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UN expert urges World Bank to amend its constitution to effectively advance human rights

GENEVA (14 September 2017) – The World Bank’s commitment to development can and should go beyond financing mega-projects and proactively support smaller, inclusive projects likely to create employment while advancing human rights and environmental protection, a United Nations rights expert has urged.

“Progress cannot be measured only by increases in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but must also encompass the enhanced enjoyment of human rights and a higher standard of living,” said the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas.

“I have gathered numerous examples of human rights violations which have been alleged in connection with projects the World Bank has financed, including mass evictions and involuntary resettlements, land-grabbing, pollution, the destruction of livelihoods, forced and child labour, and sexual abuse,” said Mr. de Zayas, who has highlighted many such cases in his full report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The World Bank should stop financing projects that adversely impact people’s human rights, and should instead seek to combine economic growth with the promotion of food security, clean water, health care, education and employment, as well as the equitable distribution of wealth,” said Mr. de Zayas.

“The Bank must also assess the likely impact on human rights, health and the environment before any loans are approved, and strengthen the existing monitoring mechanisms.”

He added: “Financing should be suspended when serious human rights violations occur, victims must have access to effective recourse, and human rights defenders who raise concerns should not face intimidation or reprisals.  No project affecting the lives and culture of indigenous peoples should be approved without the free, prior and informed consent of the peoples concerned.” 

Mr. de Zayas said the Bank’s articles of agreement should now be updated to allow human rights to be mainstreamed into its practices and decisions.

“The Bank’s current articles of agreement prohibit it from political activity, which has often been interpreted as an obstacle to giving due weight to human rights and environmental concerns,” he said. “It is time to amend the articles - not least as they pre-date the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights treaties. The Bank should live up to its association agreement with the United Nations and deliver on its own human rights and environmental promises.”

Alongside amending the articles, the Board of Governors should issue directives that mainstream human rights into the Bank’s activities, he added.

“A revised mission statement that reconciles the Bank’s economic and financial priorities with human rights is necessary today and for the future,” said the expert.

Mr. de Zayas said the World Bank’s existing accountability mechanisms – the Inspection Panel and the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman – did very valuable work, but he regretted that their recommendations were not binding. 

“The World Bank should take prompt and effective action consistent with the findings of these internal monitors and give their recommendations wide dissemination inside and outside the Bank.  Moreover, it is imperative that victims are made aware of how to utilize these redress mechanisms,” he said.

Citing studies by academics and NGOs, the Independent Expert also highlighted that the public-private finance partnerships had lowered social protection in health and education. He noted that other violations had occurred after World Bank loans to intermediary banks, which had in turn lent to risky projects that would not ordinarily have received direct approval.

Concluding that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals could not be achieved without the full commitment of international financial institutions, the expert also recommended that the Bank co-operate with international organizations, including ECOSOC and UNCTAD, which have proposed plans of action to advance both development and human rights.

Mr. Alfred de Zayas (United States of America) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order by the Human Rights Council, effective May 2012. He is currently professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Mr. de Zayas practiced corporate law and family law in New York and Florida. As a Human Rights Council mandate holder, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Aminta Ossom (+41 22 917 9611 / aossom@ohchr.org) or write to ie-internationalorder@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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