Beginning in February 2015, 40-50 residents of Durgapur village in northern India, mostly women, sat in protest for more than a month. A state-owned company called the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd. (THDC) was developing a hydroelectric power project near their community and some villagers believed that tunneling for the project endangered their homes and the overall well-being of their community. The women and their children sat all day in protest, singing folk songs that gave voice to their worries regarding the future, as well as songs of courage and hope.
One of the protestors, Sita (not her real name), a 30-year-old woman, told Human Rights Watch how THDC workers and contractors regularly threatened, intimidated, and insulted her and the other villagers while they protested. Company employees called the women “prostitutes,” subjected them to vicious insults referencing their caste, and warned them of “severe” consequences should they continue their protest.
Those threats and insults are part of what Sita and other community members described as a broader pattern of harassment. Some community members from neighboring project-affected areas say they have faced reprisals for objecting to how the hydroelectric power project is being carried out. Communities in the area say that the project prevents women from going about their daily lives freely and without fear. When Human Rights Watch asked THDC about these allegations, the company said that there have been no violations of human rights in the project area, that it has taken the issue of women’s safety seriously from the very start of project preparation, and that it was looking into the incidents that Human Rights Watch had raised “and will deal with them if necessary.”
While a majority of villagers in project-affected areas have accepted the project, a small number of families in Harsari hamlet continue to resist resettlement. In addition to those in Durgapur protesting a tunnel, scores of community members in nearby villages are opposed to the project because of broader concerns over environmental sustainability. These critics say they are facing threats due to their resistance.
The hydroelectric project Sita was protesting against is financed by the World Bank. In theory the World Bank Group’s involvement in a project like this should be good news for community members like Sita. Both the World Bank (the Group’s public lending arms), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) (the Group’s private lending arm) have policies that require them to consult communities and safeguard against causing harm to them and the environment through their investments. THDC has expressly asserted that it has complied with the World Bank’s policies. The World Bank Group also has mechanisms specifically designed to provide an avenue for community members to bring complaints directly to independent offices of the Group–the Inspection Panel and the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO)–that are tasked with investigating and reporting on breaches of these policies. But as this report shows, in reality this often adds up to very little when communities come under attack.
This report describes how people in Cambodia, India, Uganda, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere have faced reprisals from governments and powerful companies for criticizing projects financed by the World Bank and the IFC. The World Bank’s own research has long found correlations between the extent and quality of public participation in projects and the success of development projects. But this report documents how in many cases, World Bank and IFC officials failed to respond meaningfully to abuses that make a mockery out of their own stated commitments to participation and accountability.
In some cases, the World Bank Group has failed even to take appropriate action when people have suffered reprisals specifically because they were involved in bringing human rights concerns to the attention of Group officials. In one case, weeks after the World Bank’s Inspection Panel concluded its process, government security forces threw the Panel’s interpreter into prison. Security forces also seized at least one computer that may contain the identities of people who spoke to the Inspection Panel under a guarantee of confidentiality.
Bank officials have told Human Rights Watch that they have questioned government officials about the arrest and highlighted their concerns behind closed doors. But weeks after the arrest, the Bank provided a new loan to the government. At time of writing, the interpreter remains behind bars at a notorious detention facility, known for its use of torture. The Inspection Panel has been monitoring the situation and, according to Panel members, has asked Bank management to intervene. It has not, however, taken any steps to check on the well-being of those they interviewed in the course of their investigation beyond discussing security concerns with the complainants’ representatives.
In recent years, a growing number of governments have embarked upon broad and sometimes brutal campaigns to shut down the space for civil society activity, in some cases going so far as to criminalize independent human rights work. These abusive measures can prevent people from participating in decisions about development, from publicly opposing development initiatives that may harm their livelihoods or violate their rights, and from complaining about development initiatives that are ineffective, harmful, or have otherwise gone wrong. This report demonstrates that these broader trends toward repression have profound impacts for World Bank Group-supported projects in countries like Ethiopia and Uzbekistan. Not only do many community members and activists face an increasing risk of reprisal for speaking out against Group-financed projects that enjoy government support, independent groups who could otherwise help communities articulate their concerns and perspectives about development projects face similar challenges. The World Bank Group has not taken meaningful steps toward creating an enabling environment for participation and accountability when it finances projects in countries that are closing or have effectively closed civil society space or routinely punish dissent.
Reprisals take a variety of forms. This report documents cases where project critics and concerned community members have been the target of threats, intimidation tactics, and baseless criminal charges. Some women have faced sexual harassment or gender-based threats, attacks, or insults when they speak out, such as Sita and her fellow protesters being derided as “prostitutes.” It also describes situations where security forces have responded violently to peaceful protests, physically assaulting community members and arbitrarily arresting them. In other cases, critics or their family members have been threatened with the loss of their jobs or livelihoods. In many countries, these reprisals often occur within a broader effort to demonize critics as unpatriotic or “anti-development.”
The potential for this kind of retaliation should be well-understood by the World Bank Group. The World Bank Inspection Panel has explicitly recognized the risk of retaliation and intimidation, particularly because complainants in their cases are often poor, marginalized, and lack a voice in the political process. These risks are not confined to those who bring complaints to the Inspection Panel or the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). Rather, they are faced by critics of a number of World Bank Group-financed projects irrespective of how they choose to raise their concerns.
Despite the grave risks that people living in communities affected by World Bank and IFC-financed projects take to speak out about the problems that they see with such projects or the harm that they face, the World Bank and IFC have done little to secure a safe environment in which people can speak freely without risk of reprisals. In repressive environments, the World Bank Group has often closed its eyes to the risk of abuse rather than engage in difficult conversations with partner governments.
The World Bank should consistently emphasize to member countries that criticism of World Bank Group-financed activities is welcomed and seen as an important part of improving the impacts of development efforts—and that reprisals against critics or people otherwise involved in such activities will be publicly and vigorously opposed.
In the past, the World Bank Group has occasionally responded swiftly and publicly to certain high-profile incidents of reprisals. Former World Bank Group President James Wolfensohn intervened at the highest level of government, and publicly reported on his interventions when an Inspection Panel complainant and opposition leader was arrested in Chad in 2001. A World Bank official also spoke publicly against the Cambodian government’s violent crackdown on protestors in 2002, highlighting how such actions run contrary to any commitment to participation and accountability.
Although even at the time they were sporadic, such efforts by the Bank to respond to reprisals appear to have been replaced by, at best, quiet conversations behind closed doors with questionable utility. At worst, the prevailing response seems in some cases to have been one of complete apathy.
This report lays out detailed recommendations of how the World Bank Group can live up to its responsibilities. The World Bank and the IFC should take all necessary measures to prevent reprisals, including by actively working to create a safe environment for criticism. They should closely monitor for reprisals and, should they occur, respond promptly, publicly, and vigorously, including by pressing governments to investigate and hold to account anyone who uses force against protestors or threatens or physically attacks critics. They should also independently investigate alleged violations and provide compensation when governments refuse to do so. In addition, they should, like the United Nations, publicly and regularly report on reprisals linked in any way to their investments, as well as the actions they took to respond.
Despite the positive examples of Bank interventions in Chad and Cambodia, the World Bank Group has not developed a consistent practice of identifying and responding to reprisals. This highlights the need for strong leadership by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and the board of executive directors to set the tone for the organization and provide clarity on the expectations of all staff to work diligently to prevent and respond to threats, intimidation, and all other reprisals linked to the Group’s activities.
President Kim should take a leadership role in creating an enabling environment in which people can freely share their views regarding Group investments, without fear of reprisals, in line with the Group’s commitments to participation and accountability.
Full recommendations for the World Bank Group are outlined in chapter IX. Action Plan for the World Bank Group.
To World Bank Group Management
· Take all necessary measures to prevent reprisals against civil society groups, members of affected communities, or others for participating in the development of, criticizing, or otherwise attempting to express opinions or concerns about World Bank Group-financed projects. Steps towards this goal should include routine consultations directly with impacted communities to determine their protection needs and work with government actors and companies receiving funding to ensure that such protection is provided and respected.
· Ensure engagement with all stakeholders in development projects is in good faith, not just a formality. Take all necessary measures to specifically ensure that impacted people or groups who are traditionally marginalized or excluded from decision-making, including women, Indigenous peoples, gender and sexual minorities, and persons with disabilities, among others, are able to actively, meaningfully, and safely participate in decision-making processes that affect them without risk of reprisals.
· Vigorously respond to all instances of reprisals, including by publicly denouncing them and intervening in specific cases to push governments or companies to halt or refrain from serious abuses.
To the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman and the Inspection Panel
· Analyze the risk of reprisals and other potential security risks facing complainants and others each time a complaint is received. In close coordination with the complainants, develop a process which fully addresses any security concerns. Revisit this process throughout the accountability process, to address any emerging risks.
· Discuss with the World Bank country office early and throughout the accountability process any and all security concerns and risks of reprisals and, if appropriate, ensure support of the country office for any agreed security measures.
· Take all necessary measures to ensure that requests by complainants to have their identities kept confidential are fulfilled and maintained throughout the process.
· Train staff working on complaints from communities to identify and appropriately handle reprisals, including gender-based threats and reprisals as well as those affecting other marginalized groups.
· Actively monitor for reprisals throughout and following the accountability process, including by remaining in contact with complainants to ascertain whether they face any security concerns or potential reprisals, particularly following visits by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) or Inspection Panel.
