Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reminded a room of World Bank economists that human rights are “also your job,” and called on the institution to “marry human rights and economics.”
That call, at a World Bank event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, echoes criticism by Human Rights Watch and numerous other civil society organizations that the World Bank needs to do a better job of making human rights central to its mission of reducing poverty through development projects around the world.
Though the World Bank has social and environmental safeguard policies meant to protect people, they fall short. The bank needs to ensure it assesses the human rights risks in each project, take steps to minimize these risks, and ensure that effective remedies exist when harm does occur.
The high commissioner highlighted the need for improved collaboration between those working in development, and those in the front lines of defending human rights. In particular, he offered to share information gathered by human rights monitors – such as indicators of impending violence – that could contribute to the Bank’s risk assessments of potential projects. He shared his vision of more effective shared advocacy between development and human rights professionals “united by a common purpose,” with the goal of building stronger institutions, weaving a more inclusive social fabric, and producing justice.
Hussein emphasized the “colossal economic, social and human cost of violations,” calling on the Bank to address issues of exclusion, inequality, and other human rights, not only because they uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents, but “because they make for good economics, sound development, greater and more sustained prosperity.”
In this year that marks seven decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the World Bank should heed the renewed calls to put human rights at the core of its work, not only to prevent harm, but to effectively achieve its objectives of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity around the world.