Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
9 December 2020
Greetings. I'm very glad to be present for this timely and important discussion on the findings of the Inspection Panel’s latest advisory report, which provides insights into responding to project-related gender-based violence through an independent accountability mechanism.
The Bank’s desire to integrate the lessons drawn by the Panel from experiences in Uganda and the DRC is commendable.
I also welcome the World Bank’s efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence committed in the context of project implementation.
The UN system has also been grappling with these issues.
In 2017, building on an independent review on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, the Secretary General adopted a strategy to improve the UN's system-wide approach to preventing and responding to sexual abuse and exploitation, whether committed by UN personnel or non-UN forces.
Currently, my Office is working with the World Health Organization regarding an upcoming Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse affecting more than 50 women in the DRC, during the recent Ebola outbreak.
I am well aware of the complex legal and moral questions these situations raise.
Above all, we must do everything in our power to ensure we do not hurt those we are supposed to serve.
We have the responsibility to act with human rights due diligence. Doing so will enhance the trust and involvement of host communities, and the credibility they give to us and our activities. Above all, it will uphold their human rights – which is the core goal of all the UN's work.
The annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence – which end tomorrow – remind us that gender-based violence afflicts our fellow human beings in all societies. It both manifests and drives discrimination against women and girls. It is arguably the most pervasive of all human rights violations.
And yet gender-based violence is often met with inadequate prevention and faulty accountability measures. Blame continues to be placed on victims; the conduct of perpetrators continues to be viewed as routine; and survivors often encounter insurmountable obstacles to justice.
Our family of international organisations and bodies calls very often on States to spare no effort to address gender-based discrimination and violence. It is only natural that we walk the talk – and strengthen our own responses.
The World Bank's work to prevent gender-based violence in projects, by strengthening risk management systems, is significant.
I note the Bank's Guidance to staff on project-induced labor influx challenges, and the integration of violence in the Good Practice Note on Assessing and Managing the Risks and Impacts of Using Security Personnel.
In addition, the Bank now requires contractors to sign a Code of Conduct that explicitly details the prohibition of and penalties for any sexual relations with children.
You have also developed an interesting tool to assess the likelihood of sexual abuse, exploitation or harassment at the conceptualisation stage of major civil works projects. Using its 25 evidence-based indicators, mitigation measures can be baked into potentially risky projects from their inception, including hiring GBV specialists and mapping local partners that work on sexual abuse and exploitation, including with survivors.
Other multilateral development banks have also been innovating in this field. The Inter-American Development Bank has included a dedicated, stand-alone standard on gender equality in its new Environmental and Social Policy Framework. I hope this example will be replicated by all development finance institutions.
At the UN, systems have been set up to screen candidates for employment to avoid re-hiring individuals who have been involved in sexual exploitation and abuse. Risk assessments are required with regard to major deployments. Staff and partners are trained to prevent, detect and respond to sexual misconduct. Policies have also been put in place to assess implementing partners vis-à-vis their capacity to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse – with the UN Protocol on Allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse involving Implementing Partners, issued a year ago, requiring adequate safeguards and action in this regard.
To ensure that they are effective, all responses to gender-based violence need to place a priority focus on the rights and needs of victims.
The human rights, victim-centred approach requires prioritizing the “do not harm” principle, full respect for confidentiality, and the informed consent of victims. It also requires referral to legal, medical, psychosocial or other services and the physical and emotional protection of victims, witnesses or whistle-blowers. And it needs a clear focus on measures to ensure accountability and redress.
This is not without its challenges. As we all know, despite many efforts, the number of convictions for sexual exploitation, abuse or harrassment remains extremely low – whether in the context of development projects, or in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.
Victims often face stigma, and may fear reprisals, if they come forward. Their access to national justice systems may be impeded by bureaucratic hurdles, economic barriers, insufficient investigative capacity by national authorities, or basic mistrust. In addition, these cases can be complex, involving different States and the applicability of extra-territorial jurisdictional rules.
We have a responsibility to advocate – and support – necessary reforms to ensure that national justice systems and other accountability mechanisms can respond adequately to these cases of gender-based violence.
Before closing, I want to clarify what we mean by the need for remedy and assistance to victims.
Firstly, providing remedy to victims entails acknowledging responsibility for the abuses or violations they have suffered.
Too often, the harms that have been done to people and the environment are met with denial, buck-passing and the shirking of responsibility. When blame is deflected in this way, the suffering of victims is increased.
The human rights-based approach requires responsible parties to do more than offer ex gratia assistance, more or less out of the kindness of their hearts. It requires acknowledgement of a responsibility to assist the victim to regain her or his rights and dignity.
In this respect, the Bank’s action plan for the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project is impressively clear and comprehensive, including its provisions for resettlement compensation through financial assistance, counselling and services such as health-care, pre-natal assistance and school reintegration programmes.
These steps towards acknowledging and realising victims' rights have been hard-won. Implementing these measures will involve many challenges. But I pay tribute to the Bank, Inspection Panel, today's distinguished panellists, and many others in helping to achieve this measure of progress. I hope it will inspire more proactive and effective responses by all multinational development banks in the future.
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