· If the CAO or Inspection Panel receives information about reprisals or security risks, immediately engage senior level World Bank Group officials, and where appropriate senior government and company officials, and work with them to ensure that the security of complainants and others is restored and maintained.
To all Shareholder Governments of the World Bank Group
· Press the World Bank Group to implement the recommendations contained in this report, and to respond in a meaningful and effective manner to any reprisals that occur.
· Ensure that human rights commitments made by governments, particularly regarding human rights defenders, are reiterated by representatives on the World Bank Group’s board of executive directors and guide those representatives’ decisions and communications with World Bank Group management regarding reprisals.
To Governments Receiving World Bank Support
· Halt and prevent any attacks or stigmatization of individuals, groups, and communities who criticize or raise concerns about development.
· Respect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly by allowing those affected by development initiatives and civil society to express concern and discontent.
· Prevent and refrain from all acts of reprisals against those engaging or seeking to engage with the World Bank Group, including in particular the Inspection Panel and CAO.
· Properly equip and train law enforcement officials to respect the right to free assembly and to apply only justifiable and proportionate use of force where needed.
· Impartially, promptly, and thoroughly investigate any allegations of reprisals, hold offenders to account, and ensure access to effective remedies for victims.
· Implement the recommendations made by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in his September 1, 2014 report, and the former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in her August 5, 2013 report on large-scale development and human rights defenders.
This report is based on research carried out by Human Rights Watch staff from May 2013 to May 2015 in Cambodia, India, Uganda, and Kyrgyzstan (regarding allegations of reprisals in Uzbekistan). Human Rights Watch researchers also conducted additional telephone interviews with people in these and other countries, including Armenia, Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Mongolia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 people, including 56 community members who were affected by 14 ongoing or completed World Bank or International Finance Corporation (IFC) projects, several of which are featured in this report, and 23 activists who were working with communities.
Human Rights Watch wrote to all people that it could identify brought complaints to the Inspection Panel or Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) since 2000. We received substantive responses from complainants or their representatives regarding 34 cases, which resulted in follow up discussions via telephone and email. We also reviewed and drew upon email communications and meeting notes between complainants and the Inspection Panel or CAO, court documents, World Bank and IFC project documents and other publications, and Inspection Panel and CAO complaints, reports, and statements, as well as media reporting, where it was available.
Human Rights Watch researchers discussed with all interviewees the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, the ways the information would be used, and that no compensation would be provided for participating, before obtaining the interviewee’s consent. Interviews typically lasted between 45 minutes and over one hour. Approximately half of the interviews were conducted with the assistance of an interpreter. Where necessary because of risks of new or continued threats of reprisal, names have been withheld or replaced by pseudonyms in order to protect identities and other identifying information has been removed as necessary. In some cases, we have removed all identifying information including the purpose of the World Bank Group project and the country where the project is being implemented, in order to ensure that those involved are not identifiable.
Human Rights Watch wrote to the World Bank, the IFC, the Inspection Panel, and the CAO on April 21, 2015 asking about their practices and their conduct in each of the cases highlighted in this report. The letter to the World Bank is included in Appendix A of this report. The World Bank Group’s response, sent on behalf of both the World Bank and the IFC, did not answer any of the questions Human Rights Watch had posed. It is included in Appendix B of this report. The Inspection Panel provided an in-depth response, which has been incorporated into the report but at the Inspection Panel’s request is not reproduced here. The Panel also met with Human Rights Watch to answer outstanding questions. The CAO provided a brief, general response on June 2, electing “not to respond to the case-specific questions due to potential sensitivities with the complainants and confidentiality concerns that we would also be unable to address within the timeframe for requested inputs.” Human Rights Watch subsequently provided the CAO with the portions of this report that address cases before them or information about their practices, to which the CAO responded. Correspondence from the CAO is included in Appendix C of this report.
Human Rights Watch also wrote to Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd. (THDC) on May 12, 2015, outlining allegations that had been reported to us regarding the involvement of its staff and contractors in threats and intimidation of community members discussed in Case Study B, below, and seeking THDC’s views. In its response, the company emphasized that it takes its responsibilities towards host communities very seriously, stressing that there have been no violations of human rights in the project area. It did not directly answer the questions that Human Rights Watch had posed on specific allegations but said that it was looking into the matters that Human Rights Watch had raised and would “deal with them as necessary.”
Donors increasingly understand that public participation, access to information, and accountability of all development actors are crucial for sustainable development. Many donors have adopted human rights-based approaches to development efforts, as well as policies that require them to refrain from funding projects that result in human rights violations. As the former United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has said, the ultimate goal of development policy “should be to empower people, especially those most marginalized, to participate in policy formulation and hold accountable those who have a duty and responsibility to act.” The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has similarly emphasized that development should be understood as freedom from fear as well as freedom from want.
The World Bank’s own research has long found correlations between the extent and quality of public participation in projects and the success of development projects. A 2011 World Bank study, for instance, reaffirmed that when civil society is enabled by the political environment in-country to monitor and hold service providers accountable, development initiatives have improved results.
From a development perspective it is worrying, then, that many governments around the world systematically constrain or retaliate against the work of outspoken community members, journalists, and independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Many governments seek to repress dissent not only to dissuade and punish political competition, but to silence independent voices that are critical of governments’ efforts in the development arena. These abusive measures can prevent people from participating in decisions about development, from publicly opposing development initiatives that may harm their livelihoods or violate their rights, and from complaining about development initiatives that are ineffective, harmful, or have otherwise gone wrong.
This kind of repression can take many forms, from the brutal to the relatively subtle. It has included, for example:
· A mounting proliferation of laws and policies that restrict people and civil society organizations (CSOs) from fully exercising their right to public participation. This has included laws or policies that criminalize expression (e.g. criminal defamation laws or national security legislation); discourage, burden, or prevent the formation of organizations; stifle free communication among CSOs and others; ban or interfere with peaceful public gatherings; prevent organizations from carrying out legitimate activities; and restrict the ability of organizations to secure the financial resources necessary to carry out their work.
· An intensification of crackdowns against human rights defenders, environmental activists, and journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists were killed worldwide in 2014. Information compiled by Global Witness revealed that at least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014.
· The spread of increasingly powerful and efficient measures of government surveillance. Some of these measures may have valid applications in the area of criminal law enforcement but are misused by many governments as a tool to monitor and repress criticism.
· The use of censorship to limit citizens’ access to information and opportunities to share views and participate in decisions. As the internet has become an increasingly powerful tool for disseminating views and criticizing governments, it has been a greater target for censorship, with governments using technical measures to prevent access to certain content, such as blocking and filtering or limiting access to social media.
· The use of trumped-up criminal charges to silence activists or criticism more broadly. For example, Uzbekistan has repeatedly used trumped-up criminal charges against activists.
In the last year alone, Human Rights Watch has documented the severe erosion of space for civil society and accountability more broadly in a number of countries, including, for example, in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Thailand, and Ethiopia.
The World Bank, Public Participation, and Accountability
In April 2011, then-World Bank President Robert Zoellick reflected on the popular upheavals in the Arab world in a landmark speech that affirmed the importance of civic participation and social accountability in development, saying:
Institutions matter, but so do citizens. A robust civil society can check on budgets, seek and publish information, challenge stifling bureaucracies, protect private property, and monitor service delivery. Civil society can insist on respect for the rights of citizens.... An empowered public is the foundation for a stronger society, more effective government, and a more successful state.
As the World Bank has worked in recent years to align its activities and resources toward achieving the “Twin Goals” of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, current World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has also emphasized that the Bank must listen to the voices of those living in poverty and consult with civil society.
To its credit, the World Bank has invested resources towards building the capacity of civil society groups to participate effectively in development efforts by creating a new funding mechanism for nongovernmental organizations, the Global Partnership on Social Accountability. But civil society needs more than funding to be able to work effectively: groups need to be able to operate freely and without fear of reprisal.
The World Bank’s current institutional commitment to confronting barriers to public participation and social accountability, and to lending its analysis and voice to efforts to open that space where it is lacking, has been uneven. Human Rights Watch welcomes the emphasis that the Bank’s new approach to country engagement, which it rolled out from July 2014, places on “explicitly considering the voices of the poor,” its commitment to analyze challenges to sustainable development in countries prior to negotiating its strategy with governments, and its commitment to consult with civil society throughout this process.  Human Rights Watch also welcomes the publication of Bank research emphasizing the importance of an enabling environment for civil society.
However, to date, the World Bank has not actively worked to support an enabling environment for public participation and social accountability in countries where space is limited or closing. Nor has it proactively raised with governments efforts to undermine these rights—even in cases where people have been targeted for abuse precisely because they attempted to communicate rights-related concerns to World Bank Group accountability mechanisms.
The World Bank Group’s Safeguard Policies and Accountability Mechanisms
Since the 1970s, the World Bank Group has progressively introduced policies aimed at identifying, preventing, and mitigating the potential social and environmental harm of the projects it supports, including by requiring consultation with communities affected by Bank-financed projects. One of the greatest challenges with respect to these standards has been effective monitoring and supervision. In the 1990s, in response to pressure from civil society and the United States Congress, the Group created first the Inspection Panel, to receive complaints about public sector projects, and then the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), to receive complaints about private sector projects. These accountability mechanisms are tasked with holding the institution accountable to its policy commitments.
