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World Bank turns Its back on rights protections for the poor, global civil society response gathers momentum

(New York, London, New Delhi, July 29, 2014) – Civil society organisations around the world are decrying a leaked draft of the World Bank’s proposed new policies to avoid harmful impacts from the development projects that it finances. Despite earlier commitments by Bank President Jim Yong Kim that the policies would not be diluted and that safeguards on land rights would be strengthened, the proposed changes have gutted essential requirements that are necessary to prevent displacement, impoverishment, and environmental damage. The draft policies are up for discussion by the Bank’s board on July 30 ahead of public consultations.

“This draft effectively winds back the clock to the 1970s, before the Bank had binding policies in place to protect the poor and the environment. We see nothing more than a naked attempt by the Bank to shield itself from accountability for the destructive impacts of the mega-projects it is planning.” said Madhuresh Kumar, National Organizer of the National Alliance of People’s Movements in India.

Most shockingly, the draft policies provide an opt-out option for governments that do not wish to provide essential land and natural resource rights protections to Indigenous Peoples.

Joji Carino, Director of the Forest Peoples Programme, said “we have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over twenty years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world. The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws.”

The draft also weakens protections for people who will be evicted from their homes, land and livelihoods, increasing the risk that Bank-financed projects will impoverish people, exacerbate inequality and cause human rights violations. The proposal scraps critical rules that have been in place for thirty years requiring the Bank to take concerted measures to avoid and minimise displacement and for resettlement action plans capable of restoring the livelihoods of the displaced to be in place before committing funds to projects. It provides multiple opportunities for borrower governments, or even private “intermediary” banks, to use their own standards for impact assessment, compensation and resettlement, without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.

Theodore Downing, President of the International Network on Displacement and Resettlement, a 14-year old network of involuntary resettlement professionals, said “the proposed changes eviscerate existing international standards – knowingly placing millions of people at risks of impoverishment.”

“The Bank is trying to exonerate itself from all responsibility for the devastating effects of the displacement it finances, while giving private equity funds and some of the world’s most abusive governments unfettered discretion to uproot the poor as they fit,” said David Pred, Managing Director of Inclusive Development International.

Land titling projects are exempted from the coverage of the draft resettlement policy. This will leave affected communities completely unprotected from forced eviction by their government, as happened in the case of Cambodia’s Boeung Kak Lake community whose homes were demolished after they were deemed not to have ownership rights under a Bank-titling project.

“If this policy is adopted, many communities around the world will be forcibly evicted like mine was, and they will not be able to seek any recourse from the Bank,” said Tep Vanny, a community leader from Boeung Kak Lake. After filing a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel about the controversial project, Tep Vanny and local organisations finally secured title for hundreds of families that were previously threatened with eviction. With the proposed changes to the Bank’s policy, that would not have been possible.

Despite the growing land-grabbing crisis displacing countless indigenous communities, small farmers, fisher-folk and pastoralists throughout the global south, the draft policy fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land-grabs.

“In Ethiopia, World Bank funds have been used to facilitate one the world’s biggest land grabs, with the indigenous populations of entire regions being uprooted to make way for agro-industrial investments. We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds, but we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses,” said Obang Metho, Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia.

“Not only is the current draft an unconscionable weakening, it is a complete misrepresentation of two years of consultations with civil society.   The Bank’s Board must not endorse this draft, and at a minimum must insist that these fundamental loopholes be addressed before the next round of consultations,” said Sasanka Thilakasiri, Policy Advisor for Oxfam International.

105 non-governmental organizations and civil society networks and 17 distinguished individuals from Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe sent a statement to the World Bank’s Board yesterday, demanding that the draft be sent back to the drawing board and re-written with serious safeguards to respect and protect the land, housing and livelihood rights of the poor.

The joint statement is available here in Englishhere in French, and here in Spanish.

The World Bank draft safeguards framework is available here.

For more information about the World Bank Safeguards Campaign, click here.

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