although it is often untapped. It is this belief that guides me and each day when I wake up I ask myself: “Who will defend the defender?” Together with partners and allies, who believe in the same causes that defenders are fighting for, every day I strive to support defenders and local communities.

The passion I have for my work, and the inspiration I get when I see successful communities’ struggles, makes me want to do more and more. I dream of a world where respect for human rights is a way of life. I dream of a world where women are always present at the tables of decision-making. I dream of a world where communities are consulted when decisions touching on their lives are being made. And I will work to turn this dream into reality.

Salome Nduta’s bio

Salome Nduta worked as the Director of programs at the Defenders Coalition, an organization supporting human rights defenders at risk not just in Kenya, but also more widely in East Africa.

She was in charge of the program on protection of HRDs but also worked as a researcher, conducting for instance research on the challenges faced by women human rights defenders in Kenya or by defenders working on extractives.

She is an alumni of the Global Change Leaders programme of the Coady Institute in Canada, and she has created a program for WHRDs that focuses on developing knowledge to meet the unique needs of WHRDs and marginalized groups.

She sits on the board of trustees of Haki Africa, a human rights organization working in the coastal region of Kenya that works on countering violent extremism.

In 2018, she was the winner of the inaugural Scottish Bar International Award for human rights defenders, an initiative of the Faculty of Advocates, in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2021, she was also awarded the highly recommended women in governance award by Governance New Zealand Inc.

 To get in touch with Salome, write her at: snduta@rightsindevelopment.org


Why I Chose to Work on the CRE: Building Connections that Empower

By Carmina Obanil Jun 23, 2021


By Carmina Flores-Obanil

After having worked for three years as the Asia Regional Coordinator at the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, in May 2020 I transitioned to a new position, as International Coordinator for the Community Resource Exchange (CRE).  The three year pilot project of the CRE, hosted by the Coalition, promotes a new model of working together, by systematizing collaborations and encouraging communities to co-create strategies to advance their struggles in the context of international investments and development projects.

Through this exciting new role, I am looking forward to continuing working with communities and building on my previous experiences working for and with national and regional civil society organizations. My longest serving role before the Coalition was with a national peasant-based research organization. Over a period of 15 years, I had the privilege of working with and learning from leaders who are farmers, indigenous peoples, rural women, and fisherfolk. The work gave me the opportunity to better understand agriculture, agrarian and indigenous land issues.

Coming from a farming family, I can trace my roots to land. But what drove me most was the farmers resisting profound injustice, and having the opportunity  to contribute to the struggles they were in. Some of the key leaders I worked with have died or have been killed because of these struggles. But I am still in touch with others, and am forever grateful for the lesson they taught me: to never underestimate the aspirations of a struggling community, because if they want it then they’ll find a way to do it. 

In my previous role at the Coalition, I have focused on two distinct but interrelated strands of work. As the Asia Regional Coordinator, I worked with Coalition members, partners and communities in the region to advocate for policy changes within international financial institutions in Asia, particularly with the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank .At the same time, I also had the privilege of coordinating the Coalition’s Community Engagement Partnership (CEP) work, an initiative to provide support to grassroots communities by creating linkages and leveraging the expertise of our members and partners.

The work in both areas was at the same time frustrating and hopeful. It was frustrating to see how communities are left with little to no space to determine their own development paths. More often than not, they have to bear the brunt of development projects they do not want nor need, imposed on them in the name of development and progress. But I was also hopeful as I saw communities advancing their struggles with any means they could, employing strategies, and leveraging allies, to empower themselves and fight against the development projects they never wanted, never losing hope even in the face of adversities. Working together with brilliant and tireless communities and their allies for change is what gives me most hope!

This is why I decided to work for the CRE: the frustration reinforced the urgency to advance these struggles even further and the hope inspired me to keep working together and build new alliances. I am especially keen to be in touch again with these communities I’ve worked with before my work with the Coalition and those I’ve worked with when I was still overseeing the CEP. It is humbling to see community leaders doing all they can to push their fight and I want to share that commitment. Some of the cases I worked on before are still active cases, with several languishing in courts. Many of them could benefit from being linked to legal organizations that can help them. Community level work is both challenging and frustrating but when done properly, under the leadership of communities, it can be truly rewarding.

The pandemic has shown us how crucial connections are to all of us. And it is connections that are at the heart of the CRE. I believe that through this role I can help build a system to facilitate collaborations and connections that will last beyond us in the Coalition. What are my hopes for it? 

I am hoping that through the CRE I will be able to connect and make linkages with communities, Coalition members and partners that will strengthen our respective capacities. I know that this is where I can find people with similar values and vision, and thus we can work together to move forward and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, especially under the leadership of communities who want to take the driver seat of their own development.

I am hoping that the CRE will be instrumental in strengthening existing relationships. But I am hoping that the CRE will also pave the way in forging new and meaningful relationships among and between communities, civil society organizations, networks, and coalitions that haven’t worked together before but would benefit from doing so. There is so much expertise out there, from the communities to the CSOs, and I have seen that  facilitating connections can make a profound difference. 

In the end, I hope that we can build through the CRE a system, a network of like-minded and values-driven well-connected communities, CSOs, and networks, and that those connections are leveraged to collaborate with communities that need them most. Then perhaps, I can say I have done my share and that it will go beyond me or the Coalition.

Anne’s blog: Why I joined the Coalition

By Anne Bordatto


I got to know the work of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development in 2014. At that time, I was accompanying Maya Q’eqchi’ indigenous communities in their struggle against a hydroelectric project in Guatemala. 

The Coalition’s contribution was invaluable to strengthen community-based strategies for the defence of the territory. When a researcher and activist helped us find information on the international financiers involved in the project, the local communities with the support of some Coalition’s members filed a complaint with the office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). They also carried out advocacy with other European development banks. Because of the delays in the project implementation and thanks to the CAO’s findings, which recognised non-compliance with the social and environmental safeguards of the bank, the international financiers withdrew their funding and the project was halted.

As several wise people say, against the globalisation of evil  human rights violations, destruction of nature and of the indigenous cultures that coexist with it  it is more than necessary to “globalise the good”. 

It is crucial to learn, from the well-advised voices of indigenous peoples and communities in resistance against the imposed “development” model, about the experiences of struggle to protect life, the ancestral and alternative forms of organisation and administration of natural common goods, and the construction of community-led life plans in harmony with nature. 

As an engineer and permaculturist, I’m always keen to learn about forms of community organisation for self-governance and management of natural common goods, food and energy autonomy, observing and working with nature. I started my career in the field of rural electrification with renewable energy sources in France and Guatemala. However, I soon started noticing how extractive projects were being imposed without meaningful consultations, leaving no benefits for the affected communities but only serious negative impacts. These projects were designed in an unsustainable way and were leading to the criminalisation of local communities. 

I then started a new path as an activist, helping strengthen strategies to defend the territory of indigenous communities through my technical knowledge, research capacity and alliance building skills. I’d define myself a “green” feminist, because I feel I am in a process of perpetual learning. I strive to constantly deconstruct the system of privilege and always question myself.

Even the most remote communities feel that what they suffer is “something big” and that it is necessary to understand its dimension in order to strengthen their protection strategies, to defend their territories, but also to build alternatives in line with what they really want and need.

These communities provide us invaluable lessons and I’m always inspired by their unbreakable strength, their capacity to constantly reinvent themselves to keep their culture alive, their deep rootedness to a land from which they are often at risk of being displaced, their humble and essential vision of life in search of harmony with nature.

In the three months since I joined the Coalition as a Community Resource Exchange Regional Facilitator for Latin America, I have already learned of many resources to strengthen strategies to defend the territory and I hope I’ll soon be able to share them with as many people as possible. The Community Resource Exchange is a system that will allow us to strengthen our struggles and build collective power. As in a forest, all elements will be interlinked and through our diversity we will come together and collaborate, so that life will continue to sprout and flourish, and many worlds can continue to co-exist on Earth.      

IDB Invest and IFC’s new guidance on reprisals: a welcome step, but much more is needed

By Hannah Storey Jun 07, 2021


In March 2020, IDB Invest and IFC’s released a new guidance which lays out 10 steps companies should take to screen, prevent and respond to reprisals. In this blog, Hannah Storey analyses the document and explains why, although this is a welcome and important step, much more is needed to truly tackle reprisals. Hannah Storey is Business and development finance researcher at Front Line Defenders, working part-time for the Defenders in Development campaign.

In a world where human rights defenders are threatened and attacked for opposing development projects, IFC and IDB Invest’s new guidance for the private sector on addressing reprisals against those criticising development projects is a welcome and important step, but IFC and IDB invest must go further if they are truly committed to tackling reprisals.

Every day human rights defenders around the world work to protect their lands and resources from destruction, for equal access to healthcare, education, and housing, for better labour conditions, to expose corruption, and to advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable. Their voices are critical1. Development banks have a responsibility to listen to them, to understand what impact their investments are having and how to reach those most in need. But these voices are under threat: in 2020 the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre recorded over 600 attacks against defenders working on business-related human rights issues. 

In March 2020, IDB Invest and IFC’s released a new guidance, which lays out 10 steps companies should take to screen, prevent and respond to reprisals. Although this is a welcome step, this is a missed opportunity. As we explain below in more detail, recommendations are only addressed to clients, failing to explain how the banks themselves should act in case of reprisals linked to a project they fund. Moreover, the guidance is just a list of well-written recommendations, but does not contain any obligations to their clients or practical steps to operationalize it.

However, the guidance does include some important recommendations such as:

  1. Business enterprises should both commit to zero tolerance of reprisals and take steps to communicate that commitment to staff through capacity building, to other businesses they work with – including through contractual obligations – and to government stakeholders.
  2. Companies should undertake contextual risk analysis. Early warning signs of potential threats to defenders are often missed or ignored and even where a project itself does not cause significant direct adverse impacts, it may exacerbate reprisals risks existent in the broader project context. It is therefore important to analyse both the project and the context to establish what the risks to defenders are. 
  3. Companies should adopt an open, transparent, inclusive and safe approach with stakeholders. In 2020 the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre found that ⅓ of attacks against defenders working on business-related human rights issues stemmed from the lack of meaningful consultation. Engagement with human rights defenders throughout the lifecycle of a project is critical for keeping them safe. 
  4. Companies should have protocols in place for incident response including protecting confidentiality. Although the priority should always be in preventing reprisals, having internal guidance for how to handle a reprisal  creates a smoother and safer process for victims when incidents do occur. Internal guidance can identify practical matters such as who will be responsible for the process, as well as potential courses of action that the company can take. It is important that in this plan, the company identifies where they have leverage (financial, political etc.) to influence actors involved in, or related to, the reprisal. Where leverage is limited companies should consider how to increase it. Given the high level of risks facing defenders it is also important that any data about them or their case is handled with utmost care and with good security practices.

Unfortunately that is where any praise for this policy note ends. One criticism of the content of this document is the reliance on project level grievance mechanisms when there is a reprisals risk. When defenders are already at risk because they have voiced their concerns about the project, we cannot expect them to trust and use a project level grievance mechanism to air their grievance. 

This would have been a perfect opportunity for IFC and IDB Invest to communicate where they fit in this process, by recommending their clients to disclose to stakeholders the existence of IFC and IDB Invest’s own Independent Accountability Mechanisms to facilitate their access to a grievance mechanism which are further removed from the risk. But references to bank-level mechanisms are shockingly absent. There is no mention that reprisals should be reported to IFC and IDB invest if linked to one of their projects for example, no mention that defenders can also utilise their accountability mechanisms, and no mention that companies can reach out to the banks for further support in responding to reprisals if needed –  even if the guidance lists a host of other actors (NGOs, governments, security experts) companies could reach out to.

Disappointingly this new guidance is just that, guidance, and because of this no private sector clients are actually obligated to implement any of the recommendations, however good they are. Although it is useful to articulate best practice, without also incorporating requirements for clients, these recommendations can be easily ignored. 

Recommendations instead of obligations also mean that human rights defenders who face reprisals have little means of recourse. If IFC or IDB Invest’s client companies fail to fulfil these recommendations leading to a dangerous environment for defenders around their project, there is no accountability nor remedy for victims. 

IFC and IDB Invest have stated that the purpose of this guidance is to raise awareness and guide their clients in their efforts addressing the risk of reprisals but it remains unclear how IFC and IDB Invest intend to operationalise this document. How, for example, they will ensure that clients are aware of these recommendations and that they understand them; what support they will offer clients who want to implement them. What commitments are IFC and IDB Invest willing to make in order to ensure this guidance is actually used by the companies they financially support?

Perhaps the most glaring gap is that the guidance does not address cases when the perpetrator of violence is the company itself, which unfortunately are quite common. Between 2009 and 2017 IFC financially supported the Dinant Corporation – a Honduran producer of oil palm. According to research by the Defenders in Development campaign, Dinant was engaged in widespread violent land conflict which led to the killings of five local farmers by security services who were supplied with military-grade weapons by Dinant. In this case Dinant was, if not the perpetrator, than the facilitator of violence. Companies simply cannot be relied upon to police themselves. 

Ultimately, the responsibility for tackling reprisals does not lie solely with IFC or IDB Invest’s clients, development banks share that responsibility and have an important role to play. They have their own obligations to respect human rights. The government shareholders of these banks also have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms. IFC as part of the World Bank Group – as a specialised agency of the United Nations – is also bound by the human rights objectives of the UN Charter. The IFC has taken the first step in issuing a statement of zero tolerance for reprisals in its projects, but it, and other institutions, have a long way to go to put in place procedures and guidance that tackle the sharp end of human rights abuses – reprisals against human rights defenders.

This new guidance for clients is a step in the right direction, and we hope to see IFC and IDB Invest now lead by example by developing their own internal procedures and protocols to address situations of reprisals within their investments. The good news is that when the banks design their own policies and procedures to tackle reprisals they wouldn’t be starting from scratch. In many ways this guidance notes provides a good roadmap for actions development banks can also take to screen, prevent and respond to reprisals. Now is the time for them to show they are really serious about this issue and demonstrate that they truly believe in what they’re asking of their clients, that they’re ready to lead by example.

1. Research by the World Bank and others has demonstrated that having a strong enabling environment for civic space and public participation correlates to higher levels of economic growth and human development, and leads to more successful development interventions. See for example Daniel Kaufmann, “Human Rights, Governance, and Development: An empirical perspective,” in World Bank Institute, Development Outreach, October 2006 http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/129071468313761602/pdf/406330REPLACEMENT.pdf and; Civic Engagement to Improve Development Effectiveness in the Europe and Central Asia Region – The Role of the World Bank, June 2004, World Bank, https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/944311468029381635/civic-engagement-to-improve-development-effectiveness-in-the-europe-and-central-asia-region-the-role-of-the-world-bank

Q & A with Tshimpidimbua Dieudonne, CRONGD’s Executive Secretary (DRC)

By Lorena Cotza Apr 29, 2021


The province of Kasaï-Oriental, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, produces one-tenth of the world’s industrial diamonds. Being so rich in mineral resources is also its curse, as many communities are being displaced and suffering the impact of mining projects. Moreover, as a result of militia and government sanctioned violence, in recent years Kasaï has become “the epicentre of one the most serious humanitarian crises in the world”. 

