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Human Rights and Development Trust Fund Launch

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

12 April 2019

I am very pleased to be here today at the launch of the World Bank’s Human Rights and Development Trust Fund.

I strongly support the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and achieving shared prosperity, and the call of the 2030 Agenda to achieve equality, dismantle discrimination, and leave no-one behind.

These are lofty goals. However I believe that they will be more achievable when we approach development and human rights challenges in an integrated fashion.

With the Trust Fund’s support, human rights can be the common cause and catalyst of this enterprise. The World Bank’s example can have a powerful demonstration effect globally, within and beyond the world of development finance.

The Nordic Trust Fund is small in the context of the Bank’s operations. But since its inception in 2009, the Fund has played a critical role in paving the way towards a more impactful vision of human rights and development.

Human rights are a moral imperative, underpinned by legal obligations. But the Trust Fund, and the Bank’s wider research agenda, have also helped us to understand that addressing the human rights implications of development work is smart economics.

For example, the “Women, Business and the Law” report shows us vividly how national laws and regulations can undermine women’s rights and economic opportunities.

Research by the World Bank and others has shown that discrimination and stigmatisation can eliminate women, persons with disabilities, LGBT people and others from the workforce and cost economies billions.

Lost productivity from domestic violence has cost countries between 1 to 2 per cent of GDP, and excluding persons with disabilities from the work force can cost economies as much as 7 per cent GDP.

Correspondingly, investing in a social protection floor, for an average 1.6% of GDP, can have a transformative effect on curbing poverty and marginalisation, reinvigorating the economy, and upholding human dignity.

Human rights talk has sometimes been dismissed as empty rhetoric. However research by the Bank’s Development Research Group in 2012 showed the importance of human rights consciousness and claiming for long-term societal change.

“Rights talk” can provide an empowering vocabulary for social justice claims, which is precisely why it is often resisted by the powerful. But for too many people, sitting back and waiting is simply not an option.

Human rights claims have had systemic, positive impacts in many countries. For example in South Africa it has been estimated that over one million human life years have been saved through the Treatment Action Campaign’s public interest litigation, which expanded access to affordable anti-retrovirals to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

In India, more than 100 million children are receiving school meals and new enrolments of girls have skyrocketed, following a successful “right to food” campaign and litigation in 2001.

Of course, one still hears the refrain that economic development should precede human rights, and civil and political rights in particular; or that social “stability” is more important than individual rights.

But authentic, broad-based progress is impossible without space for open dissent and disruption of entrenched economic and political power.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are no difficult trade-offs to be made in public policy-making. We cannot have everything at once. As a former Head of State, I am painfully aware of the need to temper idealism with pragmatism.

However a human right lens, and evidence produced with the Trust Fund’s support, can help us to expose false trade-offs, and to understand the need for inclusive approaches and for accountability for the difficult choices that must be made.

In building the evidence, the Trust Fund has also illuminated many areas of potentially fruitful collaboration between the Bank and my Office, within our respective mandates and comparative advantages.

We have collaborated on many issues in the past, from claiming social rights to women’s rights, infrastructure, water, sanitation and hygiene, indigenous peoples’ rights, investment project due diligence, impact assessment and measurement, and land sector reform at the country level.

We have an emerging but vital conversation on human rights in the technology sector, a game-changing agenda for us all.

My next stop after DC is Silicon Valley, where I will be meeting with tech industry leaders to discuss the intersection of human rights and various new technologies. I’ll be engaging on issues such as Artificial Intelligence, online content moderation, the right to privacy and other pressing issues as well as how the human rights framework can help address some of the challenges tech companies are facing.The demand from our tech partners themselves is strong.

I was very pleased to see that the Human Rights and Development Trust Fund will be supporting the governance and infrastructure sectors, including technology, along with research and operational support in Fragile, Conflict-Affected and Violent (FCV) settings.

The FCV focus is undoubtedly vital, if extreme poverty is to be addressed. It is also highly ambitious, for the UN and World Bank alike, and compels our closer collaboration.

Human rights violations and horizontal inequalities are often precursorsof violent conflict, as the UN-World Bank “Pathways for Peace” report has noted.

For example, in the DRC, under some of the most challenging circumstances you could imagine, we are collaborating with the Bank to help mitigate gender-based violence and other adverse impacts of a major transport sector project.

This example illustrates how we are all changing our ways of working to address evolving operational demands, and of where – and how – the Human Rights and Development Trust Fund could be harnessed for maximum good.

Thank you again to Ceyla, Sandie and colleagues for the opportunity to be with you to support this vital initiative.

I reassure you of my personal commitment and that of my Office in the implementation phase.