The World Bank’s Safeguard Policies
The World Bank’s safeguards policies, which have been labeled “do no harm” policies, apply to the World Bank’s investment lending, which accounts for just over half of its lending but does not cover all Bank activity including most direct budget support. In October 2012, the Bank launched a review and update of its eight environmental and social safeguard policies and its policy on piloting the use of borrower systems. The World Bank published a draft environmental and social framework on July 30, 2014.
The World Bank’s safeguard policies, together with its access to information policy and consultation guidelines, illustrate the importance that the Bank places on participation, consultation, and access to information. However, neither the current safeguards nor the draft framework do enough to help ensure that communities likely to be affected by proposed World Bank projects will have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in decision-making without fear of reprisals. While the draft new framework has an increased emphasis on information disclosure, meaningful consultation, stakeholder engagement, security, and grievance redress, it does not adequately address environments where freedom of expression, assembly, and association are not respected or where community members and others face significant risks for being critical of proposed or ongoing projects. Unless it remedies this gap, the Bank’s own intentions will be thwarted in many of the challenging environments in which it works. The Bank’s consultation guidelines also do not confront the challenge of working in repressive environments.
Neither the World Bank’s current safeguard policies nor the proposed environmental and social framework include the kind of due diligence required to avoid serious human rights abuses.
International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) outlines how its clients should manage social and environmental risks in its performance standards. In addition to outlining requirements regarding consultation, risk identification and management, and grievance mechanisms, the standards outline the obligations of IFC clients in relation to security. The security provisions are adapted from the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. As with the World Bank’s existing and draft policies, the performance standards do not address environments where freedom of expression, assembly, and association are not respected or where community members and others face significant risks for being critical of proposed or ongoing projects. Despite these standards, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman has found that the IFC’s culture and incentives that measure results in financial terms encourage staff to “overlook, fail to articulate, or even conceal potential environmental, social, and conflict related risks.” These findings have prompted the IFC to realize it needs to better analyze the broader contextual risks of projects, including broader country or systemic risks and legacy issues which predate the project in question but nevertheless raise ongoing concerns. Any such contextual risk analysis should include consideration of whether people may face reprisals for criticizing the project and related issues.
The World Bank Inspection Panel
The Inspection Panel, which is independent of World Bank management and reports to the Bank’s board of executive directors, receives complaints from people who believe they have been, or are likely to be, adversely affected by a Bank-funded project. It is tasked with assessing allegations of harm to people or the environment related to whether the Bank followed its operational policies and procedures. The Panel consists of three members appointed by the board, is supported by a secretariat, and hires experts to assist with its investigations.
When the Panel receives a complaint that meets its admissibility criteria, it seeks a response from World Bank management, visits the project area, and then issues an eligibility report in which it recommends whether or not to investigate. If the board of directors does not object to the Panel’s recommendation for an investigation, the Panel undertakes a fact-finding mission in the project area together with experts to determine whether the World Bank violated its own policies and whether this caused harm to those affected. It outlines its findings in an investigation report, which it sends to management to allow them to respond and develop remedial actions to address the Panel’s findings, and then the report and management’s response go to the board of executive directors.
The investigation report is only shared with the complainants and the general public at the conclusion of this process, which greatly limits complainants’ opportunities to influence the board should they disagree with key findings, have additional information that they feel was not addressed, or find management’s proposed remedial actions inadequate. While the Panel does not have a monitoring role, in the past it has visited the project-affected area once again at the close of the process. This provides a key opportunity to explain the outcome of the process and to consider whether the process had resulted in any unintended consequences for the affected communities, including reprisals.
Recently the Inspection Panel has devised a new process whereby instead of registering a complaint and proceeding on a path that would lead to investigation, it allows management, the relevant authorities, and the requestors to negotiate an outcome. Civil society organizations have criticized this new pilot process, fearing it will inadequately protect the rights of people affected by Bank projects in the process, lead to poor outcomes, and not address the Bank management’s violation of its own policies. The Inspection Panel disagrees with some of these criticisms and has emphasized that the pilot will be independently reviewed at the end of 2015.
The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman
The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), which responds to complaints from people affected by the social and environmental impacts of IFC or Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) projects, has a more diverse range of functions than the Inspection Panel. It reports to the World Bank Group president rather than the board, and its vice president is appointed by the World Bank president based on the recommendation of an independent committee composed of representatives from civil society, the private sector, and academia, enhancing the independence of the office. The CAO has three functions: problem-solving, compliance, and advisory.
Through its problem-solving function, the CAO Ombudsman works with the company involved and the community to mediate an outcome that ideally resolves grievances and improves outcomes on the ground. As this has been a core function of the CAO since its inception, it has in place procedures and the necessary expertise to better protect the rights of the complainants and address the unequal bargaining power between the parties, unlike the Inspection Panel’s pilot program.
Under its compliance function, the CAO investigates the IFC and MIGA's social and environmental performance to determine whether these organizations are in compliance with relevant policies. Compliance investigations are triggered by the receipt of a complaint or can be initiated at management’s request or at the CAO’s own discretion, a power that the Inspection Panel does not have. The CAO first determines whether the issues merit an investigation by assessing whether there are substantive concerns regarding a project’s social or environmental performance and outlining its findings in an appraisal report. If it determines that an investigation is merited, the CAO, together with experts if it deems necessary, conducts an investigation, and outlines its findings in an investigation report. If it determines that the IFC, MIGA, or the companies involved are not in compliance with the relevant policies, it monitors the situation until the IFC or MIGA take all necessary steps to bring the project into compliance. This is another important role that the Inspection Panel lacks.
Through its advisory role, the CAO works to improve IFC and MIGA’s performance systematically by providing independent advice to management, focusing on broader social and environmental concerns, policies, procedures, strategic issues, and trends.
In many countries, activists and community members face extraordinary risks when they try to publicly raise concerns about the potential negative impacts of large-scale development projects, or influence the way those projects are implemented. Too often, people live in a climate of intimidation that dissuades them from participating in public discourse about projects that will have profound and lasting impacts on their lives.
This report documents several instances where government or company officials have intimidated or harassed critics of World Bank Group-financed projects, threatened them with physical assault, death, and baseless criminal charges and placed them under surveillance. Some women activists have faced gender-based threats and abuse. In other cases, government and company officials have threatened critics’ livelihoods, including by threatening to terminate employment, cutting employment benefits, or increasing workload.
The Bank’s Inspection Panel has recognized the risk of retaliation and intimidation targeting people who attempt to pursue complaints about Bank-financed projects, particularly when complainants are poor and politically marginalized. The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) has similarly highlighted that communities bringing complaints have faced intimidation, victimization, and death threats fr0m national and local government officials, company employees, companies’ private security forces, and traditional leaders and community members who support the project.  It also noted that some consultants working for CAO in the field have been subjected to threats and violence.
Human Rights Watch believes that these cases, along with the World Bank Group’s inadequate responses to them, are part of a troubling and broad pattern. Furthermore, the Inspection Panel has found cases where World Bank staff and consultants have themselves allegedly been involved in pressuring communities not to file or to withdraw complaints, and have acted in ways that have caused community members to fear reprisals.
In some cases, many of the same kinds of intimidation and abuse are carried out by factions of the same communities that the critics themselves belong to. Often these are community members who stand to benefit economically from the proposed project or are politically allied with the government. In some cases, government officials deliberately drive and exploit these community divisions, seeking to isolate critics, and close their eyes to acts of intimidation and abuse between community members.
In researching this report, Human Rights Watch attempted to contact people or organizations who had filed complaints with either the Inspection Panel or the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) since June 2000. We were able to reach and have substantive exchanges with complainants in 34 cases. Of the 34, complainants in 18 of the cases reported that they had been threatened or faced some form of reprisal that they believed was directly linked to their criticism of a World Bank or International Finance Corporation (IFC) project. Another two said that they faced reprisals, but they believed these were linked to their broader activism rather than to their criticism of Bank-financed projects.
Reprisals are not restricted to instances where community members or activists have utilized the World Bank Group’s accountability mechanisms, but critics risk reprisals irrespective of the methods that they use to raise their concerns.
Likewise it is not just a risk for objecting to projects financed by the World Bank Group, but also includes projects financed by regional development banks and other donors. For example, on August 4, 2011 the Cambodian government suspended for five months Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), an NGO that was monitoring resettlement-related human rights violations linked to an Asian Development Bank (ADB)-financed railways project. The suspension was ordered after Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 17 citing an unnamed ADB consultant requesting “the government to take immediate action” against STT and another NGO, “because [the] ADB is also under political pressure caused by these NGOs.” The ADB denied involvement with the request and issued a public statement emphasizing the important role that NGOs play in the successful implementation of development projects and that it “hopes that NGOs will be allowed to continue making contributions.”
As noted above, in many countries civil society groups that work with communities to defend their rights also face threats, intimidation, surveillance, and violent abuses. In an increasing number of countries, these groups risk being dismantled altogether, paralyzed by bureaucratic interference, or subjected to criminal sanctions for criticizing government-backed development projects.
The chapter below describes a selection of concrete examples of various forms of intimidation and reprisals critics of World Bank Group projects have faced around the world, and how the Group and its accountability mechanisms have responded to these problems.