Several grassroots groups and civil society organizations are working to defend human rights and support local communities in Kasaï. To join forces, in April 1990 the network Conseil Régional des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de Développement (CRONGD) was formed.

CRONGD, a member of the Coalition since 2014, is a network of over 66 development NGOs. It works to combat poverty and human rights violations, by strengthening the organizational, institutional, professional and material capacities of grassroots and civil society organizations in the Kasaï-Oriental region. 

In this interview, Tshimpidimbua Dieudonne – CRONGD’s Executive Secretary – speaks about the work of his organization and the challenges faced by local communities in Kasaï-Oriental.

What are the main “development” projects affecting local communities? 

Local communities are mainly affected by projects in the mining and infrastructure sectors. Mining companies – such as the government-owned Societé minière de Bakwanga (MIBA) or Anhui-Congo Mining Investment Company (SACIM), a joint venture between the State and Chinese investors, are expropriating land from local communities, without offering them any compensation.

Additionally, these communities’ legal rights are often violated. For example, the contractual commitments that are written in SACIM’s business plan are not respected and it is not clear how the social responsibility of companies will be respected and implemented. In 2020, MIBA’s board was suspended because of governance concerns. Now it has resumed production, but it is far from implementing the communities’ rights recognized by the law and respecting the mining code and mining regulations.

In 2020, the government revised the 2018 Mining Code, incorporating important innovations such as the protection of human rights, the environment and the rights of future generations, which all mining operators must take into account or risk having their mining permit withdrawn. However, mining companies such as SACIM are not complying with this code.

 What is the real impact of these projects on the daily lives of local populations?

The main consequences of mining projects are progressive loss of community land, the exodus of people from other communities searching for land to cultivate, famine (primarily impacting children), increased infant mortality, and land conflicts between communities which result in customary conflicts.

Local communities heavily depend on their land for their livelihoods, to grow their food and for livestock pasture, so those who don’t flee are forced to work for the company as miners or as clandestine artisanal farmers around the mining site. The communities affected by mining projects also lack access to clean water, as well as electrical energy, even though a local hydroelectric dam supplies the company’s plant, which continues to cause tension in the community. The health centres are almost absent and far away, so the Covid-19 prevention and response is not effective. 

There are also issues in the infrastructure sector. The province of Kasai Oriental hasn’t had a coherent urban development plan since the colonial period. There are glaring deficits in the construction of basic infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals, health centers, and severe shortcomings in the construction of administrative buildings, especially those for the justice system. Even more glaring is the justice situation: due to the lack of state buildings in the territories, several formerly operational jurisdictions have ceased to function. 

How does CRONGD support local communities affected by development projects in the province?

CRONGD sensitizes the communities, identifies their needs, and raises funds through advocacy to the decision-makers/authorities via several partnerships.

Among the activities we have worked on lately, for example, we organized a round table on mining and we supported the development of small-scale farmer’s organizations

What is your dream for your community? What kind of future do you aspire to achieve and what is your own idea of “development”?

I hope to see the responsibilities of mining companies fulfilled, communities’ rights restored, justice for all and unity with the people, the power of the State reinforced.


  • development
  • DRC
  • Human Rights
  • mining

Pulling the ‘cotton’ over Uzbek eyes at latest EBRD investment

By Lorena Cotza Feb 01, 2021


By Nina Lesikhina, Bankwatch Community support coordinator  

On 10 February 2021 the EBRD expects its Board of Directors to approve a loan of USD 70 million to Indorama Agro for the development of the cotton farming sector in Uzbekistan.

According to the bank, the project is expected to strengthen competitiveness and enhance economic inclusion, especially for young people and women in rural areas. Moreover, it “helps the company achieve higher environmental standards” similar to the Better Cotton Initiative for sustainable cotton farming in Uzbekistan, whose industry is notorious for violating the rights of workers. However, the expected transition impact of the project is not even Good (ETI score: 57), while the investment is quite significant. And what does a reality check show? Confiscations of farmers’ land, poor working conditions and job cuts, unfair payment, harmful technologies and ongoing reprisals against staff for voicing their complaints and whistleblowing give cause for alarm.

Centralisations vs competitiveness

In 2018 Indorama Corporation, a Singapore-based multinational, established Indorama Agro to grow the cotton. The intention is to produce its own cotton for Indorama Kokand Textile, operating in Uzbekistan since 2011. Moreover, Indorama Kokand Fertilizers and Chemicals is expected to start production of fertilisers for cotton farming in 2021. Thus, Indorama will be one of the largest vertically-integrated cotton farms in Uzbekistan, operating 75 000 hectares of land and dominating the export of spun yarn, including to Europe. 

In 2020, the EBRD approved USD 22.5 million loan to JSC Indorama Kokand Fertilizers and Chemicals, and now it considers approving another US$70 million to the same corporation. While the bank has rejected concerns about monopolistic trends in agribusiness in Uzbekistan raised by local Radio Free Europe subsidiary Ozodlik, EBRD investments in Indorama Agro alone will exceed the overall EBRD funding for agribusiness in Uzbekistan. 

Economic exclusion

2,897 cotton farms operated in the area of project footprint before. Indorama Agro claims that the acquisition of 1,068 farms happened via voluntary termination of land lease agreements. Farmers interviewed by Ozodlik have claimed that some lease terminations were not voluntary. The EBRD, in its response to Ozodlik, said that no evidence has been found that the land lease agreements were terminated under duress, and the company offered jobs to all farmers. 

However, the NGO Uzbek Forum found that land was transferred to the company with no regard for the long-term leases that farmers had with local administrations and without any compensation from the state for the unilateral termination of their land leases. In cases where farmers were able to reclaim the right to lease their land through the courts, the local hokimiyat refused to implement the court’s decision, acting solely in the interests of Indorama. 

For rural people in Uzbekistan, land is the only source of income, food and employment. Below are excerpts from interviews conducted by Uzbek Forum with former farmers and Indorama employees. People requested anonymity due to fear of reprisals, as many of them are still employed there. 

Increasing social ails

According to a local official in the Kasbi district, the number of unemployed people and those in need of social assistance had tripled in the last two years. Many farmers lost their land when it was transferred to Indorama following the apparently ‘voluntary’ land lease terminations. 

Indorama forbids the use of small plots of land for cultivation by the local community. Local people who annually rented a small plot of land from farmers to grow vegetables for food and sale have lost valuable income and sustenance as a result. Indorama also does not permit cattle to be grazed or the collection of cotton stalks for firewood. Combined with a loss of income, the official believes that the most vulnerable in the rural population are at risk of starvation.   

Moreover, the entire project aims at the mechanisation of the cotton sector, which will result in massive job losses. According to the limited data of Indorama, around 4337 permanent and 9070 seasonal workers may have been affected in Nishon, Sardoba, Kasbi and Oqoltin districts. As a way to compensate the livelihood loss, the company proposed to plant mulberry trees as part of a Community Asset Programme, with a view to improving local income by generating opportunities in silk cocoon production. 

However, the silk sector remains highly controlled by the government, which questions the benefits to farmers and rural communities. Uzbek Forum has in the past reported on abusive practices in the silk sector, which depends highly on forced labour and exploits the vulnerability of farmers and the rural poor. In many cases, Uzbek Forum monitors found that the government underpays or fails to pay producers upon delivery of cocoons. 

Poor working conditions

Indorama Agro confirmed hiring 2 720 people out of 13 407 who might have lost the jobs. However, there is a range of evidence of poor working conditions, unfair payment, gender discrimination, fraud and corruption. Indorama employees, interviewed by Uzbek Forum, told us that the workers are forced to stay in the fields in all kinds of weather with no shelter from freezing cold and scorching heat or a place for workers to rest. They report that they are forced to work over and above their contractual obligations with no extra pay. 

Moreover, people complain that they have been retained on seasonal employment contracts even though they are employed year-round. This effectively means that they are not eligible for sick or holiday pay and have no security of employment. Multiple cases of bribery requested from people in order to ensure employment at Indorama were also reported.  

Ongoing complaints and retaliation

In June 2016 a coalition of NGOs on behalf of Uzbek victims of human rights abuses submitted a complaint to the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) at the World Bank related to Indorama Kokand Textile. The claim raised concerns about the existence of forced labour in IKT’s supply chain. 

In April 2018, CAO received another complaint related to the operation of Indorama Eleme Fertilizer and Chemicals Ltd. in Nigeria from its employees raising a series of concerns regarding the company’s labor and working conditions and use of security forces. 

Uzbek Forum has documented other cases where Indorama employees have been fired or received threats for speaking out about labour rights violations. One recent case involves Roza Agaidarova, who worked as a materials accountant in the company’s warehouse. She claims she was fired after she discovered a shortage of chemicals worth approximately USD 3 million and a violation of reporting procedures. After informing management, she became the target of allegations of theft and received threats that she would be sued. Indorama Agro has since filed a lawsuit against her for allegedly stealing diesel and disclosing information about fraud in the company in an interview she gave to Ozodlik

It is important to underline that the entire public consultation process on the environmental and social impact assessment  for the Indorama project took place during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic . But the company decided to engage stakeholders online, which is very limiting especially for rural communities due to limited internet access and project documentation. 

Harmful technologies and pesticides

Farmers and employees reported that cotton yields on farms operated by Indorama have fallen significantly in the last two years. They believe that this is due in part to the overuse of chemicals and pesticides coupled with a basic lack of understanding on the part of Indorama’s management of the ecology of the land.

‘Before Indorama got land in our area, the land yield was at least 20 centners of cotton per hectare. In 2019, the yield rate on Indorama land was 11 centners per hectare. This was explained by the fact that the company is new and that they do not have specialists who understand local conditions. In 2020, the yield was only 8 centners per hectare. Now they justify low yields through flooding. But yields also fell sharply on those lands that were not affected by the flood.’

According to Indorama Agro, the company intends to apply over 1.5 million liters of pesticides, some of which are not approved or highly restricted in the EU. 

Moreover, the use of glyphosate at such scale raises serious concerns in light of recent scientific literature confirming its carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting and genotoxic properties. Several epidemiological studies have linked exposure to glyphosate with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, hairy cell leukaemia, multiple myeloma, DNA damage, parkinsonian syndromes, autism, etc. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, which means that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals but limited evidence in humans. 

Although glyphosate is an authorised product in the EU and globally, many countries impose restrictions on its use in public spaces or have committed to do so in the near future. Italy and France have already introduced such restrictions, as have local authorities in Belgium, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, the USA, Spain and Australia. Moreover, there is a range of ongoing revisions of existing regulations due to newly received evidence of health risks or gaps in previously made risks assessments. Despite the fact that glyphosate is currently approved for use in the European Union until the end of 2022, Germany and France announced that they will begin phasing it out. In 2020, Luxemburg announced it would terminate the use of glyphosate in 2021.

There is also an increasing social movement to stop the use of glyphosate. In 2017, over one million citizens called on the European Commission ‘to propose to Member States a ban on glyphosate’. Moreover, thousands of people have filed lawsuits against the Monsanto Company (now Bayer) alleging that exposure to the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In June 2020, the company announced that it would pay over USD 10 billion to resolve these claims. In 2018 and 2019, Monsanto was ordered to pay USD 2.2 billion to people that got cancer after using Roundup.

Apart from glyphosate, other pesticides, including propargite and chlorpyrifos, are not approved for use in the EU mainly due to the risks they pose to the environment and human health. Imidacloprid is approved only for use in permanent greenhouses, particularly due to its high risks for bees. 

Such impacts of pesticides are already present in Uzbekistan: after the depletion of the Aral Sea, pesticide and fertiliser residues left on the dried surface are blown into the surrounding region in toxic dust storms. An investigation made by the Environmental Justice Foundation in 2005 discovered that in some areas of Uzbekistan, around 50 per cent of deaths were from respiratory illnesses such as pulmonary tuberculosis, obstructive lung disease and bronchial asthma. Moreover, cancer rates in these areas were abnormally high, with residents of the Karakalpakstan region, located close to the sea, suffering the most. 

For these reasons Uzbek Forum and CEE Bankwatch Network are calling on the EBRD to suspend approval of the loan to Indorama Agro until the company ensures the protection of human rights, and to prevent retaliation against current and former employees of Indorama Agro based on their right to raise concerns.


  • EBRD
  • Uzbekistan
  • workers

Why I joined the coalition: we need collective power to bring about change

By Ivahanna Larrosa

A couple of months ago, I joined the Coalition as Regional Coordinator for Latin America and I am still settling myself into this new role. I’m enjoying getting to know our members and allies across the region, but also meeting again with friends and colleagues from different organizations I had already worked with.

I joined the Coalition inspired by its values and its theory of change, based on the vision of community-led development. For me, this is an exciting opportunity to continue learning and to help sharing knowledge and experiences about rights-based approaches to international development. As a feminist, I´m always in a learning process, trying to understand how we can identify and break oppression structures and all their layers.

I have been working with human rights organizations, feminist groups and communities-led organizations for over 20 years at the local, regional and international level. I feel privileged to continue to learn from outstanding advocates and defenders and become part of the global community the Coalition represents.

In my previous roles, I had the chance to coordinate global coalitions and networks efforts, such as the campaign for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the ESCR-Net. I have also worked as a director at the national office of Amnesty International in my home country, Uruguay, among other advocacy and coordination roles with different organizations. 

These experiences have taught me how far we can get thanks to our collective efforts, and the difference we can make by becoming a powerful force that goes beyond the sum of our parts.

Some of the areas I have focused on in my work are economic, social, and cultural rights, and especially habitat rights and the right to housing. This has allowed me to support and learn from communities impacted by so-called development projects in their towns, cities, and territories. In this particular challenging time, I feel humbled to see the resistance and the response of local communities who are facing the worst impacts of the pandemic, because of lack of adequate policies and persistent structural inequalities. The solidarity and the innovative responses of communities all over the world have been another proof of collective strength and power.

I have always been interested in the linkages among the human rights field and the development and international finance architecture. These fields are often seen as separate, despite the determining impact of economic policies and structures on the fulfilment of human rights. One of the spaces where activists working in these two fields have come together has been the World Social Forums, where I have seen how our collective energy, knowledge and joy can enhance peoples’ power.

The idea that human rights must be upheld within the development finance sector is not new, but now it cannot be ignored any longer. Local communities have been challenging the dominant economic order and proposing structural, radical changes. Every day we hear about communities and defenders facing risks as a retaliation for their work in defense of the commons, in defense of their territories, in  defence of their right to self-determination on their own paths to development. Powerful actors come into play, such as governments, corporations, development banks, and big mainstream media. All of these actors have to contribute to enabling the environment for participation and to hearing the voices of those affected the most. We need to counterbalance these powers to be able to have just societies with meaningful people’s participation, where the common good is upheld and a life with dignity is possible for all.

I think the Coalition with its members is a powerful collective force and space where committed and diverse people of all regions and paths come together to make another world possible. I feel humbled and honored to be part of this big community.

