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World Bank should recognize importance of human rights in its new environmental and social policies

GENEVA (17 December 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, today urged the World Bank to recognize the central importance of human rights to its draft environmental and social policies, also known as Safeguard policies, which apply to its investment project financing. The draft Safeguards policies were released by the Bank in July for public consultation, as part of the multi-stage review.

“The draft Safeguards seem to go out of their way to avoid any meaningful references to human rights,” Mr. Alston stressed, in a joint letter* to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, together with a group of twenty-seven other independent experts of the largest fact-finding and monitoring mechanism of the UN human rights system.

“The Bank’s position is effectively a sleight of hand,” he noted. “They insist that their operations will be ‘supportive of human rights’ but then add that this must be ‘in a manner consistent with the Bank’s Articles of Agreement,’ and they have interpreted the latter as preventing human rights being taken into account because they are inherently political.”

According to the UN Special Rapporteur, Bank officials have defended its increased reluctance to engage with human rights on the basis that alternative sources of development financing are emerging, which do not require meaningful safeguards.

“The failure of other lenders to require that projects they fund should protect human rights standards is not a valid reason for the Bank to follow suit,” the expert said.
“The risk of a race to the bottom is real and would be disastrous for sustainable development.”
The World Bank’s president has repeatedly promised that the revision process will not result in a dilution of the Safeguards. “I believe that honouring this promise requires a significantly different approach from that which is now being pursued by the Bank. The draft is a backward step that tramples upon the progress achieved over the last thirty years or so,” Mr. Alston warned.

In their joint letter, the UN experts also highlighted a range of specific concerns with the proposed new Safeguards policies. They signaled that the move away from a requirements-based Safeguards system to an aspirational one represents a clear dilution of existing protections, as does the significant delegation of responsibilities from the Bank to other actors.

The draft Safeguards also fail to meet the standards that international human rights law sets, for instance in the area of labor and working conditions, involuntary resettlement and indigenous peoples, the experts noted. In addition, many vulnerable groups, such as LGBTI and people with a physical or mental disability, remain virtually unprotected in Bank projects.     
(*) Read the experts’ joint letter: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/EPoverty/WorldBank.pdf

The experts: Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Michael K. Addo, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Patricia Arias, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination; Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Keita Bocoum, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic; Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; Virginia Dandan, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mireille Fanon Mendes-France, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; Rita Izsák, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; John Knox, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Bahame Nyanduga, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Frances Raday, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Surya Prasad Subedi, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Alfred de Zayas, Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

For further information on the experts’ mandates and activities, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx 

For more information and media requests, please contact Junko Tadaki (+ 41 22 917 9298) or write to srextremepoverty@ohchr.org

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

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