Instances of Government Harassment and Intimidation
Cambodia: Community Members Threatened, Surveilled, and Arrested
In Cambodia, community members have suffered a series of reprisals linked to their criticism of World Bank and IFC-supported projects.
In Ratanakiri province, Cambodia, community members from 17 villages have filed a complaint with the CAO alleging that Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), a Vietnamese company that operates rubber plantations in the area, has undermined their rights to land, water, and resources, and threatened their cultural practices. According to Global Witness, which has researched and documented these allegations, when it put them to HAGL:
HAGL denied taking land from local residents, destroying spirit forests or burial grounds, or causing food shortages. The company declined to comment on promises of compensation not materialising, reduced local access to water.… Furthermore HAGL stated that it was the Cambodian government’s responsibility to ensure that community land and forests were not included in concession areas.
The IFC has invested in HAGL through a US$16.4 million financial intermediary investment in Vietnam Enterprise Investments Limited, managed by Dragon Capital Management Ltd. The complaint alleges non-compliance with IFC policies and procedures and with Cambodian laws and is currently under the CAO’s dispute resolution process. According to the CAO, while HAGL maintains that it has always complied with Cambodia’s laws and regulations, it had declared a moratorium on further land clearance activities in the area of 13 communities listed by name in the complaint and wanted to proactively address the communities’ concerns.
After filing the complaint in February 2014, several community members at Kanat Thom village, in Ta Lao commune, say they were threatened by district and sub-district authorities, even though they had attempted to remain anonymous in the complaint process. An official allegedly told one community member, in mid-2014, “Don’t be too strong in your advocacy, otherwise you may end up in prison.” In October 2014, a different official said in a public space that he would like to kill a particular community member who had been critical of the project. A community member told Human Rights Watch, “I was afraid, but felt I had to continue, because I was doing the right thing.” Community members did not report these threats to the police or authorities because they “thought that would only make things worse.”
An NGO representative that supported the filing of the complaint said that she verbally told CAO representatives about the threats. She said the CAO representatives’ response at the time was, “that they would try [to do something about the threat] … but might not have much power.” The CAO also noted in its assessment report that community members had spoken “of instances of intimidation by security forces after they protested clearance activities on their land.”
In response to security concerns, the CAO has actively sought to create an environment for dispute resolution that addresses the risk of reprisals by seeking support for the process from high-level government officials. According to David Pred, managing director of Inclusive Development International, one of the groups working with complainants in the case, this is an example of the CAO carefully considering the security risks and working with the complainants and their representatives to identify the most effective means for addressing these risks, in order to enable the mediation process to proceed safely.
In another case, the Cambodian government has cracked down on community members that are under threat of forced eviction because of an expansion of the Phnom Penh international airport. The IFC provided a loan to the company that owns the airport concession. These attacks are in a similar vein to those on Boeung Kak activists discussed in the case study below. At this writing, the CAO was working with the company and the community under its dispute resolution process.
On November 14, 2012, ahead of the November 19 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Phnom Penh, people from about 20 households that had received eviction notices painted “SOS” on their roofs. This was a plea to President Barack Obama—who would be flying in to the airport for the summit—to help them receive appropriate compensation for their homes.
The following day, at about 7:30 a.m., police arrested eight people from among those 20 households. One of the women said when asked by the police, she admitted to painting SOS on the roof of her house. The police then arrested her, refusing her request that they allow her to dress properly first as she was dressed in a sarong, preparing to do laundry. A 14-year-old girl who witnessed the arrest said, “It was scary for me seeing the police come here. Some had rifles and shotguns.” The eight were released at about 8:00 p.m. that evening after being required by police to stamp their fingers on a letter to the mayor apologizing for what they had done and promising not to do it again.
Community members said that after this incident they were afraid and felt like their every move was being watched. The village chief also began insisting that community members require his permission to meet with each other, telling them that otherwise, any community meeting is illegal.
While community members have filed a petition with the IFC about their case, they do not believe that the IFC or the World Bank are following and responding to the security situation within their community.
The Ugandan government has increasingly intimidated activists working on sensitive subjects and obstructed civil society reporting and advocacy in recent years.
In 2005, the Ugandan National Forestry Authority granted licenses to New Forests Company over land in Mubende and Kiboga districts to operate pine and eucalyptus plantations. The government began removing residents over the next several years, labeling them “illegal encroachers.” According to NGO reports, security forces forcibly and brutally removed several thousand people from the land and ignored interim High Court orders barring the evictions pending a full hearing, among other violations of the rights of the community. New Forests Company has strongly denied any involvement in evictions or violence and challenged NGO findings, relying on reports of international auditors. The IFC has invested in New Forests Company via an investment in Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity fund focused on food and agribusiness in Sub-Saharan Africa. In December 2011, Oxfam and Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) filed a complaint with the CAO, which led to a mediation process resulting in settlements between the communities and New Forests Company agreed in July 2013 and May 2014.
According to current and former employees at ULA, the organization and some staff members faced threats and surveillance after ULA published a report on the evictions and later filed a complaint with the CAO. Unidentified men began telephoning both the executive director and the communications officer, telling them to “back off” this issue. Anonymous callers threatened two activists on various occasions. Community members also reported to ULA that they had faced threats and harassment for articulating concerns about the project, and said they had been under surveillance.
A ULA employee at the time described being followed by unknown men whom she could not identify but assumed to be with the security forces. She also observed plainclothes security personnel monitoring community meetings in which ULA was participating. She said:
From the moment we filed a complaint with the CAO, government officials accused us of spoiling the image of the state…. We received threats.… My colleague claimed he received threats via his mobile telephone. One day, someone I know said to me, “If you don’t do these things, they will kidnap your children.” He had connections with the government and told me he was just telling me “as his friend, to drop the case.”
Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, a human rights defender and journalist who began covering the forced evictions said that he also received numerous threatening telephone calls, beginning in about January 2010. Prior to this, in about October 2009, Ssebaggala had been arrested for photographing the police arresting community members who were resisting eviction. He was told he would be released provided he deleted the photograph. Ssebaggala recalls receiving a telephone call from a private number when he was working in Kampala one day, at around 9 a.m. The caller said he was from “security” and said, “If you don’t back off your involvement in the land issue, it will be a matter of life and death.” Ssebaggala received several more calls over the following two years, often from the same man, who once said, “You’ve refused, but we’ll get you, anytime.”
According to Ssebaggala, in mid-2010 his home was burgled and his laptop and telephones were stolen, while everything else was left untouched. He reported the threats and burglary to two separate police stations, but was told at each that they needed money to “facilitate” any investigation. He told Human Rights Watch that the World Bank should have done more to respond to these reprisals against him and other critics of the project:
Free speech is the cornerstone of transparency and accountability. Where World Bank projects are being implemented, citizens must have a voice.… The World Bank should have done more to protect the security of people speaking out against this project. It’s us who facilitate the voice of the people. I’m not aware of them [the World Bank] doing anything [about the reprisals against critics of this project].… This makes me believe they think free speech is not an issue for them. 
The World Bank country office representative conceded to Human Rights Watch that they had not taken concrete steps to help create or protect any kind of a space within which community members, NGOs, and journalists could publicly raise concerns about this or other projects. Rather, the Bank viewed free speech issues and the broader crackdowns on civil society as being best handled by bilateral donors. The World Bank representative also said that while ULA had reported the attacks to the World Bank, they had not expressly asked that the Bank do anything about the attacks they were facing.
Uzbekistan: Activist’s Family Members Intimidated, Harassed
The World Bank is increasingly investing in projects that benefit Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector, particularly the cotton sector which is grounded in a state-forced labor system, including through a US$260 million irrigation project in South Karakalpakstan. In 1993, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Karakalpakstan formally became a constituent part of Uzbekistan, but retained its status as an autonomous republic.
According to Aman Sagidullaev, who is currently living in exile in Kyrgyzstan, he has been a peaceful political activist advocating for Karakalpakstan’s self-determination and human rights more broadly since the late 1980s and 1990s. Since 2008, he has been a leader of the dissident group Alga Karakalpakstan (Forward Karakalpakstan). The Uzbek government’s repressive tactics, discussed below, are magnified in Karakalpakstan in response to the independence movement.
In mid-2014 Sagidullaev wrote a public letter calling on the World Bank to place a hold on the Karakalpakstan irrigation project as long as the Uzbek authorities continued to suppress human rights in the region, engage in the use of forced labor in the cotton sector, and punish efforts by civil society to function. During this period, Uzbek authorities appeared to have made serious efforts to detain Sagidullaev and intimidate other members of his family. On numerous occasions, authorities summoned Sagidullaev’s brothers and brothers-in-law for questioning about Sagidullaev’s whereabouts and activities. One of his brothers-in-law, Rahat Orunbaev, fearing imminent arrest, fled to Kazakhstan in mid-2014 after being summoned for questioning.
On July 3, 2014, the popular state-controlled news agency 12news.uz published an article about Sagidullaev announcing that authorities had placed him on an international wanted list and described “all the damage that he [Sagidullaev] has brought to the country [Uzbekistan],” and referring to Sagidullaev as a separatist. Uzbek state-controlled media often produce these types of pieces in connection with individuals considered to be high-profile opponents of the state. Other examples are the state-controlled TV programs that authorities have aired describing the graduates of Uzbek-Turkish lycees, the exiled human rights defender Nadejda Atayeva, and the imprisoned religious leader Akram Yuldashev as “enemies of the state.”
