Dear President Jim Kim,
The World Bank has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of participation, good governance, and accountability for development. As both human rights and development experts have noted, respect for human rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association is crucial for achieving participatory, sustainable, and accountable development.
Unfortunately, in many World Bank client countries, these rights are under attack. The organization Global Witness recently identified 2015 as the most dangerous year for killings of land and environmental defenders, while CIVICUS’ 2016 State of Civil Society report identified serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries over the course of 2015. In many countries, those who speak out about development activities may suffer threats or attacks by government or company officials. This environment of violence, intimidation, and closing civil society space renders meaningful public participation in development virtually impossible. It also significantly increases the risk that World Bank Group-financed activities will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations.
This issue was brought to the fore recently by attacks on human rights defenders documenting labor abuses in Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector. Over the last year, officials brutally retaliated against Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva, and other rights defenders for reporting about forced labor in the cotton sector. Police arrested, beat, and filed charges of “disorderly conduct” against Tikhonov on the same day that his home office was destroyed by arson, eventually forcing him to flee the country. Officials have arrested Urlaeva five times and subjected her to body-cavity searches twice. The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation are investing in projects that benefit Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, but have not worked to support an environment in which people can speak freely about rights abuses linked to their investments without risk of reprisal. At the same time, Pastor Omot Agwa, the Inspection Panel’s interpreter and facilitator during its investigation in Gambella, Ethiopia, remains behind bars on baseless terrorism charges.
Last week, 154 civil society organizations from around the world launched the attached statement on the “Responsibility of International Financial Institutions to ensure Meaningful and Effective Participation.” The statement lays out concrete ways World Bank Group and other development finance institutions can support an enabling environment for public participation and ensure that their activities do not cause or contribute to human rights violations. The statement is attached here and a live version together with case studies and supplemental information is available at www.rightsindevelopment.org/hrd.
We believe that World Bank Group has a responsibility to ensure that the activities it finances respect human rights and that there is space for people to participate in the development of activities it finances and to hold the bank to account without risking their security.
As these challenges are growing more acute day by day, we urge you to devote the necessary resources to grapple with them in a serious and effective manner. We are eager to work with you and to bring the technical expertise of human rights institutions, human rights defender organizations, and other relevant experts to assist you in identifying effective means to address these issues.
We therefore request the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience. Please contact Jessica Evans at email@example.com for more information or for scheduling purposes.
Jessica Evans, Human Rights Watch
Carla García Zendejas, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
Mary Lawlor, Front Line Defenders
Kristen Genovese, Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)
Jeffrey B. Hall, Bank Information Center
Liliana De Marco, Protection International
Philippe Le Houérou, Executive Vice President and CEO of IFC
Compliance Advisor Ombudsman
World Bank Board of Executive Directors