International Financial Institutions’ responsibility to ensure Meaningful and Effective Participation

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In recent years, international financial institutions, including the World Bank Group, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other regional development and investment banks, have increasingly emphasized the importance of participation, good governance, and accountability for development. As both human rights and development experts have noted, respect for human rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association is crucial for achieving participatory, sustainable, and accountable development (1).

In many countries where international financial institutions (IFIs) are investing, these rights are under attack, from violent crackdowns on protests and criminalization of speech, to arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders, as well as restrictions on civil society organizations (CSOs) (2). Global Witness identified 2015 as the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, with 185 killings across 16 countries (3). This environment of violence, intimidation, and closing civil society space renders meaningful public participation in development virtually impossible. It also significantly increases the risk that IFI-financed activities will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations (4).

In all their activities, IFIs should do everything within their powers to support an enabling environment for public participation, in which people are empowered to engage in crafting their own development agendas and in holding their governments, donors, businesses, and other actors to account. IFIs should also ensure that their activities do not cause or contribute to human rights violations, including taking necessary measures to identify and address human rights risks in all of their activities.

We, the undersigned, call on all international financial institutions to ensure that the activities they finance respect human rights and that there are spaces for people to participate in the development of IFI projects and hold IFIs to account without risking their security. We call on IFIs to actively support the realization of rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and related human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), in all their activities.

We also urge shareholder governments to actively support these reforms at each international financial institution of which they are a member.

We call on international financial institutions to:

1. As part of country-level and project-level engagement, systematically analyze the environment for freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and the realization of other human rights critical for development and the implications for development effectiveness and project outcomes. Build this analysis into country development strategies and project design, including by identifying the actions and measures which will be taken by the IFI and the client to address any risks.

2. Develop and institutionalize creative methods to enable people, including marginalized and discriminated against groups, to freely participate in proposed IFI-financed development initiatives that may affect them or that should benefit them, without risk of reprisals.

3. Systematically analyze and take measures to mitigate project-related risks relating to freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and other human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.

4. Establish policies to ensure that information and communication technology investments are not used to limit freedom of expression or infringe international obligations on privacy rights.

5. From the earliest stages of project development until following project completion, take all necessary measures to mitigate risks of all forms of threats, attacks, or reprisals to community members, workers, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations for participating in project development, for criticizing or opposing a project or otherwise speaking out (or being perceived to have spoken out) against a project. Such measures should include: incorporating clauses preventing reprisals in loan agreements and developing an urgent response system to address threats to project critics.

6. Consistently highlight the importance of the rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association for participatory, sustainable, and accountable development in dialogue with all levels of government and in relevant IFI publications. In the face of proposals that would roll back protections of these rights, emphasize to governments the adverse impact such proposals would have on development effectiveness and the IFI’s activities in the country.

7. Concerning compliance/accountability mechanisms: develop measures to protect people’s right to remedy, including the right to freely approach and fully participate in the IFI accountability mechanism processes; ensure that those communities likely to be affected by a project are aware of and feel safe in approaching accountability and grievance mechanisms; give accountability mechanisms the tools and power to address situations in which complainants experience retaliation after participating in or attempting to utilize an accountability mechanism process; and ensure that compliance investigations also examine any instances of retaliation for opposition to the project and/or participation in the mechanism process.