Mongolia: ADB’s road to poverty

By Lorena Cotza Nov 10, 2020


The video and the blog below was prepared by OT-Watch, in collaboration with other CSOs.

In Mongolia, in the Ger district of Ulaanbaatar, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding the construction of a road. But the local population call it “the ADB road to poverty”.

ADB has been involved in urban development in Mongolia since 1992 and to this date has invested a total of $376 Million dollars, in various of forms of financing. ADB also contributed with technical assistance, to develop policies and legal frameworks for urban development in compliance with the Bank standards. Yet, despite these efforts, the local population impacted by the road is being heavily impacted.

Oyuntugs, director of “6 Buudal” NGO, says:

“We filed a complaint regarding the ADB project. The Selbe sub-center project is affecting peoples’ lives. Residents are fleeing home because of risks caused by cracks in the wall and fences. They promised to reduce poverty but this is leading to more poverty, residents forced to flee are sliding into more poverty. We are also working on many cases of breakage of residents’ cars and injuries sustained by falling, where the road or pedestrian passages were wrecked because of the construction works and where no temporary passages were created. Some resettled people have not found a new home yet, and their livelihoods are diminishing. The size of land allotted is too small. The promised 500 sq. meters outside town are now down to 250 and people have not been able to move in. Their livelihoods are at risk”.

In Mongolia, citizens have the right to obtain a piece of land free of charge and live on it for free. However, resettled families were offered cash compensation for their land and received land possession titles for a 5-year period, instead of restoring their ownership title. Why is this a problem? Possession titles require payment of land fees, which is an additional burden on resettled families already suffering from economic and social displacement.

In addition, the Mongolian tradition of living as a “khot ail” of two or more families on the same plot was disregarded in the ADB’s Land Acquisition and Resettlement Plan. Land titling principles borrowed from a sedentary culture were applied to issue a land certificate to only one family. Remaining families were to go without compensation of any kind. Compensation for non-title holders negotiated under the Office of the Special Project Facilitator’s problem solving process in 2018 is not being honored by the Project Management Unit in the valuation process for other sub-centers.

“When we asked if we could apply for the 1,800.000 MNT (appx $100 per month) compensation for the six months transition support and 250,000 MNT (appx. $88) moving cost they said: “your children are not eligible because they have not lived at this address in the last 6 months”. The reason I am reacting to this is because my children have not lived here in the past 6 months due to COVID. They have not been able to come home because are stuck there, otherwise they would have come back and make a living like always, but they are still out there now”, says a community member. 

ADB continues to use every possible pretext to reduce compensation. Family members stuck outside Mongolia due to COVID were cut from compensation because they hadn’t lived at the registered address for the last 6 months. It appears that the ADB has not communicated the policies for protecting people and migrant workers affected by COVID restrictions from further harm. A cash amount of $35,000 is considered a decent compensation but it will not buy an apartment that can comfortably house 6 adults and 2 children of the titleholder. 

“This is the path to 7 Buudal and there is no pedestrian crossing. They did not think about human comfort. You walk here – no passing, walk there – nothing. People fall and get injured walking on these rocks and bridges. I fell and cracked scull and spent many days with swollen face, runny eyes, not able to work. It hurt.

It is impossible to live in this khashaa. I am a father of 6 children and there is no way I can build a house here. My kids used to play up the river across there but now the road is blocking the way. Cars on this road drive at 50 miles and faster.  There’s no thinking of children’s safety at all. Look at the fences fallen and stolen during the winter. No remedy, it is not clear who is supposed to restore. Meeting with bosses and implementers they point me “go here, go there” and have not taken a single decision. Look at the driveway they built. What car can drive up on it to the road? Driving up to the road with cars speeding on it. Don’t know where to go. We got a road in our plot.  This is deep poverty. Is there any upward development? We definitely do not see it”, says a community member.

As if taking away land and livelihoods for little compensation was not enough, the actual construction phase is shamelessly trespassing into peoples’ property. Families who were denied compensation because officially they were not going to be affected by the road are now struggling to live, with a road blocking their door, and fences hanging over their heads. Families are being forced to flee without compensation. But now families are demanding to be resettled in a safe place, with an adequate compensation  for the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. 

Community member Myagmarsuren Munkhzul says: “I’ve been living for the past 15 years at Sukhbaatar district 14th Horoo, at this address. The ADB–funded Selbe sub-center project is causing major problems to our livelihood. Because the road is built right behind our plot fences fell, there is no guarantee that a car will not fall in here.  In addition, there’s so little land left, with no space to put the latrine. Because of road works, the wall of the house cracked sustaining major damages. The backside fences fell under pressure of the road slope during the winter and while fixed now there is a possibility that they will fall again. Living with no fences has caused a lot of thefts and robberies. Because of this project’s work, the street camera disappeared almost a year ago. Therefore, the situation is very difficult with not knowing where the stolen things are and who is responsible for all this. All I can ask for is for you to create conditions for us to live peacefully with no risks here, where we are”. 

The Green Climate Fund will soon approve a co-financing for the housing that will use coal-based electricity for heating, but it will also displace marginalized communities to make space for their climate-resilient and affordable town houses. The Green Climate Fund, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank are all taking part in these urban development projects, affecting negatively on the livelihoods of Ger residents as they don’t ensure their safeguards policies are being implemented. Development investors should fulfill their promise to reduce poverty to stop financing infrastructure for the rich minority by physically, economically and socially displacing Ger district residents.    

Mega Sporting Events: the anatomy of a development disaster

By Lorena Cotza Nov 05, 2020


On the opening day of the Finance in Common summit, there will be a special session on “Mobilisation of Development Finance for Sustainable Sport“, that will look at the role of public development finance in mega sporting events such as the Olympics. But can these events ever be sustainable? And should public development banks ever invest in this very controversial sector?

As many reports show, mega sporting events often lead to “mega-violations“: forced evictions, corruption, discrimination, police violence, retaliations against activists, threats and attacks against journalists, poor labour standards, exploitaton of migrant workers are all common issues in the context of events such as the Olympics or the World Cup.

In this op-ed, Mark Fodor (coordinator of the Defenders in Development campaign at the Coalition for Human Rights in Development) looks at the devastating human rights, environmental and social impact of mega sporting events.

And the winner is… ?

You’ve just won your bid to host the Olympics – congratulations! You won the right to be the center of attention of this planet, to showcase – even show off – to the rest of the planet how you can do just as well as the last event. No, not just as well. You can do even better. 

The date is set and now you have over six years to prepare. You get your team together – look at past experiences, bring in the best experts, draw up plans. Plans are set: start consultations, hire contractors, start building: everything will be ready with time to spare.

And then the consultations start. Some slum residents start protesting, as they are going to be forcibly displaced to make way for sporting venues, or for the roads and rails lines built to get to those venues. Environmentalists are speaking up because parks with some older trees need to be cleared. Outraged urban planners are complaining that it’s a huge waste of money: we’re going to develop local transportation infrastructure around huge crowds that will only be in town for two weeks and will be travelling between stadiums to areas of the city that are otherwise essentially empty. Local journalists and bloggers catch wind of what’s going on. They start to cover the issue. Their message: this is not what your city needs to develop.

Time is a bit tight and this might mean you have to redraw plans a bit. Maybe a bit more compensation, maybe show that venues will have a life after the events. You have to keep your eye on the ball: not let anything stand in the way. This doesn’t make you look good. Lucky you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve. You double down on public relations. You also start reaching for other tools at your disposal.

The people just don’t get it, there are real development opportunities here. Many of the slums are on prime real estate. With the Olympics, you will actually be able to clear up those spaces, and develop newer, better and cleaner areas in the city for your up and coming middle class residents. Ok, so now it’s clear: not everyone is going to be happy with what you have in mind; and you don’t even have time to make everyone happy, anyway. Let’s focus on cleaning up the city and getting rid of the ugly spots. Let’s show the world what a great place this is.

The colossal effort to build everything for the two-week event involves mobilising all construction companies in your country. The laws of supply and demand start to kick in: they push their prices higher and higher, especially as the opening date approaches. New construction companies start appearing to help in the effort. Ideally you would only work with companies that follow the highest labour standards, but the effort here is too great, you need all companies you can find. There isn’t enough of a labour force in-country for this effort, several of the companies have started to put their hands on vulnerable migrant workers.

You manage to get it all together: the Olympics take place, and you are praised on the world stage for the event you just held. You showed everyone that you can do it. And what’s the tally? Vast amounts of funds drained away from real development needs, several times the astronomical amounts originally planned; large abandoned stadiums; a transportation system wholly inadequate for the city’s every day transportation needs; hundreds if not thousands of your city’s most vulnerable further marginalised – or even arrested in some cases.

It’s not a good sign that the Finance in Common summit of public development banks gets ready to open with a separate session on sporting events and development. The answer to what we should think about public development finance going to mega-sporting events is already abundantly clear: an urban planner’s nightmare, a corruption hotbed, a human rights disaster – a very bad idea.

A very controversial track record

Migrant workers for the 2024 Qatar World Cup – who make up 95% of the workforce – have faced delayed, withheld and unpaid salaries, and cannot leave the country to find other jobs. They face appalling living conditions, often (illegally) aren’t provided resident permits, have passports confiscated, are threatened, and are faced with forced labour. 

During the works for the 2016 Sochi Winter Olympics, there were huge arrears in payments to migrant workers, as well as forced evictions without fair compensation, threats and arrests of journalists and civil society activists, including those documenting environmental damage caused by the Olympics, and exploitation of migrant workers on Olympic venues and other construction sites.

The Rio Olympics in 2016 saw 6,600 families evicted or under threat of eviction in impoverished areas with the impossibility of return due to 60% of the Olympic Park area being subjected to condominium developments sold on the open market after the Games. Many of evictions were “flash evictions” with no prior warning, forcing relocation to lower-income areas which created further economic precarity and removed community ties. Inadequate compensation leading to debt was rife, as was physical violence and death threats to the displaced from government officials. The displacement also caused mental health issues and increased exposure to gang violence.

As the Baku 2015 European Games approached, the Azeri president Aliyev piled the pressure on journalists and human rights defenders, with intimidatory tactics, frozen assets, threats and arbitrary arrest, travel bans, as well as banning international reporters.

The run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw a surge in violations of free expression and association, and media freedom, as well as abuses of migrant construction workers and forced eviction of residents.

Additional resources

Human Rights Watch – China: Olympics Harm Key Human Rights

Human Rights Watch – Russia: Olympic Construction Devastates Sochi Village

Human Rights Watch – Russia: IOC Acts on Sochi Abuses

Human Rights Watch – Race to the bottom: exploitation of migrant workers ahead of Russia’s 2016 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi

Human Rights Watch – Qatar: Little Progress on Protecting Migrant Workers

Amnesty International – Qatar World Cup of Shame

The Guardian – Baku European Games crackdown only casts light on human rights issues

The Guardian – Europe’s leaders should boycott autocratic Azerbaijan’s mini-Olympics

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Community voices: interview with Paubert Tsimanaoraty and Elisa Razafiniarivo

By Lorena Cotza Nov 05, 2020


Ahead of the Finance in Common summit, we speak with Paubert Mahatante Tsimanaoraty (expert on environmental issues and fisheries) and Elisa Razafiniarivo (National Platform of Civil Society Organizations in Madagascar, member of FORUS) about the situation in Madagascar, development finance and human rights.

What’s the impact of development projects in Madagascar?

Paubert: If you check all the reports from development banks in Madagascar and all their records, you’d see that there are sometimes gaps between what’s happening in reality and what is documented. I am 39, so I’ve seen many projects, and I’m from deep Southern Madagascar where a famine is happening now; we’re living in critical conditions, very harsh ones.

On the one hand, development banks – such as the World Bank, African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund – help fund government projects. Sometimes this process involves civil society representatives and sometimes it doesn’t, which is fine, as this relationship between government and civil society is a work in progress. The government sometimes sees civil society as being manipulated by the opposition, so we need to be careful, but we want them to understand that we represent the people, and so we deserve to be consulted. 

One of the problems is that when you look at how much money is spread and used to help the community to develop, to address climate change and reduce poverty…after a project ends, after 3 or 5 years, we see that there’s no sustainability. And sustainability is the main issue; even during the project there’s not always clarity about how the community is supposed to benefit. 

Another issue is about paying back the money, and this is an issue most citizens don’t understand, as the Malagasy translation of World Bank funding is “donation”. But it isn’t a donation, and it’s supposed to be paid back most of the time.

Let’s take the example of the project “Safety net”, a project initiated by the Ministry of Population, in 2015-6. We had a deep crisis related to food security and famine in the southern part of Madagascar. Through that project, the World Bank deployed hundreds of millions of dollars, as did USAID and some others. There was a basket fund and the UNDP, USAID, the World Bank, and many international funds contributed. The fund was used to help the community to overcome the crisis. Money was distributed directly to communities –  around 15 dollars monthly per household. It was a source of local corruption – some people were not qualified, but received it as they’re related to the mayor or chief of the local administration. Instead of the real targets of the project benefitting, there was corruption. What happened is also that during distribution of these funds, the flow of money coming into the village caused inflation – lots of demand and little supply. The second thing is that the money was sometimes used for alcohol and also sexual exploitation.

Let’s take another example – another World Bank funded project, SWIOFISH, a South-western Indian Ocean fishery and aquaculture project, worth $85 million dollars, for 15 years, of which 5 have elapsed. Some money has already been taken from the bank and been used, but the government bought 35 4x4s with this money. So far, we don’t see the impact of the project. Maybe this is partially as it’s only a third of the way through and we need to wait and see.

The last example I’ll say is the PCAP, a project to support fishing communities, an African Development Bank project. 4x4s, as usual, were bought, and also built some sort of units to help fishermen treat their products, to wash and prepare them. No fisherman has used these units – at least 12 were built, and 1 unit cost 1 billion Malagasy francs in 2013. Fish aggregation devices were deployed, too, but a few months after their deployment, they were destroyed by angry fishermen as they didn’t see direct benefit.

To sum up, what I’d like to say is that we need to undertake some research to see the real impacts of these interventions. After all, the money has to be paid back, so civil society must stand up and get some support from partners to be able to measure and share some recommendations with the governments and the bankers so that they can improve their approach.

Is civil society ever consulted in relation to development projects?

Elisa: It’s true that there are a lot of development projects in Madagascar – but my question is this: are we really listening to the most vulnerable? Are we able to respond to the fundamental needs of these vulnerable people? In my opinion, there are no space for public participation, and they don’t listen to the local population. The spaces that exist now aren’t really functional – civil society is often consulted as a formality, which isn’t effective if we wish to address the population’s needs. 

Paubert: In answer to that question, I’d say that I, as a civil society representative, was never involved in consultation for project implementation. The same goes for the community – levels of education also play a role and can be used as a shield by the government and by the banks. They rely just on their information sent by technicians. According to them, technicians have talked to the villagers, and this is the consultation, though it isn’t compulsory. Most of the time, the government uses the term “emergency”, and says that they can’t make the bankers wait. There’s always a rush to do something in order to receive and use funding – so the government always has excuses to avoid this consultation. As a civil society, in Madagascar, we have spoken out regarding this situation, because the result is that we borrow money from banks, and now we have a lot of debt, and the results of the money that we’ve borrowed isn’t at all proportional to the amount borrowed. We need civil society involvement.