On September 27, 2014, a few months following Sagidullaev’s open letter to the World Bank, 15 law enforcement officers from the police, Uzbekistan's National Security Services, commonly referred to by its Russian acronym, the SNB (Sluzhba Nationalnoi Bezopasnosti), and prosecutor general’s office conducted a raid on Sagidullaev’s relatives’ home in Karakalpakstan's Karauzyak district. According to Sagidullaev, during the raid the officers informed Sagidullaev’s relatives that he was wanted on new theft charges and that he should “immediately stop his political activity,” in particular, his dissemination of information about Karakalpakstan on the internet.
According to the Inspection Panel, during its visit to Uzbekistan to look into a complaint alleging the Bank’s support for child and forced labor through an agriculture project, “security was often the first topic to be spoken about during the visit.” The Panel said it was informed by one of the complainants’ representatives that security officials had entered one of the organization’s offices and seized equipment, including computers. One community member told the Panel of receiving an intimidating call warning against meeting with the Panel. According to the Panel, the community member “did not ask for any steps to be taken.”
Threats and Harassment by Company Employees and Contractors
In some cases, employees or contractors of companies being paid to develop World Bank Group-financed projects have themselves intimidated, threatened, or harassed community members and activists who protest against the projects or seek to publicly raise concerns about their impacts. These companies, as well as their managers and workers, often have a tremendous economic stake in seeing projects progress without obstruction or delay. One of the three detailed case studies that follow in a later section of this report describes such a situation relating to a project taking place in India.
In another case from India, a community member brought a complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel regarding the Madhya Pradesh Water Sector Restructuring Project. The project, which aims to rehabilitate several hundred irrigation systems, has been criticized by community activists who fear adverse health and sanitation issues related to a sub-project, the Water Quality Enhancement Project of Swarn Rekha River. The community member who filed the complaint told Human Rights Watch that employees of an independent contractor that had been hired to develop the project threatened and physically intimidated him on several occasions in 2012 and demanded that he withdraw his complaint.
The community member, Ram Sharan Gupta, told Human Rights Watch that on one occasion some men visited his house and told him, “You are an obstacle in our work and are causing us unnecessary troubles…. We will kill you and your family.” He said that the men said that the contractor had sent them. Gupta also mentioned an occasion when he went to the project site and the contractor’s employees held him by his shirt and threatened him, demanding that he withdraw the Inspection Panel complaint. Gupta said that on one occasion the “contractor himself” had threatened him, saying, “You take your complaint back or we will kill you.”
Gupta also said that local government officials called him on several occasions, telling him that he was causing trouble for the local government and causing them losses. He said that they told him, “We will file a police case against you for causing trouble.”  However, after Gupta complained to the Superintendent of Police in Gwalior about the harassment in 2012, he says that the contractor ceased threatening and harassing him.
In addition, after filing the Inspection Panel complaint, Gupta said that he received a letter from the district administration saying that part of his pension was stopped because he had caused losses to the state government for that same amount. According to Gupta, following a court ruling Gupta’s pension was reinstated.
Gupta said that he spoke to several World Bank officials about the threats and harassment, but that these Bank officials responded that they could only help in World Bank-related matters, and these kinds of threats did not qualify. They told him that he would instead need to talk to local law enforcement. The Inspection Panel, Gupta said, responded similarly: “The [then] chair of the Inspection Panel always said, ‘What can the World Bank do in this? This is a law and order problem.’” Members of the Inspection Panel team recalled that there was a high-pressure environment during this visit, and while they did not recall Gupta reporting threats and harassment, it was possible that he did. While they do not recall an explicit conversation, a key question for them during this visit was the causal linkage between the World Bank project and the harm that the community was experiencing. In light of this, it is plausible that if Gupta had reported threats or harassment that they would have asked about links to the World Bank and encouraged him to report such serious allegations to the police.
In another region of India, a CAO complainant who alleged, among other issues, inadequate compensation for the economic impact of a proposed project, described receiving various threats, with the callers identifying themselves on some occasions, and not on others. The first call came the day after the media broke the story about him and his fellow complainants challenging the IFC through the CAO. Among the calls the complainant received were ones during which people threatened to kill him, break his legs, or to strip him and chase him down unless he ceased his opposition to the project.
World Bank Staff Discouraging Complaints
According to the Inspection Panel, in at least a few cases, there is evidence that World Bank staff and consultants have themselves been involved in discouraging communities from filing complaints or encouraging them to withdraw complaints after they have been filed, and have acted in ways that have caused community members to fear reprisals.
One such case involved the Bank-financed Brazil-Parana Biodiversity Project, which aimed to support biodiversity conservation and natural resource management in the region, with a particular focus on two highly-threatened ecoregions. The complainants questioned the effectiveness of the project, raising concerns about the methodology, implementation, and the geographical focus of the project. The Panel highlighted allegations that World Bank staff had pressured communities into withdrawing their opposition to the project in its 2006 report, “the Panel found that the Requesters felt unduly pressured by the Bank staff and others not to file a Request for Inspection and then to withdraw the Request.”
Another case involved an Inspection Panel complaint regarding the Bank-financed Bujagali Falls hydropower plant in Uganda, which community members feared would harm the environment, violate Indigenous peoples’ rights, and result in forced evictions. While considering a complaint regarding the project, the Panel was informed that ahead of its visit, “project officials,” together with others including unnamed officials who were not Ugandan and one of the project’s social and environmental impact assessment consultants, had visited the area and met with community leaders. The Panel highlighted in its 2007 report that it had heard testimony from community members that they were threatened for wanting to speak out about their concerns. In conclusion, the Panel said:
The Panel is concerned by the reports of pressure and fear among at least some of the affected people who signed the Request. The Panel trusts that the Bank will take appropriate steps to ensure that the concerns turn out to be not well-founded.
The World Bank should work to ensure that its staff welcomes criticism and does not, under any circumstances, discourage community members or civil society organizations from complaining to the Inspection Panel or any other forum.
Arbitrary Arrests, Trumped-Up Charges, and Criminalization of Protests
As the detailed case study that appears later in this report shows, Cambodian authorities have repeatedly subjected community members protesting Bank-financed projects to arbitrary arrest or trumped-up legal actions aimed at preventing them from protesting. Authorities from one recipient government have also arrested and detained, at this time without charge, the interpreter who worked with the World Bank Inspection Panel and provided assistance in facilitating the Panel’s visit to affected communities. Similar abuses have plagued other World Bank Group-financed programs.
In India, according to the Inspection Panel, government authorities imprisoned a lead complainant who was protesting the Bank-financed Mumbai Urban Transport Project shortly after the Panel sent its report to the board in December 2005. While the basis for the charges allegedly linked to a traffic altercation may have been credible, the Inspection Panel raised questions highlighting that the timing suggested there may be a link to the complaint. The Panel chair at the time reported to the board that the imprisonment of the “chief spokesperson” of the complainants, without bail, “sends a chilling message.”
In many countries, security forces charged with policing peaceful protests respond with excessive force, by arbitrarily arresting and detaining protestors, or by threatening and intimidating protestors. When the World Bank Group finances projects in these environments, broader government intolerance of crackdowns can quite predictably result in a chilling environment for community critics of major projects, or lead to reprisals against people who do speak out against the feared or actual negative impacts of those projects.
The special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, has found that the World Bank does not always support assembly rights in places where it operates, referring to the absence of any Bank practice to proactively monitor how security forces respond to protests targeting the Bank or its projects. He emphasized:
Despite the legitimate security concern surrounding World Bank buildings … the repeated mass arrests, including of bystanders, journalists and tourists, make it difficult and frightening for anyone to participate in or observe World Bank-related demonstrations.
In addition to ensuring access to people seeking to protest against the World Bank, the Bank has a role to play in ensuring that law enforcement are properly trained in order to strictly observe international standards on use of force and provide protection to peaceful protesters during assemblies. While this is primarily a duty for states, the World Bank should at a minimum emphasize to governments that they welcome protests about World Bank-financed projects or outside World Bank buildings and ask governments to ensure that any law enforcement officials policing such protests are appropriately trained, supervised, and held to account for use of force that does not comply with international standards.
As the former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has observed, some governments routinely brand community members, activists, and organizations that raise concerns about controversial development projects as being “against development.” The implication is that they are working to subvert the national interest and the common good rather than raising legitimate concerns or expressing honest criticism. This branding becomes a key part of governments’ justification for targeting these critics for harassment and abuse.
The Uganda National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) worked with other NGOs to bring two complaints to the World Bank Inspection Panel regarding the Bujagali Hydropower Project in 2001 and the related Private Power Generation Project in 2007. Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of NAPE, told Human Rights Watch that both the government and the company involved had publicly labeled NAPE and those that work for it “economic saboteurs” for challenging these projects. According to Muramuzi, this labeling worsened when the government learned that NAPE had brought a complaint to the Inspection Panel and the Inspection Panel began preparing for its visit. He told Human Rights Watch:
During a public meeting with community members who were complaining about the resettlement [of communities to make way for the project], government representatives said that the hydropower project is a bulldozer, and if you stand in its way, it will crush you.
According to news reports, President Yoweri Museveni warned of “saboteurs who are bent on frustrating or delaying investments” while launching the AES dam project in Bujagali in January 2002. Two days later, he said, “Those who delay industrial projects are enemies and I don’t want them. I am going to open war on them.”
