10,000 People from 90 Countries Demand World Bank Respect Human Rights

For Immediate Release
April 14, 2015

Press contact: Jocelyn Medallo, Center for International Environmental Law, jmedallo@ciel.org, 202-742-5850

Washington, DC – As the World Bank Spring Meetings kick off in Washington, DC, more than 10,000 people from 90 countries are calling on World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to integrate human rights into the Bank’s safeguard policies.

Over three decades ago, the World Bank took the first step among international financial institutions to create environmental and social policies to ensure that its investments do not unduly harm the environment or communities. In October 2012, the World Bank began the first comprehensive internal review of those policies, which will profoundly affect the standards for development finance globally.

“Economic development will not improve the lives of people unless it can guarantee the full enjoyment of their human rights,” says Jocelyn Medallo, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “This is a defining moment for the Bank. Will it stake its claim as the leading public development bank by explicitly committing to respect human rights in its lending? Or will it shrink away from its responsibilities, lowering the bar to compete for business with other lenders and setting off a race to the bottom?”

The first draft of the Bank’s new policy, which was released for comment in July 2014, was met with great opposition from civil society groups worldwide. These groups have described how it threatens to scale back hard-fought protections for communities and undermines rights guaranteed under international law. For instance, the draft allows countries to “opt out” of required protections for indigenous peoples, such as requirements to obtain indigenous peoples’ free, prior, and informed consent before implementing projects that would affect them.

“We urge President Kim to lead the Bank into a new era in which human rights are treated not as an irrelevant political factor, but embraced as a central part of poverty reduction, sustainable development, and sound risk management,” says Medallo.

In a letter accompanying a copy of the petition, CIEL and Human Rights Watch also urged the US Department of Treasury to take a leadership role in ensuring that the new policy incorporates human rights.

As the scope and sources of lending expand globally, it becomes even more important that the World Bank, long seen as the industry standard-bearer, must establish and uphold adequate standards to protect human rights. 10,000 voices from around the world agree and demand nothing less.

The World Bank’s review of its safeguards should be concluded by the end of the year.