Are activists speaking out against issues related to development projects at risk in Madagascar?

Paubert: Honestly, I’ve never heard of someone being attacked after criticising a government project of the World Bank. However, I, for example, as a university teacher and a state employee – I face some limitations. I can be reached through my boss or my minister. There could be indirect punishment – not being promoted because you’re a big mouth, or missing other opportunities. This can happen at ground level, too. Activists in Madagascar are still timid, because this concept of activism in Madagascar is perceived negatively. When you criticise bigger projects, even highly educated people can take it as an anti-development stance. This is a situation that we deal with in everyday situations in Madagascar.

Also, in 2018, the government wanted to promote the blue economy in Madagascar. Chinese bankers were ready to fund the project, $5 billion dollars for 15 years. The project intended to use 330 fishing vessels within Malagasy water territory to fish and compete with traditional fishers. As a fishery expert, I was opposed to that project because I knew that this project would lead to stock depletion, and because as a biologist, I know that Madagascar cannot have that many vessels fishing at that time. What happened is that I was threatened by the advisor of the former president when he wanted to meet me. He threatened me indirectly, saying what I was doing was against the government’s will and that I was anti-development. He said that I shouldn’t behave this way to avoid possible circumstances – though he didn’t explicitly say imprisonment. But I did resist. I contacted peers and friends and colleagues, and thanks to them, nothing happened. Maybe I was just lucky. But this kind of situation can happen. Maybe there are other victims not speaking out from fear of reprisals unless there are other witnesses.

What does sustainable development mean for you?

Paubert: For Madagascar, this concept of development is still debatable. My development is not others’ development. You’re in Europe, you have all this infrastructure and so on, but in Madagascar we’re combating famine, community insecurity, food insecurity and so on. There’s a huge gap of needs.

Sustainable development, to me, therefore means life with water to drink, food to eat, schools to teach, and hospitals for everyone, and places for young people to have fun. This are what I think is the sustainable development we need, and for it to be in harmony with the environment, including water, natural resources and so on. Mining isn’t needed – it doesn’t benefit the community or the people. On the contrary, the environment suffers from sedimentation and deforestation, and diseases resulting from mine exploitation.

Elisa: I want to insist on something – how come we’ve injected so much money into Madagascar for years and years, but when we look at the results, we’re going backwards? Madagascar is a country in extreme poverty. There’s a problem in what we understand as models of development, which doesn’t correspond to the population’s needs. It’s not okay that the daily income is less than 3 dollars. It’s really a question of surviving here. The funds that are injected, even COVID-19 funds… barely anyone benefits from this social aid.

Community voices: interview with Ecoclub environmental activists, Ukraine

By Lorena Cotza Nov 05, 2020


Ecoclub’s members together with other environmental activists supporting Ecoclub’s case near the court building (August, 2020)

In the village of Horodok, in Ukraine, a subsidiary company owned by the Austrian company Kronospan is building a wood processing factory. Local residents fear this factory could further pollute the area, where there is already a big chemical plant, as well as other factories.

Kronospan is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of wood-based cladding elements, it operates a total of 40 plants in Europe and it’s a long-standing client of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

As reported by Bankwatch, “Although the planned Horodok facility is not financed by the EBRD, over the past 17 years, the bank has awarded Kronospan more than a billion euros for at least 11 other projects. (…) The EBRD has agreed with Kronospan Ukraine to invest EUR 75 million in the company’s facility in the Volyn region, and EUR 41 million for the company’s balance sheet restructuring”.

Kronospan is a company with a very controversial track record: its projects have caused severe environmental pollution, there are cases of alleged corruption and illegal logging, and attempts to silence local civil society protesting against its factories through lawsuits.

As explained in a briefing published by the Ukrainian environmental NGO Ecoclub, “Kronospan has been criticized for its business practices and the pollution provoked by the emissions from many of its factories. In June 2018, the British NGO, Earthsight published a comprehensive report on illegal logging and widespread corruption in the Ukrainian forestry sector. It also highlighted the fact that several major European wood-processing companies imported illegally harvested timber from Ukraine, thus clearly making them complicit in this corruption”. 

Activists from Ecoclub from Rivne were sued for defamation, after publishing a report raising concerns about the negative environmental impacts the facility might have. The charges were filed by Kronospan’s subsidiary, Technoprivod Invest Group. 

We speak with two environmental activists from Ecoclub, Andriy Martynyuk and Valerie Trykisha, about their struggle and the challenges they are facing.

What’s the potential environmental impact of Kronospan activities?

Sixteen years ago, Kronospan decided to open a factory in the Volyn region in the city of Novovolynsk, which is an industrial city with a lot of mines, where many Soviet mines were also located before, and near to a major port city. They got loans from EBRD and they decided to construct this plant. It is a huge plant, has been operating for 16 years, and expanded last year. Their main products are: plywoods, particle boards, fiber boards, floors, furniture etc. The problem for the city of Novovolynsk is that it is already an industrial city with high levels of air pollution and when they opened the plant, they just added to the already existing harm to the environment.
The locals (we met them this summer) are facing mainly housing problems. For instance a local woman has told us that she had cancer and she connects it to the operation of the plant. They experience health problems and severe diseases connected to respiratory tract and other severe conditions like infertility, cancer etc. Many young people are leaving the city.

There are pictures where you can see that the nearest houses are less than a hundred meters away from the plant. When they expanded the plant, they built a huge wall, and the nearest houses and gardens are next to this wall. From the one side the plant is connected to the city and from the other to the village, so the neighbouring villages are suffering as well. There are also huge areas of storage of wood, mainly fine wood because they are claiming they collect left-overs from the wood processing.

Kronospan has a very controversial track record. Can you tell us more about it?

As analyzed by the report by Earthsight, Kronospan was also one of the companies that illegally imported wood to Europe and it is one of the suppliers of IKEA. They process more wood than stated in their reports and are logging some illegally fine wood. 

Can you tell us more about the planned new plant?

Now we are campaigning against a new plant in Horodok, that is going to be much bigger and will host around 80% of all wood lodged in Ukraine. The construction works have already started, and they plan to operate and start the production by the next year. It will be the biggest plant in Ukraine.

In 2019, they published a notice about the coming of a new investor to the Rivne region and some of the people were excited because they were offered millions of euros in investments, so this investment was long expected given the large economic crisis. Before any decision was taken, there was a bad sign when reports on negative environmental impacts were published and there were meetings against this plant because the nearest building is also very close to the side of the future plant and they are expecting even bigger levels of pollution. In the same region there is the biggest chemical plant in Ukraine and people are quite scared about the construction of this plant.

There is basically a big conflict of interest, since local authorities are welcoming them because of the huge investments in the region and the job offerings are seen as a nice chance to earn more than they would without it. Some of the people are against it (not all of them), but some care more about the economic state of affairs because we are in an ongoing crisis. The choice of the future location is great in terms of logistics – they chose it because there are some other industries nearby, so they will have access to infrastructure. So, the choice of the place was based on logistics rather than on a safety evaluation of the location near the city.

One of the most noticeable protests was organized by an initiative group – the locals organized this group to protest against the plant. The leader was a veteran who participated in the war in the East of Ukraine. He got a lawsuit from the representatives of the company and they wanted compensation of approximately 5.000 euros from him.

How is the company trying to silence the protests?

Last year the locals were concerned by the report of the environmental impacts assessment of the plant and they wanted Ecoclub to analyze it and evaluate whether it was right or wrong and what the potential risks could be. A researcher from a local university analyzed their report and found out that the concentration of pollutants exceeded the safe levels and especially formaldehyde, which can cause cancer, could exceed the safe levels and the same could happen with other pollutants as well. So, the biggest problem would be the air pollution by these harmful substances.
Ecoclub published these notices based on this report, and then when it was published in the webpage, Facebook etc., the representatives of the plant saw it and wanted Ecoclub to withdraw all these remarks and they filed a lawsuit this winter. They also demanded a compensation of approximately 5.000 euros because of the injury caused to their business reputation (claiming that these were false statements).

The process was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak and the quarantine, on their initiative mostly. However, we tried to undertake different actions of protest like gaining public support through the media and highlighting the situation. The last court hearing took place this Monday and Ecoclub has unfortunately lost this case. We are going to appeal this decision once the full decision will be published. The media was also publishing that we were wrong, but the truth is known to the huge public. This trial had all features of a SLAPP, strategy litigation against public participation.

There was actually no argumentation for the decision; they just announced the results, but we are waiting for the full text of the Court’s decision. It was more about their speculations on the case. There are also two other trials against activists, initiated again by Kronospan against other activists, because of the harm to their reputation and the spread of misinformation. They are actually still demanding money as a refund/compensation from this local initiative group.

Additional resources and useful links

Bankwatch overview of Kronospan’s activities

Ukrainian activists taken to court by longstanding EBRD client after sounding the alarm on impacts of planned wood processing factory

About Kronospan’s lawsuit against the environmental NGO Ecoclub:


Ecoclub’s Letter of appeal with remarks to the EIA Report

ECOCLUB’S publication: The concentration of formaldehyde in Horodok will be exceeded 9 times – Ecoclub 



  • environment

Community voices: interview with Jacques Ngarassal Saham, anti-corruption activist in Chad

By Lorena Cotza Nov 04, 2020


Ahead of the Finance in Common summit, we speak with Jacques Ngarassal Saham, an anti-corruption activist in Chad who works for CILONG (member of the global network FORUS) , about development finance, human rights, and the impact of development projects on local communities.

How are development projects affecting the life of local communities in Chad?

The main projects financed by development banks in Chad are infrastructure projects, such as development of roads or electricity lines, educational projects, and then also in the agricultural and the health sector. And there are some projects in the extractive industry sector that are financed by the World Bank which have had a negative impact for the local population, because of environmental degradation, the impact on arable land and so on.

The main issue is that those implementing these projects are public authorities, and the implementation of these projects is problematic because it’s often based on clientelism and leads to corruption; this is what we call the “weakening of finances” of these projects. 

What’s the role for civil society and what are the challenges for human rights defenders in Chad?

In relation to human rights defenders and their situation in Chad, they’re in a state of unprecedented insecurity. When we pose the question of access to information, when citizens organise themselves in an organisation to demand certain things regarding development activities, us leaders of civil society are stigmatized: we are accused of being close to the opposition or enemies of the nation, just because we’re expressing our opinion on issues related to governance.

We need to raise concerns when there are problems related to projects that concern our population, our future and our youth – we intervene to make the authorities more transparent about this, but today, issues related to governance make civil society be very negatively perceived in Chad. We are living a state of constant, unprecedented insecurity. We live in a place where violence is prominent, and our work brings further risks. But we do this work because of a conviction that this corruption, this misappropriation of funds, this injustice must be denounced, so that the poorest people don’t have to continue living in poverty, and so that certain people can’t continue enriching themselves at the cost of the people. That’s why we do this work.

Today we have a cadre in place for the defence of human rights, but I don’t know…it can’t be trusted. When defenders have been in danger, they have been in contact with institutions in Europe or Africa. But this question of protection of human rights defenders is a question that needs to be treated with a lot of care and positive attention for it to be solved. 

What are the main challenges for an anti-corruption activist in Chad?

I’ve been contacted multiple times regarding corruption in Chad because I work as a coordinator on this issue for an anti-corruption organisation in Chad. I’ve been contacted by the European Union Commission, because they’re involving anti-corruption organisations more to help solve this issue and to ensure that real development can take place today. They know that there are many gaps, and the lack of efficacy and impact of these projects is problematic. Recently, I had a meeting with the World Bank – they realise that anti-corruption organisations need to be involved in their activities. But for this involvement, civil society has to have the means to be able to go into the field, to do investigations, to do surveys on corruption for this or that project financed by development banks, in order to help our country move forward. In cases where they’re talking to the states, they need to have the courage to talk about corruption and violation of human rights, because corruption is a violation of human rights that affects the most vulnerable. Imagine – funds are given to education, and when they’re misappropriated, it affects the most vulnerable, who have the right to education! Banks could research where funds are misappropriated, and this would have a clear impact on results. It’s a question that concerns a lot of people, but civil society needs to be organised to denounce this. It’s everywhere. But how can you organise civil society to be able to ask the banks for the means to do this?

Hemantha Withanage: development banks must uphold human rights

By Lorena Cotza Nov 03, 2020


In this article, Hemantha Withanage (Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka and International Convenor at the NGO Forum on ADB) calls on the development banks to uphold human rights and engage with human rights defenders when making post-Covid-19 recovery plans.

Public development banks are a major driver of development. They are active in the infrastructure, mining, tourism and many others sectors. But in the past decade, they have been icnreasingly criticized for human rights violations linked to their projects.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a set of guidelines for States and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations. They were endorsed by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011.

For over 50 years, development banks have struggled with the role that human rights should play in their work. Although the development banks have transformed their core missions over the years, many issues remains the same. Development banks are under increasing pressure by the local communities and civil activists to respond to calls for greater engagement in human rights. But unfortunately, we have seen that development banks continue to support countries responsible for human rights abuses.

The COVID 19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of upholding human rights across the nations and in the development sectors, because it has shown how the poor and working class are more vulnerable and how they were unequally treated in the COVID-19 responses, despite the financial support given by development banks to respond to the pandemic.

Human rights are inextricably linked to equal opportunities for people to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. Even the economists and policy makers think that the advancement of human rights contributes to economic development. Multi-lateral development banks have the potential to influence governments to do better on this front.

Yet, development banks remain hesitant to include human rights among the key objectives of development, and continue to rely on traditional economic measures like trade, sector efficiencies, employment, income and capacity building.

This matter further surfaces in the upcoming “Finance in Common” summit, where all public development banks in the world will gather to discuss their post-COVID recovery plans and their future goals. We have noticed that in the Summit agenda there’s no mention of human rights and they are not engaging with communities, human rights defenders, and civil society.

The NGO Forum on ADB states that true development is hindered most where domestic institutions are weak, and human dignity is not respected. Many banks’ member countries remain poor as a result of a national failure to provide people with basic services and equal opportunities for all. The NGO Forum on ADB members have witnessed how many national governments failed to address human rights in their COVID responses.

Therefore we demand that development banks should put human rights at the core of their development agenda and promote human dignity and equal opportunities, encouraging member countries to do the same. We also call on the development banks to engage with local communities, civil society and human rights defenders when designing post COVID recovery plans.

Community voices: the peaceful resistance of Ixquisis

By Lorena Cotza Nov 03, 2020


In western Guatemala, a group of indigenous communities joined forces and formed the “Peaceful Resistance of the micro-region of Ixquisis”, to struggle against the construction of three hydroelectric dams in their territory (Pojom I, Pojom II and San Andrés).

The government gave the green light to these projects without consulting the local communities, violating their right to prior, free and informed consent. Their concerns about the serious health, social and environmental impact was completely disregarded.