Muramuzi said that NAPE has remained under intensified government scrutiny ever since, and that this has interfered with their ability to work in other regions, particularly the oil-rich areas in Western Uganda where NAPE has worked to educate community members about environmental concerns. For example, in July 2010 the chairman of the Buliisa district NGO Forum was arrested and charged with “disobeying police orders,” after arranging meetings in the district with NAPE staff members. Also in July 2010, a federal official in Buliisa district ordered the arrest of NAPE staff members after they held a community meeting earlier that day. He was held for five days and eventually released on police bond. Muramuzi said that when he has been working on other issues, government officials have asked him if they are looking to complain about the World Bank or International Finance Corporation.
The former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders similarly pointed to the vulnerability of activists engaged in criticizing development projects in India. She said, “Those defenders had been stigmatized and branded as being ‘anti-Government’ or ‘sympathizers of Naxalites;’ they had been arrested and ill-treated and, in some instances, killed.”
In another region of India, a person who was set to be affected by a proposed project that was receiving IFC support told Human Rights Watch that the local media, government officials, and other community members publicly maligned him for opposing the project.
Newspaper articles confirm that local authorities accused those who were complaining to the CAO of “trying to scuttle the project for foreign lobbies” and “sabotaging the prestigious project.” Eventually, after speaking with his family, the complainant decided to cease protesting the project because “there was going to be hell to pay” if he continued.
In some countries, government employees that question government data or strategies are also labelled “anti-development” and persecuted. For example, 29-year-old Tadesse (not his real name), was tasked with compiling statistics from health clinics in his district when working as an administrator for a district health bureau in northern Ethiopia. In this role, Tadesse told Human Rights Watch, he questioned a regional government report with data that he believed to be exaggerated. Two days later, security officials came to his house and arrested him. Over the next four days, he was kept in solitary confinement and brought out each night for beatings where he was accused of being “anti-development” and “against the government.” An environment that punishes such queries undermines development effectiveness. Tadesse told Human Rights Watch, “I don’t believe the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] numbers at all.” He acknowledged that progress is being made, adding, “But is it as much as the government says? Not at all. But nobody can question them. Nobody can investigate.”
Attacks against Nongovernmental Organizations
Human Rights Watch has documented efforts by governments to shut down and criminalize the work of independent civil society groups, or take deliberate steps to choke off civil society groups’ access to the funding sources they depend on. Nongovernmental organizations working to support communities who raise concerns about World Bank Group-financed projects have been targeted for repression, either as part of broader crackdowns on civil society or in retaliation specifically for their advocacy on Bank-financed projects. This inevitably curtails the ability of community members impacted by Bank-financed projects to protest negative impacts or attempt to influence the design or implementation of those projects.
India: Crackdown on NGOs Includes World Bank Group Monitors
For some years now, Indian authorities have been suspicious of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations and what they see as the “anti-development” agenda of these organizations. In February 2012, then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed foreign-funded NGOs for stalling development projects, especially in the energy sector. He said, “There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces.” Several groups that led community protests against large extractive, energy, or infrastructure projects came under increased scrutiny.
In 2015, the Indian government intensified the crackdown on NGOs that have been critical of development projects supported by the government, labeling them “anti-development” and accusing them of undermining the country’s economic growth. Successive governments in India have failed to adequately oversee and regulate economic development projects that can have catastrophic impacts on surrounding communities. A June 2014 allegedly leaked report from India’s Intelligence Bureau in its Ministry of Home Affairs stated:
A significant number of Indian NGOs (funded by some donors based in US, UK, Germany and Netherlands) have been noticed to be using people centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects.… The negative impact on GDP growth is assessed to be 2-3% p.a.
No basis was given for the report’s “assessment” of the supposed negative impact on GDP growth. Another allegedly leaked June 2014 report by India’s Intelligence Bureau, targeted Greenpeace for “spearheading a concerted campaign against India’s energy expansion plans” and claimed that it posed a “significant threat to national economic security.” Although there is no reason to suspect that the clampdown on NGOs, including Greenpeace, is a result of their resistance to any World Bank or IFC-financed projects, several of the groups named in the two reports have joined calls for the World Bank Group to withdraw support from Tata Mundra, an IFC-financed 4,000MW coal fired power plant in Gujarat, because of its environmental and human rights impacts. These groups include Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and 350.org, as well as the Indian group Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Bank Information Center has also been involved in these calls.
Greenpeace in particular has been the target of harsh government retaliation for its advocacy in relation to the impact of large development and infrastructure projects. The Intelligence Bureau’s report had recommended that the government cancel permission for Greenpeace India to collect funds abroad. In June 2014, the government barred Greenpeace India from receiving funds from Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation, though the Delhi High Court ultimately found this wrongful on January 20, 2015, and ordered the release of these funds.
On April 9, 2015, the government suspended Greenpeace India’s registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and froze its bank accounts. In addition to raising specific allegations that Greenpeace had violated the law, the notice also accused the group of having “prejudicially affected the public interest … and economic interest of the State,” in violation of the Act. The Ministry of Home Affairs also reportedly wrote to the revenue department to revoke the group’s society registration and charity status. However in May, the Delhi High Court directed the government to allow Greenpeace India to access two of its main domestic accounts and access to its fixed deposits.
On January 11, 2015 the Indian government barred Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist, from boarding a flight to London where she was to speak to members of the British parliament about alleged human rights abuses of tribal peoples in the Mahan coal block area of Madhya Pradesh. An order from the Ministry of Home Affairs justified the move by stating that her testimony before the British parliament “would have ‘negatively’ projected the image of the Government of India” abroad “at a time when it was looking to attract FDI [foreign direct investment], in infrastructure and manufacturing sector.” On March 12, the Delhi High Court directed authorities to expunge the “offload” remark from Pillai’s passport and remove her name from the database of individuals who are not allowed to leave the country, finding that the prevention of her leaving the country was a denial of her right to travel and right to freedom of expression.
Uganda: Government Targets NGO Critical of IFC Investment
In September 2011, Oxfam published a report on land conflicts in various countries around the world. Oxfam had worked with the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) to research one case study about evictions from Mubende and Kiboga districts for the New Forests Company plantations, discussed above. Senior government officials criticized the report findings and sought retraction, then public “clarification,” apologies, and amendments to the report.
In December 2011, several community representatives, ULA, and Oxfam filed a complaint on behalf of the affected communities with the CAO. In April, 2012 the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs launched what it called an “investigation into the alleged improper conduct” of Oxfam and ULA. The minister alleged that the activities of the NGOs had “incited local communities into violent and hateful acts against the New Forests Company” and that this caused “economic loss to some investors … [and] tainted the Country’s international image on investor management, the respect and promotion of human rights and even brought the person of the President in to disrepute.”
The Ministry of Internal Affairs then tasked the government’s NGO Board to conduct a wide-ranging investigation which went well beyond the legal mandate and the technical capacity of the board. Ultimately the NGO Board investigation recommended that the NGOs have their permits withdrawn if they did not take “corrective action,” that the Oxfam report be “withdrawn,” and that a retraction be issued. Furthermore, the board said that the NGOs should “make apologies” to the Ugandan government and to the president.
In response, ULA publicly stood by the report and its conclusions, and pressed the government to address the problems documented in the report. They also expressed alarm that the government’s heavy-handed reaction to their investigation would create a chilling environment for others. “The price for Uganda Land Alliance’s investigations into cases of land grabbing has been set so high,” the group said, “that once paid, it will become extremely risky for anyone attempting to question the vices of land grabbing and forceful evictions of innocent citizens.”
In a May 2012 letter to ULA, the minister of internal affairs called the group “contemptuous” accusing it of seeking to “ridicule” the government’s authority and institutions. The minister reportedly told ULA and Oxfam that they would lose their licenses to operate, and therefore have to close down if they did not retract their report findings and apologize. At his opening remarks at the National Civil Society Fair, the minister further accused ULA of “peddling lies” and said that he would “bring them to order so that they don’t spoil the image of the country, the head of state, and the first family, and any other institutions of government.”
On June 14, 2012, ULA publicly expressed regret for inaccurate or speculative statements that the media might have made when writing on the content of the report and apologized for misunderstandings. As discussed above, throughout this period ULA employees faced threats.
ULA staff noted that the fallout from their research on the IFC-financed project has continued to plague them. One ULA staff member said:
There is still the stigma. We don’t go out as strong any more. We are very cautious about what we say. We don’t say anything controversial in a meeting any more. It affects how we do our things.
When ULA makes a statement critical of government action, some staff members feel that the government’s response continues to be that ULA is motivated by a desire to undermine government programs.
On May 17, 2014, the ULA office in Kampala was burgled and information-rich property such as computers and cameras were stolen while other more valuable property was left untouched. It is unclear if this event was connected to the evictions reporting, but some observers felt it may have been. ULA reported the burglary to the police, but it remains unsolved.
Throughout this period, the CAO’s progress reports were silent about the government’s attacks on Oxfam and ULA. According to the World Bank’s then country manager, ULA did inform the World Bank country office about the government’s threats of deregistration. In addition, the government’s hostile verbal attacks on ULA, including threats of deregistration and demands for apologies, were well reported in the Ugandan media. But to the best of the knowledge of former and current ULA employees interviewed, the World Bank and IFC did not emphasize to the government the important and legitimate role ULA, Oxfam, and other independent groups play in scrutinizing development projects or urge the government to cease their public attacks and efforts to close their offices.
