UN Human Rights Council and US senators slam World Bank draft safeguards

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The bank was called “an increasingly isolated outlier” in its treatment of human rights in draft safeguards by the U.N. Human Rights Council. Photo by: Young-Jin Yoo / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

A group of 28 experts from the U.N. Human Rights Council sent an open letter Monday to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, sharply criticizing the bank’s treatment of human rights in its draft safeguards.

“The bank’s proposed new safeguards seem to view human rights in largely negative terms, as considerations that, if taken seriously, will only drive up the cost of lending rather than contributing to ensuring a positive outcome,” the experts said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Devex before it was officially published Tuesday on the OHCHR website.

In the largest public condemnation issued by the council against the World Bank to date, the document added that “it is fair to say that the vast majority of development actors, from the European Investment Bank to the U.N. Development Program, have expressed a clear commitment to human rights in their policies, thus making the [World] Bank an increasingly isolated outlier in this regard.”

Also on Monday, three members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee aired their own complaints about the bank’s new safeguards, issuing a statement of concern to the Department of Treasury secretary.

The committee noted in the 2015 draft appropriations bill that the World Bank’s safeguards “fall short of international law and best practices,” and called for the bank to conduct “rigorous due diligence and human rights risk management” in all projects and loans.

The safeguards draft — known within the Washington, D.C.-based institution as the “Environmental and Social Framework” — was leaked in June to heavy criticism from civil society organizations like the watchdog group Bank Information Center and environmental advocacy organization International Rivers, which argue the new policy doesn’t adequately address the risks related to human rights and the environment in future bank-funded development programs.

The Foreign Relations Committee’s letter points to Treasury’s past role in advancing human rights standards in the Asian Development Bank, and asks that it use its power to bring the World Bank to the same level, underscoring that the current draft “allows governments to opt out” of safeguards and “weaken existing mechanisms for transparency, oversight and accountability.”

“We expect the Treasury to demonstrate similar leadership in this case,” the letter reads, “so that the World Bank’s safeguards are at least as strong as the strongest safeguards of the ADB and other multilateral financial institutions.”

What do you think of the World Bank’s draft safeguards policy? Please share your thoughts by sending an email to news@devex.com or leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.