The projects are being carried out by the company Energía y Renovación SA (previously called Promoción y Desarollos Hídricos S.A) and financed by development banks, including IDB Invest, the Bank Central American Economic Integration (BCIE) and Cordiant Cap, a Canadian financial intermediary that has funding from, among others, KfW, a German bank.

In August 2018, the affected indigenous communities filed a formal complaint with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism, requesting an investigation and withdrawal of their investment due to non-compliance with the bank’s own operating policies.

According to a community consultation held in 2009, 99% of the population of San Mateo Ixtatán voted against the granting of licenses for the exploitation of natural resources in their territory.

As reported by Front Line Defenders, since 2009 the human rights defenders of the Peaceful Resistance of the micro-region of Ixquisis have faced stigmatization campaigns, defamation, human rights violations, threats, criminalization and brutal attacks. Three local activists have been killed in the past few years. In December 2018, the bodies of the brothers Neri Esteban Pedro and Domingo Esteban Pedro were found near the San Andrés hydroelectric plant, with bullet holes in their heads. In January 2017, Sebastián Alonso Juan was shot during a peaceful demonstration.

We speak with a local community leader about the impact of the dam and their struggle to protect their territory.

What’s the impact of the dams in your territory?

The land, nature, the rivers everything is at risk…we do not know what can happen, if a strong earthquake comes the dam can collapse… and the other problem is the diversion of the river, the company wants to divert the river, there are communities living here and many greenhouses that would run out of water if the company diverts the river, and that is another big problem…we want to protect the nature, we don’t want them to destroy the land where we live.

They killed many fish, shrimps, snails and aquatic animals and they say this is development, but development for whom? Development for them, that’s not for us.

How did the banks violate the rights of your community?

With regard to the bank, it has violated our rights because it did not investigate first to whom it was going to lend money. The money given by the bank has served only to destroy nature and to get people killed in our territory. For example, our comrade Sebastian was assassinated. We saw that the money they spent is only for killing people, and we are being persecuted by the company.

Arrest warrants, denunciations, people maquetted, bleached, intoxicated with teargas bombs, dead: this is the type of attacks the company and the bank committed here.

What’s your idea of development and how does this compare with the idea of development being pushed by the bank?

The company has been talking about development since they began to travel across our territory, here in our communities. They spoke of development, of energy, some of them were confused and probably they believed in what they were saying. But we saw that what they were talking about was a lie from the beginning, when they began to manipulate people. They speak of development, but what development do they leave behind? They destroyed the land, our forests, and now we see that the development that has been left behind is only destruction, and that we will never return to our nature. I’ve been living here all my life, I grew up here, many people used to come here near the river that is called Rio Negro, now they no longer come because everything has been ruined. 

Development, says the bank, but it is development for them, what we want is development that is for the people. We wanted a turbine managed by the community, that is managed by the people, that is not transnational as they say. The hydroelectric power will be installed here and they will install a large cable and if God wants, within 10 years they will be able to complete the project, but we do not agree. We want development for the peasants, not for the big rich ones here in Guatemala.

Community voices: interview with Vidya Dinker

By Lorena Cotza Oct 30, 2020


Ahead of the Finance in Common summit, we speak with Vidya Dinker – Indian social activist and coordinator of Growthwatch – about development finance, human rights, the impact of development projects on local communities, and the way forward.

How are development projects affecting the life of local communities in South-east Asia?

In our region, South Asia, there are examples everywhere of multilateral development banks putting in money and saying all the right things, and yet when we see up close from the ground up, the situation is completely different from what we are being told – with what the project reports say, with what is promised, even with what the monitoring reports say.

For example, early last year, we heard about an ADB project in Kolkata, a very old city known worldwide. So when somebody comes up with money to augment the city water supply and underground drainage, nobody can fault that – every city wants a good water and sanitation system, and therefore the local municipality was happy. On record, the ADB will say that nobody was displaced, and yet on the ground, there were loads of immobile street vendors – clothes menders, laundrettes, garment vendors, electricity repair shops, footwear repair, most of whom have small tea stalls. It’s often women who run these stalls and make little snacks and tea and sell cigarettes. Of course the water and drainage pipes are down the roadside too, but they say that nobody will be displaced, that nobody’s business will be affected. They’re just going to dig on the road, and it’ll be done in 15 days and everything will be back to normal. They still maintain this. But for a year and a half, people have been displaced. They were vending their wares and services, and they were asked to take down their makeshift shops and were told that in a month or two everything would be back to normal – and they acquiesced, partially through fear as they don’t have licenses. They spent a lot of money to store their things, and most things rotted away. Those people have been without income for so long! Yet the ADB will just say that access to the shop was affected, and nothing else. They will say that they had compensation to people for two weeks – but no-one was paid. No-one was even told that they were eligible for compensation. All this talk of a Grievance Redress Mechanism system seems to have no evidence, nor does the talk about consultations about free, informed, prior consent. It’s just a concept. It looks great on paper, but it doesn’t correspond to the reality on the ground. And this is a simple project – not a power plant, or irrigation canal, or a metro. It’s just a drainage pipeline. And the devastation it’s wreaked in the community – 123 on one street according to the ADB, slightly more according to us. This community for a year and a half has not been able to rebuild their shops, rebuild their lives, rebuild their livelihoods – where are they supposed to go – how are they supposed to survive? And then comes COVID-19. And I’ve been asking my friends to donate money to this community at this time, but how much can come from this generosity, for people who had livelihoods built up over years plundered by a bank?

Do you think development can ever be sustainable?

These development banks aren’t really development banks – they just spread destruction in our communities in the name of development. And I think it’s funny that they come together at a summit with no pretence – and it’s good that there’s no pretence! They do this in our name, especially the Global South, and it’s not that we’re important to them. Pushing out their loans and loan recovery is what’s important. I wonder if the whole COVID-19 and post-COVID recovery dialogue is more about them and their recovery than the communities on the ground. I don’t think we shouldn’t be surprised that matters important to us, like environmental, social and human rights, aren’t important to them. The signal is loud and clear – a big summit, 450 of them, all the big players, and we don’t need to kid ourselves anymore – they don’t care, they don’t need us there, they don’t need to discuss issues that are important to us but to them – they’ll just continue spread inequality and debt across the world. That’s the reality that we need to understand and deal with.

There are people who take the role of being knowledge manufacturers upon them – our whole idea of sustainable development is very warped right now. What I think is sustainable and what I think is development hardly even matters. Governments, who are their clients, lap us this knowledge of what sustainable development is and shove it down our throats. What communities and people on the ground know and experience as sustainable development is shoved aside; the juggernaut of development rolls over our communities. There is nothing that is in the pipeline in terms or projects or policies or a world view which is truly sustainable, and so our understanding of development itself is now so stunted because of what they’re doing. So to even articulate a new form, which could be new ways of looking at development itself, is so challenging right now that even our own people don’t understand us anymore, because development is about being big and bold and big projects with lots of money and big infrastructure projects. That’s the understanding of development, and things that really matter get no space, even in peoples’ minds. How can we have these conversations again?

Which changes has COVID-19 brought in the development sector? And where do you see some spaces for hope?

When COVID-19 came, a lot of our brethren were excited; they thought it was a great opportunity to build anew. Unfortunately, these people with all the money are not thinking outside of the box. They are thinking in the same way, and therefore much of what we’re experiencing on the ground is business as usual, but there needs to be a breaking down of patterns in order to build afresh, which I don’t see happening. So any talk of sustainability is wishful thinking. How can we think of implementing something sustainable? Only if we step firmly away from these bodies that are interfering in our daily lives can we do this. So I don’t have a clear answer, as there’s no space to think outside of the box nowadays. 

If you could send a message to the banks attending the Finance in Common summit, what would you say to them?

Even if we manage to fight and get a space in the Finance in Common summit, it would be a sanitised space that they accord you with its boundaries where you can vent and air a little. Either way, this is what they want. A little space with a safety valve. These sanitised spaces are given by big summits –  spaces where the pressure is reduced a little, and our angst and anger is contained so that we can be further manipulated.

Really, you need us. It’s not that we need you. You’ve given us a view that we need you for development to happen in our countries. COVID-19 is something we’re all dealing with, and it’s a difficult time for most people. Our communities need to go back to something simpler, to what is doable, and fashion something in cooperation. The way business was conducted didn’t afford people space to make decisions on their own. If we can go back to slowing down more and thinking more, that would help. We should take all spaces not as spaces to talk to those who’ve tried to impose their worldview of how the economy should be shaped, but to consolidate among ourselves and have those conversations among ourselves, and then push back and tell them that their place is only where we want you them to be, not where they want to be. If we manage to do this, we’ll have done a lot.

I’m an eternal optimist, though sometimes things around us can be somewhat of a challenge and you don’t know how we’ll surmount it. For those of us who think differently, at the same time, from the run of the mill thought process of the government, it’s a time for us to hold our space. Solidarity during COVID-19 has been exceptional, and we’ve built solidarities with communities across the world using social media etc. There’s a feeling of shared loss and challenges, and that brings us together. If we can hold our space, that bodes well for the future. We can use this time to reflect on what we’ve done well and not so well, and we can charter our course with a strategic action plan. Some parts may be slow to start because of the pandemic, but that’s fine. Many of us have been moving so fast in our own directions. This is a good time to pause and move forwards with collective purpose. Even though we’ve lost a few fighters to COVID and this hurts us, and we’re at home, perhaps rightly so, it’s still positive that we ourselves declutter and slow down and reflect and work and maybe build better after this.

Community voices: the struggle against the toxic Amulsar mine in Armenia

By Lorena Cotza Oct 30, 2020


In Armenia, the international mining company Lydian is developing the controversial Amulsar gold mine. Local residents and activists have been tirelessly protesting against the mine, that would pose a threat to their environment and economic livelihoods as it’s being built near the touristic spa town of Jermuk. Already during the construction phase, the project has caused significant pollution and problems for the local communities.

The International Financial Corporation (IFC) was one of the main shareholders, but eventually withdrew financing in 2017. In August 2020 also the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development terminated its funding, but the project is still going ahead.

As reported by Bankwatch, in August 2020 local activists who had been blocking access to the mine continuously for the past two years were forcibly removed by the mine’s newly-hired security detail. The mining company Lydian international has also repeatedly used Strategic lawsuits against public participation as a tactic against journalists and human rights defenders opposing the mine.

Below, an interview with Armenian activist Tehmine Yenoqyan.

Local people should be the ones deciding what’s happening in their territory, but this is not always the case. Can you tell us what happened with the Amulsar mine? 

The Amulsar project kicked off in 2006. At that time, the largest resort town, Jermuk, was left out of the list of affected communities because of an agreement between Lydian and the government. This meant the mine could be developed here without taking into account the opinion of this community. All of this led the community to stand up when we actually saw the environmental and social problems that arose during the construction phase.

In the spring of 2018, during the construction phase, when the company damaged Gndevaz drinking water pipelines, the Arpa River was polluted  and the dust became uncontrollable, the residents reached a drastic decision: they tried to stop the company operations. They blocked the road and collected 3,000 signatures to turn the metal-mining area into an environmental-economic area in the enlarged community of Jermuk. It should be noted that residents from the village of Gndevaz, which is affected by the Amulsar project, were ambivalent about the project.

All the hearings that were supposedly held in Jermuk and Gndevaz were of a fictitious nature and eventually turned into a fight. In the hearing in Jermuk in 2011, which did not have the status of a public hearing in accordance with the law, representatives of the administration bodies of Lydian Armenia CJSC (former Geoteam CJSC) were trying to put pressure on Jermuk residents.

Residents from Gorhayk took part in the public hearings held in Gndevaz in 2014, but there was not even a place for them to sit during the hearings. This is how the hearings in our communities took place, which caused controversy. The public hearings show the interest of Gndevaz Community Head in the project implementation, who later turned out to have vested interests – he corruptly alienated 10 hectares of land areas to his son for $810, and one year later resold these land areas to the company for $ 310,000. The development of such events led to the communities coming out against each other. On May 23, 2018, Gorayk residents blocked the road leading to Jermuk and demanded that the people of Jermuk clear the roads leading to Amulsar.

In another video you will see that Lydian’s workers resort to provocations, try to enter the Amulsar area by force, after which clashes start between them and the locals on  27.08.2018. This project, financed by the banks, and their implementers did not take into account the residents of the enlarged community of Jermuk, which led to many social conflicts. International development banks have their own standards, one of which is the standard of democracy. The EBRD’s IPAM is currently investigating what standards have been violated in the Amulsar project.

It is obvious that almost all the standards declared by the bank have been violated, but neither the bank nor the company acknowledges these facts. Their interests are only financial; only the 2.5-year-long local roadblock still in effect that forced Lydian to go bankrupt and reorganize, after which the EBRD dropped out of the program. It is a very difficult struggle against international capital, which may become a role model in other countries, people will be able to fight and win.

Can you tell us something about the mobilization of local people and civil society? How did you organize yourself to try to stop the project? And how did security guards and local authorities react – what are the risks local people faced for having opposed the project?

The community has been blocking the roads leading to Amulsar for 2.5 years. We got united because we have a specific goal to live in a healthy environment, to save Jermuk resort town, and to stop the desertification of Amulsar, which could have happened if the gold mine had been developed. Over the years, all the people who have spoken out against the program have been pressurized by the company, both in court and physically.

In recent months, provocations against civilians, penetrations into the community with guns, and the use of electric shocks and violence against Amulsar guards have been carried out following the involvement of new security teams hired to protect the company’s property. The latest provocation was the relocation of the Amulsar guards’ caravans by the company’s guards and the installation of Lydian caravans right on the roadside. It took about a week for the local population, and residents from other regions of Armenia, to be able to force the authorities to move the company’s property off the roadside.

It is noteworthy that in addition to various provocations by the guards, RA police officers were also abused. As a result, the Licensing Commission of Police Guard suspended the license of this security company.

During these years we have mobilized a very serious expert potential in Armenia and all over the world, translated the received documents into Armenian and submitted them to various relevant bodies. The Armenian judiciary is trying two cases against the Armenian government, whereas the permits issued to the company are being appealed. One of these cases has been going on for almost 6 years, the other – 2 years, in RA Administrative Court and Appeal Court, but they have not been resolved yet.

Every day we are pressurized by the company, which demands to clear the roads so that the company can work and poison our lives. The most vulgar materials about us are posted on social sites: having financial capital, they disseminate fake materials about us that defame our good reputation through fake pages as advertisements, which is oppressive and unpleasant.

Personally, I had a case when my neighbor secretly took photos of the visitors at my house, publicized who visited our house, the photo was disseminated on Facebook with indecent posts by a fake user. I filed a report on crime: a criminal case was instigated under the articles of collecting and disclosing personal information, but the criminal case was terminated. The criminal case reveals who carried out this whole operation. My neighbor passed the photo to Lydian’s security guard, who posted it via a fake page. My request to make him liable in a civil lawsuit was partially awarded by the court.

Those who oppose such development projects are often accused of being “anti-development”, even though they are simply struggling to defend their rights and to decide their own priorities for the future. What are the needs for you/your community? What is your own idea/model of “development”?