The former World Bank country manager conceded to Human Rights Watch that they had not taken concrete steps to help create or protect any kind of a space within which community members, NGOs, and journalists could publicly raise concerns about this or other projects. Rather, the Bank viewed free speech issues and the broader crackdowns on civil society as being best handled by bilateral donors. The World Bank representative also said that while ULA had reported the attacks to the World Bank, they had not expressly asked that the Bank do anything about the attacks they were facing.
In a recent case, just two weeks after the World Bank’s Inspection Panel concluded its process, government security forces arrested and imprisoned the Panel’s interpreter and facilitator. Human Rights Watch has removed all identifying information from this case study, including information about the project and country involved, to protect the identities of those concerned.
Several years ago, persons affected by a long-funded World Bank project filed a complaint with the Inspection Panel alleging that the program was harming them as a result of the Bank’s violation of its own policies.
According to an Inspection Panel team member, despite the high-risk security environment in the country where the project was being implemented, the Inspection Panel did not discuss the risk of surveillance or the possible risks to community members and interpreters with their team while in the country, in order to identify the best measures for addressing these risks. Considering the high likelihood of government surveillance faced by the Inspection Panel, the potential for unintentional breach of confidentiality was extremely high. A member of the team said, “[This was] not [discussed] at all, even in our daily casual conversations.” To the best of this team member’s knowledge, the Panel did not put any measures in place to monitor for threats or intimidation or facilitate the reporting of such incidents to the Panel. Speaking about the investigation visit, the Panel’s contracted expert said that community members had been told of the forthcoming Panel visit by the government, and had been intimidated or instructed to say positive things. This was consistent with what community members reported to Human Rights Watch following the Panel’s eligibility visit to the country.
In its response to Human Rights Watch’s enquiry regarding this research, the Inspection Panel said that it took the following measures during its investigation visit to address the security risks:
1) discussed with HRW [Human Rights Watch] and [the] Requesters’ representative prior to the visit about security risks and how to handle [the] situation and corresponded with [a] representative of Requesters prior to the visit; 2) decided itinerary for the day each morning with facilitator and expert consultant in order to minimize interference or disclose whereabouts; 3) itinerary was known only within the team (including drivers); 4) maintained a low profile and followed advice/guidelines of facilitator in how to go about talking to affected communities; 5) did not reveal names of [locations]/people in any document that would eventually be public; 6) did not discuss specific [locations] visited with anybody outside the Panel team, not even after the visit.
In an additional response, the Panel emphasized that it adopted a dual strategy during its visits to the different locations, cognizant of the insecure environment and confidential nature of the investigation. Panel members met with community members in large meetings with the head representative. The Panel’s consultant met in parallel with community members to obtain more spontaneous inputs.
Two weeks after the conclusion of the Inspection Panel process and the publication of its report, security forces arrested the interpreter. Since the arrest, the interpreter has been detained without charge at a notorious detention facility in which Human Rights Watch previously has documented the use of torture.
Ahead of his arrest, the interpreter reported that he was under increasing pressure from security personnel. While the Panel had appropriately not disclosed the interpreter’s identity in their investigation report, they included a photograph of him, together with other community members. The week before his detention, various individuals told the interpreter that a well-known security official from his area was looking for him. At this point he decided to maintain a low profile, did not leave his house unless necessary, and provided instructions to trusted contacts about what to do in the event of his detention.
The interpreter told his colleague, “I feel like [I am] living in a fire. I am being burnt alive. But what can I do? I do not fear. I will do what I [am] supposed to do.” On the day of his arrest, the interpreter texted his emergency contact saying he had been detained by security officials. Several days later, according to an eyewitness, four armed police officers and four plainclothes security officials took the interpreter, in chains, to his house where they removed computers, cameras, and other documents from his house.
The authorities’ seizure of the interpreter’s computers and other materials also raise concerns about the security of other community members that were interviewed by the Inspection Panel and their consultant. The Inspection Panel has not taken steps to reach people in the region in which their investigation was focused in order to determine whether they have faced any reprisals following the seizure of the interpreter’s computer and other materials. Given the restrictions on human rights work and independent journalism within the country, it is virtually impossible for civil society to monitor whether there have been reprisals in the locations that the Inspection Panel visited. The Panel did enquire with its other interpreter about their security and was informed that he/she was fine.
Human Rights Watch alerted World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to the interpreter’s arrest two days after his arrest. Several groups wrote formally to the president and board of executive directors a week later, urging the Bank to delay board consideration of any new projects in the country until the interpreter is released from arbitrary detention and safely out of the country, and all others associated with the Inspection Panel investigation are confirmed safe. Instead, the board approved a new project in the country weeks later despite the interpreter’s continued detention. World Bank Vice President Hart Schafer responded to the letter by email, saying, “We are taking this report very seriously and would be happy to meet and discuss with you in more detail the issues that you raise.”
World Bank staff later met with civil society representatives, including Human Rights Watch, but Schafer did not attend the meeting. World Bank staff confirmed that World Bank officials had raised the issue with government officials, who had advised that the interpreter’s arrest is in accordance with local law and unrelated to his work with the Inspection Panel, and said that it was not appropriate for Bank staff to question the legitimacy of the government’s response.
According to a senior World Bank official, the Bank’s country director asked government officials, both in the Finance Ministry and in the Prime Minister’s office about the interpreter’s arrest soon after he was detained. According to a Bank official, President Kim is fully briefed on the situation. The interpreter remains in detention, without charge, at this writing.
The chair of the Inspection Panel has emphasized the Panel’s concern privately and, when it was informed of the interpreter’s arrest by Human Rights Watch, immediately informed senior Bank staff and asked for “their assistance to inquire about [the] arrest with the government and ensure his well-being and release.
The Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydroelectric Project (VPHEP) in Uttarakhand, India, is a hydropower generation scheme on the Alaknanda River, one of two headstream tributaries of the Ganga River. The project is financed by a $648 million loan from the World Bank and is being developed by the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd. (THDC), a joint venture between India’s central government and the state government of Uttar Pradesh. The project is currently under construction.
The hydroelectric project’s backers have promoted it as an important new source of electricity for India’s power-hungry economy and as an effective tool to help India reduce greenhouse emissions. A majority of the people living in the villages affected by the project has accepted the project, and some even welcomed it. However, some community members fear profound negative impacts from the project including during its construction phase. In particular, these community members have expressed concern that, amongst other adverse impacts, the project would:
· Undermine religious and cultural practices that rely on a free-flowing Alaknanda River;
· Create water shortages, diminish water quality, and impede livelihood opportunities linked to the river; and
· Limit women’s freedom of movement and safety.
Human Rights Watch spoke with some of the community members protesting the project who said they had faced several years of threats, including gender-based threats, intimidation, and acts of violence by THDC employees and contractors.
At the forefront of the protests have been a handful of families who reside at Harsari hamlet, adjacent to Haat village, who have been resisting relocation to make way for the project. Their resistance has received support from some community members in nearby villages who also have concerns about the project. More recently, as discussed below, residents in neighboring Durgapur village have been protesting the construction of a tunnel for the project and the blasting associated with it that they believe is endangering their homes.
The flash floods of June 2013 which caused massive loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, including to Vishnuprayag hydroelectric project, just 35 miles upstream of VPHEP, intensified concerns among these community members regarding the potential environmental impacts of the project.
Human Rights Watch wrote to THDC to seek the company’s views on the allegations that its staff and contractors were involved in threats and intimidation of community members. In its response, the company emphasized that it takes its responsibilities towards host communities very seriously, and stressed that there have been no violations of human rights in the project area. It said that the project is being implemented in accordance with all national laws and in conformity with the environmental and social safeguard policies of the World Bank. It did not answer any of the questions that Human Rights Watch had asked regarding specific allegations, but said that it was looking into the matters that Human Rights Watch had raised and would “deal with them as necessary.”
Threats and Intimidation against Community Members
In July 2012, several community members filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel raising social, cultural, and environmental concerns about the project’s impacts. The complaint also highlighted concerns about “women’s freedom” as a key issue. In particular, complainants argued that the presence of so many male company employees and contractors, including migrant laborers, around the communities was a real threat to the safety of local women, especially given the prevailing environment of intimidation.
When community members filed the World Bank Inspection Panel complaint, all but one of the complainants asked that the Inspection Panel keep their identities confidential for fear of reprisals. Some community members told Human Rights Watch that THDC staff had issued thinly-veiled threats to dissuade them from filing their complaint to the Inspection Panel. A community member said:
When we decided to complain to the Inspection Panel, then the THDC staff started putting pressure on us, saying, “You don’t need to go to the Inspection Panel … If you do, then if you need anything in the future such as employment, traveling through the road where our project is, or if our workers pose any problems for you, then how will you cope? You will have to come to us eventually for getting any problem solved.”
Threats continued throughout the Inspection Panel’s investigation visit in April-May 2013. THDC employees and contractors brazenly followed the Panel during their investigation. On one occasion, approximately 35-50 people who community members recognized as THDC staff and contractors confronted a community member during the Inspection Panel’s visit. According to the community member, “They threatened me that, ‘We will kill you.’”