  1. 11.11.11 – Coalition of the Flemish North-South Movement, Belgium
  2. A Toda Voz, A.C., Mexico
  3. Accountability Counsel, United States
  4. ActionAid USA, United States
  5. Actions pour les Droits, l`Environnement et la Vie, Democratic Republic of Congo
  6. African Law Foundation (AFRILAW), Nigeria
  7. African Resources Watch (AFREWATCH), Democratic Republic of Congo
  8. Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD), Panama
  9. Al-Noor Universal Foundation, Iraq
  10. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, Thailand
  11. Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Philippines
  12. Amazon Watch, United States
  13. American Jewish World Service, United States
  14. Amnesty International, United Kingdom
  15. Anticorruption Business Council of the Kyrgyz Republic, Kyrgyz Republic
  16. Arabic Water Forum, Morocco
  17. Article 19, United Kingdom
  18. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Regional
  19. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM – Asia), Regional
  20. Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente, Regional
  21. Assembly of AL-Inbithaq for Development & Economic Development, Iraq
  22. Association for Promotion Sustainable Development, India
  23. Association Green Istria
  24. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters- HRDP, Myanmar
  25. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Regional
  26. Atgaja, Lithuania
  27. Bank Information Center, United States
  28. BankTrack, Netherlands
  29. Bankwatch Romania, Romania
  30. Bantay Kita-Publish What You Pay, Philippines
  31. Biodiversity Conservation Center, Russia
  32. Both ENDS, Netherlands
  33. Bretton Woods Project, United Kingdom
  34. Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO), Uganda
  35. Business and Human Rights Resource Center, International
  36. Business and Welfare Initiatives Ltd., Bangladesh
  37. CEE Bankwatch, Czech Republic
  38. Center for Bangladesh Studies, Bangladesh
  39. Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development, Serbia
  40. Center for Environmental Information and Education, Bulgaria
  41. Center for International Environmental Law, United States
  42. Center for Studies and Economic Media, Yemen
  43. Center for Support of Civil Initiatives, Russia
  44. Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations – SOMO, Netherlands
  45. Centre for Transport and Energy, Czech Republic
  46. Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, A.C., Mexico
  47. Citizens for Justice, Malawi
  48. CIVICUS, International
  49. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, United States
  50. Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, United States
  51. Commercial Media Center, Iraq
  52. Conectas Direitos Humanos, Brazil
  53. Conseil régional des organisations non gouvernementales de développement, Democratic Republic of Congo
  54. Cotton Campaign, International
  55. Counter Balance, Czech Republic
  56. Crude Accountability, United States
  57. Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente, Peru
  58. Due Process of Law Foundation, International
  59. EarthRights International, International
  60. Ecological Society Green Salvation, Kazakhstan
  61. EcoLur Informational NGO, Armenia
  62. Eco – sense, Macedonia
  63. Egyptian Center of Civil and Legislative Reform, Egypt
  64. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Egypt
  65. Empower India, India
  66. Environmental Council of Primorye Territory, Russia
  67. Equitable Cambodia, Cambodia
  68. Estonian Green Movement, Estonia
  69. European Center for Not-for-Profit-Law, Hungary
  70. Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme, International
  71. For the Earth (Ze Zemiata), Bulgaria
  72. Forest Peoples Programme, International
  73. Foro Ciudadano de Participación por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos (FOCO), Argentina
  74. Forum of Dialogue and Partnership for Development, Egypt
  75. Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth, Nigeria
  76. Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development (FENRAD), Nigeria
  77. Freedom House, United States
  78. Friends of the Earth – CEPA, Slovakia
  79. Friends of the Earth U.S., United States
  80. Friends of the Forests of Siberia, Russia
  81. Front Line Defenders, Regional
  82. Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Argentina
  83. Fundacion MaderaVerde, Honduras
  84. Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, Mexico
  85. FUNDEPS, Argentina
  86. Gender Action, United States
  87. Governance and Social Accountability Tunisia, Tunisia
  88. Greater Active Reconstruction & Justice Action Network-Nepal, Nepal
  89. Green Action (Zelena Akcija), Croatia
  90. Green Alternative, Georgia
  91. Greenpeace, Global
  92. Guatemala Human Rights Commission, United States
  93. Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt
  94. Hann Baykeeper Waterkeeper Alliance, Senegal
  95. Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Germany
  96. Hnuti DUHA, Czech Republic
  97. Human Rights Watch, United States
  98. Inclusive Development International, United States
  99. Indigenous Women League Nepal, Nepal
  100. International Accountability Project, International
  101. International Environmental Union, Russia
  102. International Labor Rights Forum, International
  103. International Rivers, International
  104. Inspirator Muda Nusantara, Indonesia
  105. Institut de Recherche en Droits Humains (IRDH), Democratic Republic of Congo
  106. ITDP, Mexico
  107. Jamaa Resource Initiatives, Kenya
  108. Jewish World Watch, United States
  109. JONCTION, Senegal
  110. Just Associates (JASS), International
  111. Kalipunan ng Mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KATRIBU), Philippines
  112. Khpal Kore organization(KKO), Pakistan
  113. Krasnoyarsk Regional Public Environmental Organization “Plotina”, Russia
  114. Krityan and UNESCO Club Jamshedpur, India
  115. Latvian Green Movement, Latvia
  116. L’Observatoire d’Etudes et d’Appui à la Responsabilité Sociale et Environnementale, Democratic Republic of Congo
  117. Livelihood and Environment Ghana (LEG), Ghana
  118. Lumière Synergie pour le développement, Senegal
  119. Maison de Mines du Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo
  120. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, United States
  121. Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Nagaland / India
  122. Narasha Community Development Group, Kenya
  123. National Ecological Centre of Ukraine, Ukraine
  124. National Society of Conservationists – Friends of the Earth Hungary
  125. Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
  126. NGO Forum on ADB, Regional
  127. NGO Green Don, Russia
  128. Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix, Democratic Republic of Congo
  129. Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan
  130. Ong croissance saine environnement, Gabon
  131. Ong hadassa, Gabon
  132. Organic Consumers Association, Mexico
  133. Oxfam International, United Kingdom
  134. OT Watch, Mongolia
  135. Participatory Research Action Network, Bangladesh
  136. Phenix Center Jordan, Jordan
  137. Polish Green Network Poland
  138. Press Freedom Advocacy Association, Iraq
  139. Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER), Regional
  140. Protection International, Belgium
  141. Proyecto Tarahumara Sustentable, Mexico
  142. Public Research Center “Zhivaya Voda”, Russia
  143. Radanar Ayar Rural Development Association, Myanmar
  144. Regeneration International, Mexico
  145. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), Senegal
  146. Research and Preservation Agency of Taiga, Russia
  147. Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’Homme, Cameroon
  148. Réseau sénégal des défensurs des Droits humains (RSDD), Senegal
  149. Responsible Sourcing Network, United States
  150. Rivers without Boundaries International Coalition, Russia – Mongolia – China
  151. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, United States
  152. Sakhalin Environmental Watch, Russia
  153. Sawit Watch, Indonesia
  154. Seeds – India, India
  155. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team, International
  156. Social Justice Connection, Canada
  157. Sursiendo, Comunicación y Cultura Digital, Mexico
  158. Sustainable Development Foundation, Thailand
  159. TAKKOM JERRY Polyvalence Culturelle et Environnementale, Senegal
  160. Tatarstan Branch of Russian Environmental Union, Germany
  161. The Gate of Culture and Development, Morocco
  162. Tunisian Association of Transparency in Energy and Mines (ATTEM), Tunisia
  163. Uganda Land Alliance, Uganda
  164. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, Global
  165. Urgewald, Germany
  166. Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights, Germany
  167. Youth Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Nepal, Nepal
  168. Walk Free, International
  169. Zo Indigenous Forum Mizoram, India

(1) Daniel Kaufmann, “Human Rights, Governance, and Development: An empirical perspective,” in World Bank Institute, Development Outreach, October 2006, pp. 15- 20; Hans-Otto Sano, “Development and Human Rights: The Necessary, but Partial Integration of Human Rights and Development,” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 22.3 (2000), pp. 734-52.
(2) Amnesty International, “The State of the World’s Human Rights 2015/2016,” 2016; Civicus, “2016 State of Civil Society Report,” June 2016.
(3) Global Witness, “On Dangerous Ground” June 2016.
(4)  Human Rights Watch, “At Your Own Risk: Reprisals Against Critics of World Bank Group Projects,” June 22, 2015; Oxfam International, “The Suffering of Others: The human cost of the International Finance Corporation’s lending through financial intermediaries”