There is a distortion of universal values ​​all over the world – people in different corners are struggling to have a peaceful corner to live their lives.

This is our way of living: a 70-year-old business, a spa business for Jermuk residents, and agriculture for Gndevaz, with which they have their own model of development, fully providing the resort town with agricultural products, where each family earns its own living. Yes, it sounds absurd, but the development banks have come to us and told us to leave our 70-year-old spa business and become a miner. They say we have not developed well, and to let them develop us, that is, poison us, so that later we can go and raise money, take out a loan to be cured of various diseases that may appear in the implementation of this project.

Our future is our resort, hotel business, agriculture, pure mineral water production, tourism. Water is considered more expensive than oil all over the world. There is no life without water. This is our wealth, our gold, our way of living; 25% of Armenia’s freshwater is accumulated in our territory.

Amulsar is also in Lake Sevan’s catchment basin, which provides water supply and is a powerful strategic resource for all of Armenia. The development of the mine will not contribute to our development, but destroy it. The project envisages having a heap leach facility – when there are uranium reserves in the area, when there will be acid drainage,  biodiversity will be severely damaged.

The IFC withdrew and the EBRD has now finished funding the project, but the “damage” is already done. Have the banks ever publicly recognised they shouldn’t have invested there? What is your message to IFC and EBRD regarding their legacy and their responsibilities?

Yes, the banks withdrew from this program, not willfully, but due to the consistent and demanding work of the residents of the affected communities, NGOs and environmental activists. IFC, taking into account all the risks, came to its own conclusion, although it stated that the company no longer needed their financing, as if the company had stabilized. Nevertheless, Lydian attempted to raise money to complete the construction after IFC left in 2017, but could not.

The EBRD also dropped out of the Amulsar project, but not on its own initiative or at will. Were it not for the locals’ long blockade of the roads leading to Amulsar, this bank would continue to finance Lydian to this day.

Even provoking such a serious social conflict in our region, which has led to bloodshed, the bank bears no responsibility. The bank thinks that it did everything right and constantly monitored, controlled the risks, kept the standards, but for some reason the locals have been keeping the roads leading to Amulsar blocked for 2.5 months.

The biggest gap is that we, as residents of the affected community, are not able to sue the banks in court because they are immune: we are not able to claim damages, to restore the landscapes that have been destroyed.

I asked this question to the IFC CAO team, who told me that the only format I could complain about was Ombudsman Offices. The reports of these structures may be public, but they do not have a binding toolkit. The development banks pursue the following strategy, they study the public complaint, improve their program, apply for new permits again, but they do not have a mechanism to leave the program.

Even now the EBRD does not want to admit its guilt, it continues to claim that it has always provided advice and monitored the situation in Amulsar. However, it is an obvious fact that standards of democracy, ecological and social responsibility, historical and cultural heritage and much more have been violated by the Amulsar project.

The EBRD continued to fund a project for more than 10 years, when the largest city, with a population of 4,000, was not an affected-community and was deprived of the right to participate in decision-making, and still suffered the greatest loss. The Gndevaz apricot was not suitable for sale because of the current dust, whilst yellow rain was falling in Jermuk meaning that the flow of tourists decreased until 2018. But when people stopped working in Amulsar, the air slowly cleared.

The greatest damage would have been done to the mineral waters in Jermuk if explosion works had started in Amulsar. For the EBRD, even the fact that a criminal case was initiated at the Investigative Committee of Armenia, where the company it financed is involved, did not matter. The company also used the money of this bank to buy all the land areas that were alienated from the community at terribly low prices and then resold to Lydian at high prices. The EBRD is also involved in these corruption schemes, and must be held accountable for them.

Additional resources and useful links

BankWatch page on the Amulsar project and the local community struggle to oppose the project


A video by BankWatch

A video by the Transnational Institute


The complaint to the CAO Ombudsman:


An example of pressurising the community:

Investigators of Investigative Committee Came to Enter Area in Lydian’s Cars 

dated on 13.07.2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BGnpgIHXZI&t=160s 

Another example of physical pressure – applying electric Shock to Amulsar Guards:


An article about the project by Human Rights House Yerevan NGO:


On the disinformation spread on social media:


Community voices: interview with two indigenous Sengwer human rights defenders (Kenya)

By Lorena Cotza Oct 30, 2020



In Kenya, the Sengwer indigenous communities living in the Embobut forest have been facing forced evictions, loss of livelihood and violent attacks linked to two conservations projects.

Between 2007 and 2013, the World Bank gave US$57 million to carry out a Natural Resources Management Project. Funds were also disbursed to the Kenyan Forest Service (KSF), that has been responsible for scores of human rights violations. The project led to mass displacement of members of the Segwer community and violent evictions: houses were burned down, properties were demolished, and community members were attacked.

In 2014, an investigation by the Inspection Panel, the World Bank’s independent accountability mechanism, found that the bank should have anticipated the risk of violent evictions. Yet, in 2016, the European Union’s European Development Fund (EDF) approved further funding, for the Water Tower Protection and Climate Change Programme.

Violent evictions continued. In 2017, human rights defender Elias Kimaiyo was attacked, while he was taking photos of KSF officers who were burning homes in the forests. Less than a year later, forest guards started shooting at a group of Sengwer people who were tending their cattle. Robert Kirotich was killed and two other community members were severely injured. Only then, EU officials finally announced the suspension of funding.

Below, an interview with two indigenous Sengwer community leaders about the situation they are facing now and the long-lasting impact of the conservations projects funded by the World Bank and the European Development Fund:

Can you tell us more about the World Bank project and how it affected the life of your community?

The first World Bank funded-project ran between 2007 and 2013, it was a natural resource management project focused mainly on two water tower areas. The bank sent a consultant to prepare an indigenous peoples plan and framework. The document was published and it required a commitment from the government that they would no longer displace members of the Sengwer community from their ancestral lands in forest areas.

It was a requirement of the World Bank that the government must prepare the indigenous peoples’ plan and framework before they get the funding. Through this document, the government committed to no longer displacing members of the Sengwer community from their ancestral lands in forest areas. However, forceful evictions of members of the Segwer community living in Embobut Forest continued. There were houses burned down, property destroyed, uniforms for school children were burnt, textbooks –  they were all destroyed. 

In 2013, we made a formal complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel. Later on, they sent some experts to carry out an assessment to determine whether what we complained about was true. Because of the evictions and lack of consultation, the project was restructured. However, this was done without the knowledge of the local indigenous peoples. One of the main objectives [of this restructuring] was to address the question of land rights of the Sengwer peoples. But when the project was restructured, it was done without the knowledge of the community. 

The World Bank project came to an end in June 2013. When the project came to an end, the government made plans to conduct a mass-eviction of the Sengwer community. They decided, without consulting the community, to pay members of the Sengwer community some money so that they can move out of the forest. This was done without the knowledge of the community. They just went and opened bank accounts for some members of the community. People were given 400,000 Kenyan shillings, equivalent to about 4,000 USD. In 2014, the government went into the Embobut Forest and started massive forceful evictions. The Kenya Forest Service [(KFS)] guards were moving throughout the forest on a daily basis. Houses were burned down. Some members of the community were taken into police custody. Properties were destroyed. 

In 2013 we went to court to prevent the government from carrying out the evictions. A court order was issued preventing the Kenya Forest Service from carrying out any evictions. But the government did not adhere to the court order and went ahead with the evictions. A dialogue process between the Sengwer community and the government was set up, but this dialogue didn’t bear any fruits.

  • Can you tell us more about the project funded by the European Development Fund?

Then in 2015, the European Union started funding a project which was also focused on the water towers in the same catchment area. This project was done without consulting the community, so we raised the alarm. We wrote letters begging the EU to send human rights officers. Two officers, one from Brussels and one from Nairobi, went to meet with Sengwer members in the Embobut Forest. They confirmed that it is true that members of the Sengwer community are living inside the forest. The government was saying all along that nobody lives inside the forest [in order to secure funding for the water tower projects]. 

But immediately after the officers left the forest, the forest service guards went into the forest and started carrying out evictions in the area where that meeting between the community members and EU human rights officers had taken place. They carried out their evictions and Elias was attacked on 2nd april 2017 by Kenya Forest Service guards. He was attacked, he had his elbow broken, the kneecap was also broken. He was hit with the butt of a gun by a forest guard officer. As we speak now, Elias is still undergoing constructive surgery at one of the hospitals here in Kenya. 

Then on 9th December, following our continued complaints, the EU sent another human rights officer to investigate the truth of the allegations that we had submitted to the EU. She went to the community and gathered her information, then went back. Of all these reports, we have never had a chance to access the reports that were made; neither from the visit in July, nor December. That was in 2017. 

On 16th January 2018, one member of Sengwer community, Robert Kirotich, was shot dead by a live bullet from a member of Kenya Forest Service guards. And then again another was injured, shot in the leg; he currently lives with a disability. We have had all of these human rights violations.

When Robert was killed, the EU was compelled to suspend their finance. After suspending their financing, I think they told the government to investigate the alleged killing and attacks againstt community members. What the police did is they came and investigated, but they got witness statements from people who were not in that area when [Robert] was killed. The only person who gave correct information was [David], who was the person injured. I think that investigation has been going on, but with a lack of seriousness from the government, so it is not going anywhere. Even in a court of law, it cannot be shown that the officer shot this guy, because the people that are being touted as witnesses were not at the scene of the crime. I think that the investigation is ongoing, but it is not a strong case that we can rely on. They will be having the first hearing on the 20th of this month about the killing of [Robert] …

Both banks now have stopped funding projects in the area. But what’s the long-term impact of their investments? And have you been compensated for the violations you suffered?

The World Bank project was between 2007 and 2013, so it came to an end in June 2013. It was supposed to continue but because of the persistent land rights claims by the Sengwer community, the project came to an end … But for the EU, when the member of the Sengwer community was shot dead, then the project funds were suspended immediately on the 17th January 2018. Since then, the government has been pushing for the suspension to be lifted so that the project can go on. But we don’t know what is going to happen. But we think they probably may decide to restructure the project and come up with what we are calling a Green New Deal initiative.

On the issue of compensation, the community has never been compensated. As a community, what we are pushing for now is for the community’s land rights to be secure so that now members of the community living in Embobut Forest can live within the open natural grassland. Our priority is not compensation, our priority is for the government and development partners to recognise that it is our right to live within our ancestral lands in the protected forest areas. 

In the position of Kenya, and when you look at the constitution articles – it is [3.2(b):2] – it talks about the areas where the Sengwer people are living. Areas where we have been practicing our aboriginal hunting and gathering way of life is community land, whether it is in protected forest or not.

What I am saying is that the constitution of Kenya recognises our community land and this area from where the community is being forced to move out of is our community land. That is according to the constitution! And the national land policy also recognises that there should be restitution for communities that have suffered historical injustices since colonial times. Where we have a problem is that the Forest Conservation and Management Act does not recognise the rights of indigenous peoples and the forest communities to live within these protected forests or these protected areas. 

Our situation has never changed, especially at the moment. Evictions have been going on, even during the [government-Sengwer community] dialogue time … In July our houses got burned, and again later in the year, our houses were burned by KFS guards. 

We don’t know what the government is planning at the moment. As of today, we know that KFS from Nairobi went nearby [to Sengwer lands] and stayed for many hours … We are thinking they are planning further evictions. These threats exist because of a system in which our land rights are still the subject of [unresolved] dialogue with the government which has been going on for many years.

I think community members, the Sengwer people, we are living in fear. Even as we speak now, we cannot even build a house. People are still being pushed to live under makeshift houses, people are pushed to live in caves, in the thick forest. We cannot build houses in the open grassland, in the forest, because the KFS will come and burn them down, so we are still living in fear. And we don’t know what the government is planning. Anything can happen, any time. 

How is solidarity, at the national and international level, helping the Sengwer community?

We are in communication with other members of forest communities in some parts of Kenya. Recently, they were also subjected to forceful evictions. Other forest peoples are also under threat of these evictions. Recently, when we had evictions in July and August, we were able to come together as indigenous peoples in Kenya, bringing together pastoralists and traditional hunters and gatherers in order to make a joint statement with support from other friendly organisations. So luckily we are trying to come together to create an action plan now in order to raise our voices as indigenous peoples and local communities to argue for our land rights.

What has worked is also publicity through media houses and CSOs, both in Kenya and internationally; for example, Amnesty Kenya and Amnesty International, we’ve also been working with Human Rights Defenders in Kenya for a while. This publicity has brought us quite far; support is there where it was not before. 

For example, in a recent incident, because of media houses, KFS could not continue what they have been doing. What they did to us is they closed off the area and did not allow anyone to go in there. This was the instance when I was caught up in that scenario where I took a camera and documented this and shared it with media houses. But that is only one single incident and if it is better documented, it would be a big problem for KFS. It will at least help to see that people within the government are working to keep people out of the forest. 

I think that the most important thing is to add that we have created a local and international approach. With international [allies], they can focus on the international development banks, EU, UNDP and others; these are people that invest outside their country. When we have some of these international NGOs and media attention, if they can focus and target and get [the international development banks], then we are free to focus on the situation on the ground. 

For example, in 2015, we had a project that was funded by the Finnish government: IUCN, and again there was no consultation. We were able to engage IUCN until they had to restructure their project to bring in a human rights approach to conservation and also Free Prior and Informed Consent. But the [Kenyan] government won’t accept the restructured project with the human rights approach and FPIC. As a result, that project was cancelled as the IUCN could not continue because the community was saying that our rights have to be recognised and we are living inside the forest. So that was successful because we had support from friends from outside the country; CSOs, and also the media houses. 

Also another thing is the ability to engage with this meeting in November of the development banks, to get to their offices in New York or in Brussels and make them understand that indigenous peoples are aware of their rights and their rights need to be protected. When we do that, those people will now tell the government: “You have to respect the rights of these people before we fund you”. 

That’s the thing that has really happened with the EU. If [the project] is not cancelled, then we hope it will be restructured, and one of the things we are expecting is that they will force the government to agree with what we want and that is to remain on our ancestral lands as they carry out conservation. 


Amnesty report on the Sengwer evictions:


Case study in the Uncalculated Risks report:


A report on the illegal and forceful evictions, by Forest Peoples Programme


Community voices: interview with a Nepalese indigenous community affected by a transmission line project

By Lorena Cotza Oct 28, 2020

Community meeting in the Lamjung district, Nepal.

In the Lamjung district, in Nepal, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are funding a 220 kV transmission line. The Marsyangdi Corridor will transport electricity towards Kathmandu and India as part of the EIB’s Nepal Power System Expansion Project. But this project is violating the rights of the local indigenous communities, that have not received fair compensation and were denied their right to free, prior and informed consent because there were no opportunities for meaningful consultation and participation.

Concerns voiced by affected indigenous populations have been met by intimidation and threats of imprisonment by the Chief District Officer (CDO), and by refusal to mediate by the implementing authority, the Nepalese Electricity Agency (NEA). 

