The World Bank today set aside concerns about financing Russia's war in Chechnya and disbursed $100 million to the Russian government. "We are seriously disappointed by the Bank's decision,"declared Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe & Central Asia Division. "The Bank's stated commitment to addressing the human aspects' of development rings hollow when its funds are paid directly to a government pursuing the kind of abusive campaign we are witnessing in Chechnya."
The funds are expected to be transferred today to the Russian government for purposes of general budgetary spending.
In a mid-December letter to World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Human Rights Watch cautioned that the funds would help finance Russia's abusive campaign in Chechnya. Describing indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing, looting, and extrajudicial executions committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch argued that if the Bank made the payment it would be implicated in these abuses.
The disbursement to Russia reportedly caused considerable debate within the Bank. President Wolfensohn's response to Human Rights Watch acknowledged that "development of basic human rights in the social and economic spheres is an integral part of our mission," and further stated, "We share the concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch, the OSCE and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that human rights and humanitarian law be respected by all in Chechnya and we hope that the conflict can be brought to an end quickly to avoid further loss of lives." Bank management has stated that it will consider the impact of the war in Chechnya in connection with future disbursements.
At the same time, the governmental shareholders of the Bank failed to voice any objections to the loan disbursement and Bank management decided to go forward with the current payment. "In releasing these funds, the World Bank has squandered an important opportunity to help prevent further loss of civilian lives," said Ms. Cartner.
Funds have recently been withheld from Russia by both the IMF and the U.S. Export Import Bank. While these decisions are widely believed to be linked to concerns over the war in Chechnya, publicly international donors insist they have other reasons and refuse to link funding explicitly to an end to the abuses.
"Fearful of alienating the Russian government, the international community is trying to have it both ways," stated Cartner. "On the one hand, donors have withheld IMF and U.S. Export-Import Bank funds, while on the other, they refuse to link these decisions to Chechnya and have gone ahead with the World Bank payment. We would rather see a clear and consistent signal that international financial support will be withheld as long as Russia continues to violate international law in Chechnya."