According to a new report by CounterBalance and Banwatch, no free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) was obtained, and documents were not provided in local indigenous languages or in Nepalese. Furthermore, these land rights concerns echo a history of violence against communities protesting development in Nepal, which hinders public participation.

Below, an interview with a representative of a local indigenous community affected by the transmission line:

How will the project affect the life of the local people and their environment?

This 220 kV transmission line project, funded by the European Investment Bank and executed by the Nepal Electricity Authority, a state owned corporation, is being implemented in our territories in the Lamjung district, Gandaki Province, Nepal. The project has violated our rights to free, prior and informed consent, meaningful consultation, and participation. We are not provided just and fair compensation. The project failed to comply with national and international laws, including operational policies of EIB.

Our rights to FPIC must be respected since the project is being operated in our territories affecting our lands and environment. We are concerned about our safety, health, issues due to outside labor and gender impact. Our lands have been devaluated, it’s difficult to get mortgages, we got inadequate compensation, and no individual or collective benefit sharing. We are concerned about our environment, such as the impact on birds and animals, lower crop yield, deforestation, and sound impact.

Local people should be the ones deciding what’s happening in their territory, but in this case there was not adequate consultation and participation. Can you tell us more about this and how EIB and the company violated your right to be properly consulted?

The NEA and EIB have violated our right to FPIC since the project’s began operating in our territories. There was no disclosure. We were not consulted and no-one ensured our participation in the decision making process. The project is going to impact our sacred sites and lands, as well as our natural resources and livelihoods.

Can you tell us more about your struggle against the project? How did you mobilize? Have you received threats or were you harassed when you started opposing the projects?

When we found out that the project people had started measuring and marking our lands for the installation of the tower of the transmission line, we started seeking out information. We asked the Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) – an organization of Indigenous Lawyers-  more about legal matters to be compiled by the project developer. Then, we formed a loose forum that we called the “FPIC and Rights Forum” to make our voice heard collectively, so that our human rights and legal rights can be respected. We formed a total of 14 village level struggle committees to make our voice stronger.

We have made a series of complaints to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Office of the Chief District Officer (CDO) in Lampung district, the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). We have a series of dialogue with NEA and project authorities, but our demands are not getting heard yet.

We submitted the complaint on 8 October 2018 with the EIB’s Complaints Mechanism, requesting mediation to help resolve their issues with project financiers, promoters and government authorities. The Bank CM conducted an assessment in March 2019 and issued a report in July 2019. The report made the recommendation for mediation to resolve communities’ issues, and offered to facilitate a dialogue between the community and the Nepal Electricity Authority, but the NEA rejected sitting at the mediation table with us. We have been informed that the CM is going through investigation to find out if Bank’s Environmental and Social rules have been complied with.

The land compensation has been determined for some sections of the project without our participation and consultation, with a very low price set by the Chief District Office who is mandated to acquire the land legally. We are constantly raising our demands. We are being insisted to accept the compensation again and again by the project and Chief District Office, however we are denying the compensation until and unless our demands are met.

NEA authorities are intimidating land owners, saying that the government can take the lands of the people at any time for the public purpose. In some places, the NEA has started installing transmission tower pads and mobilizing security forces, without settling the compensation issue.

Those who oppose these projects are often accused of being “anti-development”, even though they are simply struggling to defend their rights and to decide their own priorities for the future. What are the needs for you/your community? What is your own idea/model of “development”?

We have constantly been protesting against the project for the past 4 years. We have been directly and indirectly threatened by the CDO office and project authorities to be jailed via the charge of “public offence”. We, the leaders of affected communities, are threatened by the CDO to be jailed in the charge of misleading the communities against the development….

We want rights-based and self-determined development. We want the development project to respect our rights, since Nepal is party to ILO 169 and a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We want our participation in the decision making process and we want collective and individual benefits. We want a grievance handling mechanism. We want justifiable compensation. We want our right to FPIC to be respected. 



The LAHURNIP (Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples) overview of the project:


Accountability Counsel’s overview and analysis of the case: 



The EIB project summary:


A Nepalese human rights defender’s article on a similar project for the Coalition for Human Rights in Development’s site:


The full complaint and request for mediation regarding the Nepal Power System Expansion Project can be found here: 


On the NEA refusing to join a resolution process:



  • Finance in Common
  • infrastrcture
  • Nepal

Coalition Conversations: Let’s make our voices heard.

By Lorena Cotza Jun 25, 2020


Interview with a group of environmental defenders in Imider, Morocco, who are protesting against a silver mine which is severely polluting their land and threatening their already scarce water resources (November 2017). Credit: Lorena Cotza

It has been only a few weeks since I joined the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, but I have already had the privilege of listening to and learning from dozens of inspiring people from around the world. Community members impacted by development projects, women’s rights and environmental activists, representatives of civil society organizations and grassroots movements: people from all walks of life, but who are sharing the same commitment and values. We all believe in social justice, we all care about our planet, we all fight for human rights. These people – and what they stand up for – are the reason I joined the Coalition.

Through my role as the Coalition’s Communications Lead, I am hoping to help amplify our members’ and partners’ voices, to further strengthen the connections and collaboration between them, and for us to explore together new communications strategies to advocate for a human rights approach to development.

Before I took up this position, I worked for over four years with Front Line Defenders, a non-governmental organization that provides support to human rights defenders at risk, and which is a member of the Coalition and partner in the Defenders in Development campaign. In 2017, I helped set up “In Difesa Di”, a network in Italy, my home country, that brings together over 40 organizations and advocates for the protection of human rights defenders. Throughout these years, I also worked as a freelance journalist and last year I published the book “Non Chiamatemi Eroe” (Altreconomia), a collection of 15 stories of defenders and communities who struggle for human rights around the world.

The activists and community leaders I met during these years have shared with me their fears, their worries, their harrowing accounts about the risks they face as retaliation for their work. But most of all, they have shared with me their hopes, their dreams, their incredible stories of courage and victories despite the odds. They have been  – and they continue to be – an endless source of inspiration, and they have changed my way of thinking, living and looking at the world.

What has always struck me the most in meeting defenders from different parts of the world is that even though the contexts where they live might be completely different, their stories also have many commonalities. When an indigenous woman defender from the Ecuadorian Amazon met a community in southern Italy that is protesting against a gas pipeline, during a visit I helped organise, there was no need – from either side – to explain why they were defending their land, what they were standing for, or why they were being criminalized and accused of being “anti-development”. Different contexts, but same issues. And the same determination to fight and to make their voices heard.

This is why the work that the Coalition does – bringing people together, offering a platform to share strategies and resources, help build relationships among our members, partners and beyond – is absolutely crucial. A lone voice may get lost in this noisy world or silenced by those who don’t accept any criticism or dissent. But the collective voices of all the communities, movements, defenders and organizations that make up the Coalition are loud and strong, and impossible to silence.

This is why I joined the Coalition. We would love to learn from our members and partners why you joined and work with the Coalition! Please email us at contacts@rightsindevelopment.org.

To contact Lorena Cotza – Communications Lead for the Coalition for Human Rights in Development – you can write her at: lcotza@rightsindevelopment.org


  • Coalition Conversations

Coalition Conversations: Why I joined the Coalition

By Siddharth A Mar 18, 2020

Photo Credit: Galileo De Guzman/Focus on the Global South

I joined the Coalition for Human Rights in Development as its Director because I want to ensure that this incredible international collective continues to support community-led coordination of local, regional, and international campaigns, which centre human rights in development.

Before I joined the Coalition, I worked with grassroots communities in Asia and North America, including as a lawyer for communities affected by development activities. Through my work, I had the privilege of learning from Indigenous Governments resisting oil and gas projects in Canada, and rural communities in Nepal demanding that hydropower sector projects respect their rights.

Communities have taught me that they know best how development decisions and policies will impact them and their ecosystems, and how things can be done better. Contrary to some perspectives, communities have the skill and the desire to determine their own development paths and priorities. And development focused civil society organizations at the national, regional and international level, need communities’ expertise to meaningfully fulfill their missions. I believe this symbiotic relationship of a shared common good is what keeps the Coalition together.

Communities around the world have repeatedly shown us the different ways in which they have been sidelined by development financiers, governments, and other actors. For example, Indigenous communities in Nepal raising concerns about hydro-power sector development on their traditional lands, and Indigenous governments in Canada resisting bitumen and natural gas pipelines have highlighted the different ways in which projects are being built to efficiently siphon off local resources to international energy markets, rather than to support local development.

“When communities raise their voices, they are often subject to smear campaigns labeling them as anti-development,” adds Advocate Shankar Limbu, Secretary of the Kathmandu-based Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples, which entered into a Community Engagement Partnership with the Coalition. “Efforts are made to isolate the affected communities from the larger population, often laying the foundation for more insidious forms of reprisals, including the use of force.”  

Financiers, national governments and companies often collaborate and communicate with each other in ways that exclude communities. For example, Access to Information practices and policies at several development finance institutions prioritize the confidentiality of closed-door consultations and agreements with governments and businesses, rather than providing communities access to information and supporting their participation. 

“We are increasingly seeing communities raise concerns about how different forms of coordination among financiers, national governments, and companies such as co-financing among different financiers, the use of financial intermediaries, and public-private partnerships are having the effect of eroding accountability and transparency,” adds Rayyan Hassan, Executive Director of the NGO Forum on ADB, and a Coalition Steering Committee Member based in Manila, Philippines.

The Coalition provides an important counterweight to the collaboration of financiers, governments and companies, by offering a platform for communities and civil society organizations to develop a coordinated response. 

“The strength of the Coalition is in bringing together grassroots groups, social movements, national organisations, and international organisations to learn from each other, empower each other and work in solidarity to push forward advocacy in a coordinated manner,” says Delphine Djiraibe, Principal Advocate of Public Interest Law Center, and a Coalition Steering Committee Member based in N’Djamena, Chad.

Our members and partners use a variety of strategies, individually and collectively, at a variety of levels, and in a range of geographies, to hold diverse key actors accountable, both on a case-by-case basis and in systemic ways. The Coalition offers us all a platform to work together to ensure we are greater than the sum of our parts. 

This is why I joined the Coalition. We would love to learn from our members and partners why you joined and work with the Coalition! Please email us at contacts@rightsindevelopment.org.


This blog is the first of our Coalition Conversations blog series. In the coming months, we hope to feature additional blogs from the Coalition’s secretariat, members and close partners. Please email us at contacts@rightsindevelopment.org if you are interested in being a contributor.


  • Coalition Conversations

Human Rights Defenders are a Cornerstone of Sustainable Development

An open letter to states and development financiers on the need to ensure that development interventions support the realization of human rights, safeguard human rights defenders and guarantee meaningful public participation

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. These instruments have been key to recognising fundamental rights globally and affirming the role that human rights defenders (HRDs) play in protecting these rights and ensuring sustainable and equitable development for all. While much progress has been made, HRDs face greater risk of retaliation and violence than ever before, especially those working in defence of land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights.  While development interventions can be a powerful tool for the realization of human rights, too often activities undertaken in the name of development fail to adequately consider human rights conditions and impacts, and end up exacerbating the risks for defenders. In light of this, the Defenders in Development Campaign[1] is calling on development finance institutions (DFIs) and their shareholder governments to ensure that development interventions support the realization of human rights and avoid causing or contributing to rights abuses, promote an enabling environment for public participation within development processes, and safeguard HRDs.

Human rights defenders are a critical force for the protection of human rights and integral to the success of other global initiatives like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The important work of HRDs has been repeatedly recognised at the international and national levels and their contributions have been vital to protecting the land and the environment, securing just and safe conditions of work, combating corruption, and respecting indigenous cultures and rights[2]. Indeed, through the Declaration on the Right to Development, states agreed that development must be carried out in a manner “in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised” – with the “self-determination of peoples” and the “active, free and meaningful participation” of individuals and populations. HRDs play a key role in enabling the realisation of the right to development.

Despite the growing awareness of the role of HRDs in sustainable development, the human cost of defending rights remains unacceptably high. Those working in defense of land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights—rights most often violated in the context of development and related investment activities—are most at risk. They are routinely subjected to stigmatization, labelled as “anti-development,” often quickly leading to criminalisation, threats and physical attacks. They are also more likely to be killed than defenders in other sectors. Since the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, an estimated 3,500 human rights defenders have been killed because of their peaceful work defending the rights of others.[3] In 2017 alone, at least 312 human rights defenders were murdered, 67 percent of whom were working in defense of land and territory in the context of large investments, extractive industries and big business.[4] For women defenders and other marginalized groups, the risks are even more acute.

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognizes that everyone has the right “to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Of particular importance for development processes, the Declaration affirms the right to effective access to participation in public affairs, including submission of criticism or opposing views or alternative proposals. It additionally “stresses that all members of the international community shall fulfil, jointly and separately, their solemn obligation to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction…and reaffirming the particular importance of achieving international cooperation to fulfil this obligation…”

Unfortunately, too often development interventions are designed and implemented without adequate consideration of the human rights context in which they are executed and the human rights impacts that may result. We see this in austerity measures that result in loss of access to essential services, commercial reforms that exacerbate land grabbing, or infrastructure projects that result in social conflict. While development finance institutions and many states have undertaken commitments on transparency and participation, in practice, development decisions are often made without the meaningful participation of civil society, and imposed on communities without their consent or consultation. Where insufficient attention is afforded to community participation and human rights, even the best intentioned interventions can stoke conflict, fuel corruption, or entrench discrimination.

States have an obligation to ensure that human rights are respected and protected and that there is an enabling environment for defenders to do their critical work. This obligation includes states’ actions to implement or finance development activities, and extends to their membership within multilateral development finance institutions. Development banks themselves have human rights obligations and a critical role to play in ensuring that their investments are not causing or contributing to threats or attacks against defenders. DFIs exert significant influence both through their project lending as well as through policy promotion and standard-setting. As such they help shape local and national conditions which determine whether individuals and communities impacted by development activities are able to safely engage or influence development processes.

The Defenders in Development Campaign repeats its call to DFIs, states, and other development actors to take all necessary measures to ensure that their interventions support the realization of human rights and do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses, and to promote safe space for communities and civil society to engage and shape development processes and to exercise their fundamental freedoms. This includes developing policies on human rights defenders and protocols to prevent and respond to risks of reprisals, ensuring meaningful access to information, and robust free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and consultation of other affected communities. DFIs must also conduct ongoing human rights due diligence to identify and address human rights risks in all of their activities and throughout the lifespan of a project, including those residual impacts that may continue to be felt long after a project is closed. DFIs must ensure effective mechanisms whereby defenders can safely alert them to deteriorating environments or risks of conflict and reprisal. We also emphasize DFIs’ responsibility to, through their research, public communications, and dialogue with states and the private sector, promote an enabling environment for public participation and accountability, in which people are empowered to engage in crafting their own development agendas and in holding their governments, donors, businesses, DFIs and other actors to account.

As owners and shareholders of development banks, governments must do more to ensure that DFIs are fulfilling their human rights obligations and promoting sustainable development. While we welcome steps taken by some states to support HRD protection, it is concerning that governments may actually be undermining these efforts through the actions of their national development banks, bilateral development cooperation, and other DFIs in which they participate. Given the alarming increase in attacks on defenders within development activities, we urge governments to bring more attention to this issue and to the critical role of DFIs. In this regard, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, we call on states and DFIs to:

Take urgent action toward enacting the reforms identified above and promoting an enabling environment for human rights and meaningful public participation in development processes;

Use the anniversary of these important human rights milestones to bring attention to the critical role that human rights defenders play in ensuring effective, equitable, and sustainable development; and

Make a public commitment to take all measures necessary to ensure that development policies, investments, cooperation, and other activities respect, protect, and fulfil human rights, prevent reprisals, and safeguard defenders.



[1] The Defenders in Development Campaign is a broad-based coalition of community activists, defender organizations and accountability groups around the world who have come together to address the increasing danger facing those who defend their rights in the context of development activities and investments. www.rightsindevelopment.org/hrd

[2] UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, A/72/150 (July 2017).

[3] https://www.amnesty.ie/remembering-killed-defending-human-rights/

[4] https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/annual-report-human-rights-defenders-risk-2017; https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defenders-annual-report/

Strategizing for a different development in Africa

In November, over 40 representatives of human rights and environmental organizations across the continent came together in Pretoria, South Africa to examine the contours of development finance and investment in Africa today and to strategize how to advance a different type of development – one led by African peoples and communities.

In the three-day event, organized by the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and the African Coalition for Corporate Accountability (ACCA), participants questioned a development model characterized by larger and larger megaprojects and an increasing reliance on the private sector. “The current development model being promoted in Africa is private sector led development and policy reforms to pave the way for Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) investments in infrastructure,” said Aly Sagne, of Lumiere Synergie pour le Développement. “This leads to deregulation, privatization of public services, long term debt, threats on the local private sector, and poor implementation of safeguards,” he added.

Participants discussed the Compact With Africa, a new initiative by G20 and African states, together with the World Bank and African Development Bank, through which African governments are pledging commitments on a wide range of policy reforms to attract private investors – from changes in tax laws to new special courts just for investors.

Perhaps the key concern of workshop attendees was that these critical decisions about development are taking place without the involvement of civil society and without the input of those who have the most at stake, including poor communities, indigenous peoples, and women. Participants shared various cases of investments (GuineaKenya and Senegal), which have failed to engage local communities and too often have fueled human rights abuses and destruction of livelihoods and natural resources. Participants also examined cases in which investments were created in partnership with local communities, and they questioned why there isn’t more support for these types of initiatives.

“The development model being promoted in our region doesn’t recognize the primary role of indigenous peoples and local communities, leading to a lack of sustainable development,” said Yator Kiptum David, Executive Director of the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme in Kenya. “Financiers must consult and incorporate indigenous peoples and local communities in designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating development projects that are carried out within their ancestral lands.”

A key component of the workshop was a half-day Dialogue with Development Officials involving representatives from six different development finance institutions and agencies. Workshop participants and bank officials exchanged different perspectives on the type of investments that should be prioritized in the region and on what has been the impact of previous development initiatives.

Several of the financiers expressed their institutions’ commitments to civil society engagement and flagged opportunities for participation at the project level or in upcoming policy reviews. At the same time, civil society representatives raised concerns regarding the banks’ lack of disclosure of project information, inaccessibility of country offices, and failure to engage with local communities. Several financiers committed to specific steps to facilitate greater transparency and participation and all expressed interest in continuing the dialogue.

“The World Bank and the other so-called development banks have to stop funding extractive industries projects that have a high potential for human rights violations and particularly violations of local populations’ rights,” said Delphine Djiraïbé, Chief Attorney of the Public Interest Law Center in Chad. “Money dedicated to development should be used for projects that respect human rights and the environment, and are consistent with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

In a final communique, workshop participants called on African governments and development financiers to “respect the rights of communities, and especially marginalized groups, to determine their own development paths and priorities,” and to “advance development and infrastructure that supports social welfare, domestic industries, small businesses and smallholder farmers.”

The workshop concluded with a roadmap for future collaboration among civil society participants, including trainings, coalition building at the national and regional level, advocacy at the African Development Bank, and strengthening awareness and coordination around the Compact With Africa.

“It is my hope that we should continue to network, share information and to continue with capacity building of members of the coalition,” said Yator David Kiptum.

“African civil society organizations are committed to engaging with the African Development Bank and other institutions and we hope to work together to mutually reinforce our capacity to monitor development finance institutions throughout the continent,” added Aly Sagne.

*The workshop organizing team included African Coalition for Corporate Accountability and the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, with Accountability Counsel, Both ENDS, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Economic and Social Rights Centre – Hakijamii, Friends of the Earth – US, International Accountability Project, Heinrich Böll Foundation, International Rivers, Jamaa Resources Initiative, Lumière Synergie pour le Développement, Public Interest Law Center, and Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, with financial support from Heinrich Böll Foundation, 11th Hour, SOMO, Global Green Grants, and BothENDs.


  • Africa
  • South Africa

Two years of the NDB: between institutional growth and social concerns

By Gonzalo Roza Jun 09, 2017


By Gonzalo Roza and Gretchen Gordon

In April, the Boards of Governors and Directors of the New Development Bank (NDB), the multilateral financial institution established in 2015 by the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), held their 2nd Annual Meeting, in New Delhi, India.

During the meeting, BRICS finance ministers approved a five-year General Strategy as well as the process for admission of new members (the Bank plans to take in 15 new member countries in a first phase); while the Board of Directors discussed the Bank´s project pipeline. In addition, the Bank signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) to promote cooperation with five different Multilateral Development Banks, including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

K.V. Kamath, the NDB´s president, also announced the plans of the Bank to fund 15 infrastructure projects in member countries worth up to 3 billion dollars, and to raise funds by issuing rupee-denominated bonds in India, after it issued yuan-denominated bonds in China last year.

While the Bank showed its commitment to advance further on its institutionalization and to broaden its membership, civil society from around the world raised concerns over the Bank´s approach to development.

A strategy for sustainable and inclusive development?

In side events and meetings with representatives of the bank, human rights and environmental advocacy organizations from around the world called on the Bank to set forth concrete commitments and criteria for sustainable development. In a document titled The BRICS New Development Bank Strategy. A civil society perspective for truly sustainable infrastructure and transformative development cooperation, groups identified five priority areas and key recommendations.

According to the proposal, ‟in order to promote a new kind of development and to really assist marginalized populations or unserved areas and respond to unmet needs in the developing world, the NDB will have to shift from a ˈdo-no-harmˈ approach, towards an emphasis on developing projects that explicitly aim to generate positive social and environmental impacts, including social infrastructure (housing, education, sanitation, health, food and nutrition security, culture among others), off-grid energy solutions, and other projects targeted to meet the needs of vulnerable communities.” It also states that ‟the activities of the Bank should be geared toward supporting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and inclusive, transformative strategies of growth”.

While civil society groups in March sent a letter urging the Bank to open a meaningful consultation process with civil society and other stakeholders before approving the final version of the Strategy, on April 1st the Board of Governors approved, in principle, the Bank’s General Strategy. The final Strategy document is expected to be made public in early June.

An effective environmental and social framework?

As the NDB prepares for the one-year review of its Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), civil society organizations raised concerns regarding the ESF’s failure to actually operationalize its sustainability aspirations.

An analysis by the Coalition and allies recommends that the ESF:

  • Include clear sustainability criteria and due diligence requirements for project selection, supervision, and implementation.
  • Clarify and strengthen the role of NDB staff in assessing projects and supervising and monitoring implementation and compliance.
  • Put in place clear benchmarks and systems for assessing and supporting country and client capacity, especially where country or client systems are utilized.
  • Set out time-bound requirements for disclosure and consultation to ensure that affected communities and civil society groups have access to information and are able to meaningfully participate in NDB-financed activities.

Signatory organizations also urged the Bank to establish a formal, inclusive, transparent, and robust consultation process on the ESF and other existing and future policies and strategies.

 Is the NDB any different from other traditional IFIs?

On the sidelines of the Annual Meeting, the  Peoples’  Forum  on  BRICS, a network of  peoples’  movements,  trade  unions,  national networks  and civil society organizations, held a day-long event on 30th March, bringing together environmentalists, journalists, indigenous communities and other civil society representatives from the BRICS countries. In the New Delhi Declaration, participants raised deep concerns that the NDB is merely replicating existing International Financial Institutions, which suffer from a lack of transparency, accountability, and spaces of engagement with civil society and peoples’ movements.

The document concludes that ‟the New Development Bank has to step back and reconsider why indeed it was established. In so doing, NDB must pro-actively reach out to peoples movements, trade unions, civil society organizations and peoples networks genuinely working with poor and impacted communities”.

What kind of engagement with civil society does the Bank intend?

Civil society representatives from the Coalition’s BRICS working group had the opportunity to meet with different NDB Vice-Presidents and officials in different events held in the sidelines of the Second Annual Meeting in Delhi, such as a Multistakeholder Dialogue organized by Oxfam and Vasudha Foundation and meetings between NDB officials and CSO representatives. In those meetings, the Bank´s officials expressed the intention of the institution to “expand and deepen its interaction with all stakeholders of the Bank, including with representatives of civil society and scholars”. At the same time, it is worth noting that the Bank´s alleged openness and intention to foster its interaction and engagement with civil society is at least contradictory with its absence of transparency or consultation to date.

Civil Society in both BRICS and non BRICS countries are still demanding the Bank promote a truly robust and effective engagement with civil society, which allows meaningful participation and listening to different stakeholders, especially to communities and grassroots groups affected by the Bank´s projects.

 A strategy for failure

The outcomes of the 2nd Annual Meeting of the NDB show the Bank´s clear intention to continue growing and expanding in terms of projects, disbursements and even members. This is a natural process for a new institution that is just two years old and that was born with the aim of financing infrastructure and sustainable development in emerging market and developing countries.

It is worrying, however, that in this process the NDB seems to be replicating the same mistakes that were made in the past by other development financiers creating doubts over what is truly ‟new” in the BRICS New Development Bank.

On the way to its third year of operations, the NDB must carefully consider which should be the proper and most suitable strategy to fulfill its mission of supporting infrastructure and sustainable development efforts in BRICS and other emerging economies. Ramping up investments without clear sustainability criteria or meaningful engagement with civil society, would be a strategy for failure.


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

Gretchen Gordon coordinates 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.


  • India
  • NDB

Escalating Threats in Lamu, Kenya Interfere with Local Communities’ Right to Public Participation

By Carmina Obanil Jun 09, 2017


Originally posted by Accountability Counsel on May 24, 2017.

Photo: Accountability Counsel

At the heart of all of Accountability Counsel’s cases are community members who were denied their basic right to participate in decisions that critically impact their lives.

We have cases all over the world, representing diverse communities with vastly different life experiences, yet all of Accountability Counsel’s cases present this same basic pattern: powerful actors – governments, companies, banks – exclude community voices from “development” projects, predictably leading to serious harm. Thus, in Colombia, children like 10-year-old Gabriela Acosta are suffering from hearing loss and related learning disabilities because operators and financers of Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport have refused to listen to community demands to implement basic noise mitigation. In India, the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation invested in Assam’s tea plantations despite freedom of association violations that have helped perpetuate seriously exploitative conditions for workers that have not changed since communities were forcibly brought from central India over 150 years ago. The list goes on and on.

The risks of speaking out against the interests of powerful project proponents are serious and well documented. At Accountability Counsel, we’re always worried about the safety of our clients and partner organizations.

Yet, the frequency of these security threats doesn’t lessen the blow when we hear that another case is veering toward violence: in Kenya, our long-time partners Save Lamu are reporting a pattern of intimidation and harassment by government officials and police, aimed at undermining their credibility and preventing them from holding community meetings and peaceful protests.

Save Lamu, a coalition of over 40 local civil society organizations, envisions “a culturally, socio-economically and politically empowered community, striving to secure our natural resources and sustain a green environment.” They are focused on empowering local community members to be informed participants in Lamu’s development.

Lamu is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site marked as the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa. It hosts a remarkably pristine, rich ecosystem, including 70 percent of the country’s mangroves. Communities in Lamu are facing what National Geographic has described as an “existential crisis” – construction of a $2 billion coal-fired power plant, the first in East Africa. The coal project poses risks to public health and to Lamu’s marine environment, threatening the livelihoods of those involved in Lamu’s two most important industries: fishing and tourism. The Kenyan government is also planning to build a massive port and an oil and gas pipeline in Lamu, which pose their own social and environmental risks. The African Development Bank (AfDB) is in the background of each of these projects: considering a partial risk guarantee for the coal plant; providing a grant to accelerate development of the port; and potentially considering support for the pipeline.

Save Lamu and other members of the DeCOALonize campaign are positioned to prevent the classic scenario of excluded communities resulting in human rights and environmental abuses. In a hard-fought victory, Kenya’s National Environmental Tribunal has temporarily stopped construction of the coal plant while it considers claims regarding the insufficiency of the project’s social and environmental impact assessment and public participation process.

This pause in construction is critical because public awareness about the project – perhaps by design – is low. Kenyan authorities held their public hearings on the project in an inaccessible location. In community consultations, the company has emphasized project benefits (the credibility of which are questionable), avoiding detailed responses to questions about negative impacts. While construction is halted, Lamu communities have a chance to learn about the coal plant’s livelihood, health and environmental risks.

Save Lamu wants to help correct the information and access barriers to participation by engaging with the broader Lamu community, sharing the potential risks of the coal plant and other projects in the region and discussing a way forward. However, success depends on Save Lamu’s ability to hold community meetings. In the last few months, intimidation by government officials who are in favor of the coal plant has forced Save Lamu to postpone several community information sessions. The seriousness of the threats is increasing, with police being sent to directly interfere with meetings, intimidating participants and hosts. All of this in a country context in which environmental and human rights defenders face death threats and violence against themselves and their family members.

The risk of the situation in Lamu escalating is real. The AfDB and other supporters of the coal plant must immediately raise these concerns with relevant state authorities and safeguard the communities’ basic rights to access to information and public participation. Lamu’s social and environmental future is at stake, and local communities need a voice in what kind of future that turns out to be.

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?


  • infrastructure
  • México
  • risk

World Bank Geothermal Project Continues to Disregard Indigenous Rights

By Carmina Obanil 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.


  • 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

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

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 and Investment in Africa (and in French).


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

6 Questions as BRICS Bank Turns One

By Gonzalo Roza Aug 23, 2016



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?


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.


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?


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.


  • 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.


  • cambodia
  • forced evictions

Threats and Intimidation against Communities in Chamoli, India

By Human Rights Watch Jul 13, 2016


India 1

©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.


  • India

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.


  • 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.


  • EBRD
  • Jordan

The persecution of Pastor Omot Agwa in Ethiopia

By Human Rights Watch Jul 08, 2016



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.”


  • Ethiopia
  • Inspection Panel

NGO Employees Surveilled, Threatened in Uganda

By Human Rights Watch Jul 08, 2016



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.




  • Nepal
  • World Bank

Time for a power shift in Power Africa

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

 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.


  • 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.


  • national advocacy