Community members lodged a written complaint with the Panel about this incident and about THDC’s contractors’ intimidating surveillance of their visit. In that letter, community members also highlighted that they had received death threats and been pressured by the police for raising their voices in protest against the project.
The situation has not improved in the intervening years. Community members who were seen with the Inspection Panel during their visit said that threats and harassment increased after the Panel’s investigation visit. They told Human Rights Watch how people associated with THDC had been trying to identify those who had complained against them. One community member, Shyam (not his real name), said that following the Inspection Panel’s visit, “all the people who accompanied the Inspection Panel have been targeted.” Community members also described THDC employees and contractors continuing to surveil their activities following the Panel’s visit. According to Shyam:
Often, when I leave home, these contractors of THDC follow us in a THDC car. There is a logo of THDC on the car. If they ever meet us in the market, they always try to come and misbehave and threaten. It has become difficult for me to leave home by myself. So I try to take someone with me when I leave.… They have been following me since the Inspection Panel visited.”
Outspoken community members have reported new incidents of intimidation, harassment, and threats by THDC employees and contractors. Between February 25 and April 8, 2015, 40-50 community members of all ages, mostly women and girls, sat in protest in Durgapur village as THDC began constructing a tunnel that community members believe is endangering their houses. Community members allege that throughout that period of protest employees of THDC:
· Routinely verbally abused them, often using derogatory language referring to their caste and gender;
· Threatened to beat them;
· Took their photographs in an apparent attempt to create fear of further reprisals; and
· Destroyed their protest site.
According to a complaint filed with the local magistrate, at about 7:00 p.m. on March 12, 2015, company and contractor employees visited the protest site, verbally abused the protestors, and warned them that if they did not end the protest, “the consequences would be severe.”
One community member said he was afraid to criticize the project even though he feared it would have profound negative impacts on the well-being of his community. Shyam told Human Rights Watch, “I am afraid… My wife and son always caution me, ‘they might kill you and they might even kill us.’”
Community members that are critical of the project have also highlighted that in this context of intimidation, the presence of large numbers of company employees and contractors around their communities has created feelings of insecurity and fear that undermine women’s ability to go about their daily lives and work. In early March 2015, a senior company official allegedly told Sita, a local woman from Durgapur village, “You are a Dalit. You have no background. We can do anything to you. No one is going to bother about you.” That same day, the same official told all of the women sitting in protest, “You all womenfolk are prostitutes.…” Sita told Human Rights Watch, “They call us Dom (caste-specific name that is used in a derogatory manner), which is the most hurtful thing they can say to us.”
On at least a few occasions, threats and intimidation have reportedly escalated to the point of physical violence. Radha (not her real name), a widow, described waking up one night in August 2014, together with her son, to hear noises outside her home in an affected village, and then coming out to find contractors building a road next to her cattle shed, destroying the shed and fruit trees in the process. She said that when her son went outside to protest this, he was physically threatened. As Human Rights Watch interviewed Radha, she was visibly scared. She said:
That night when my son resisted, [the contractor] held my son by his neck and threatened that “If you speak too much, I will beat you up.…” Every day [company representatives] threaten us that we should leave otherwise they will beat us up.… I am scared. I live alone.… I worry about my safety.
When Radha complained to a senior THDC official he allegedly told her, “What am I supposed to do if you are not agreeing to it [building the road]?”
According to another community member, on May 14, 2013, a local worker employed by THDC hit and injured a supporter of the protestors. The community member also alleged that a THDC contractor attempted to hit him in September 2013 when he went with others to protest at the project site.
Legal Action against Protestors
Several community members critical of the project described to Human Rights Watch their fear of facing criminal charges for protesting.Across India, the filing of frivolous criminal charges has been a tactic used by companies and local officials to intimidate and punish people who protest against the development of large infrastructure or other projects.
Human Rights Watch interviewed one community member who recalled a THDC official telling him, “Either accept the dam and vacate your land or you will all go to jail. We are providing electricity to the whole country.” Another community member explained that this fear is particularly strong with regard to parents who are concerned by the possible impact of an arrest record on their sons or daughters. “People are worried that their children’s names, if ever associated with any police action, will be ruined.”
According to a Harsari resident, a THDC engineer filed a criminal complaint at Pipalkoti police station against three community members under the Indian Penal code, section 353, which deals with “assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty,” and carries a maximum punishment of up to 2 years imprisonment. On the community members’ petition, Nainital High Court granted a stay on arrest. Despite this, according to one of the community members, the police have gone to his home several times and threatened him, saying, “We can arrest you anytime.”
Two more criminal complaints have been filed against community members from Haat and Harsari resisting the project. In October 2014, an engineer at Hindustan Construction Company filed a complaint against four people alleging rioting, “causing hurt,” and mischief causing damage. In September 2013, a THDC official filed a criminal complaint against another community member, again for causing hurt and for “intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.”
The Response of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd.
In May 2015, in response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, THDC emphasized that it “has been keenly sensitive to the need to work with communities in the project area” and had held innumerable consultation meetings to assess the potential impacts of the project on communities and “work out satisfactory mitigation and management plans”.
THDC specifically addressed women’s security in its response. It said:
From the very start of project preparation, we have taken very seriously the issue of the safety of women in the project area, especially with the ingress of outside labor. The contractor’s labor is housed in special camps equipped with all necessary facilities in order to reduce the need for workmen to venture into the local villages. We have established a women’s safety and facilitation center in village Haat to specifically monitor the activities of contractor’s labor force, and will also act as a first contact for any complaints in this connection. The center is managed by two residents of the village, including a woman. Special women guards have also been deployed around the major construction sites to ensure the safety of local women and both our personnel and the contractor’s labor have been instructed to let the women guards be the first interface with local women in the vicinity of the construction sites.
However, THDC did not address the complaints that Human Rights Watch has received alleging that company employees have targeted women protestors with gender-based threats.
THDC also provided information about:
· The compensation it is providing to communities, which it says exceeds norms laid down by national law, includes special provisions for vulnerable community members, with due consideration of gender, caste, and economic status, and involves assistance towards loss of fuel and fodder;
· Community welfare activities it has been implementing which include infrastructure works, education development, drinking water supply, vocational training, and other livelihood programs;
· Ongoing outreach to the community, with the help of a “reputed local NGO;”
· Measures it is implementing to mitigate people’s concerns about the possible impacts of blasting on their houses and other structures;
· Measures taken to ensure women’s safety is not compromised with the ingress of outside labor, as discussed above;
· A grievance redress committee that it has put in place, that includes representatives of affected communities and is chaired by a retired senior civil servant; and
· Employment opportunities generated by the project, directly and indirectly.
The Indian Government’s Response
Community members that have been critical of the project have tried to raise concerns about the project and complaints about harassment and intimidation by THDC with government officials. In an October 2014 letter to the Prime Minister, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, and the Ministers for Energy, Water Resources, Environment and Culture, community members wrote that, “When we villagers oppose the dam, we are threatened with false cases [criminal charges] and fear of the police, and given death threats.…”
These threats were outlined in several complaints filed with the police between May 2013 and November 2014, alleging that employees and contractors of THDC had threatened to kill villagers and had verbally and physically assaulted community members. In a September 2013 letter to the District Magistrate, community members pleaded for him to make arrangements for the community’s safety “because we are sensing danger from the executing entity.” This plea was echoed to police more than a year later, when community members wrote, “We are in a highly vulnerable situation. Kindly protect our life and property.”
Some of those protesting the project told Human Rights Watch that it had proven impossible to get corrective action from the government, and that state institutions appeared in at least some cases to be an adversary rather than an avenue of redress. A community member explained, “When we went to file complaints with the police, they told us … the government had told them to take strict measures against anyone resisting the project.”
The World Bank and Inspection Panel’s Response
In its initial report after the 2012 visit the Panel noted its impression that:
[A]n adversarial relationship has developed between the community and Project authorities. Villagers alleged various attempts to place inordinate pressure on them to accept the compensation options offered, some of which, in their opinion, bordered on harassment.
The Panel also highlighted its concern “to learn … that critics of the Project, including some of the Requestors, may have been intimidated and/or threatened.”
In spite of this, the Panel’s investigation report did not address the community’s allegations of threats, intimidation, violence, and legal action by THDC employees and contractors for their criticism of the project. A community member said, “We told the Panel [about the threats] when they visited, but they haven’t taken any steps against it.” The community letter to the Panel that was handed to them during their visit concludes by saying, “Sir, we have not only hope but also full faith in you that you will try to raise our issues, with sincerity, across the whole world.”
The Inspection Panel told Human Rights Watch that at the conclusion of its investigation visit it raised these issues with the World Bank country director in their debriefing meeting, highlighting specific incidents and the general environment of intimidation, and the country director confirmed this.
In addition to the Inspection Panel process, community members also described trying on several occasions to raise concerns in writing or in person with visiting World Bank staff, but were unable to effectively communicate with them. In December 2014, community members described attempting to raise concerns directly with World Bank officials when they visited the area, but were not able to have conversations with them without the company being present.
Radha said that she tried to tell the World Bank representatives about the violent attack on her son and the destruction of her property when they visited in 2014:
I went to the [World Bank] officials and complained to them ... but they didn’t understand the language I was speaking in.… [A THDC official] came there and ... told … me, “You should be quiet. We will win the case against you.”
Shyam, speaking of the same visit, said that he told the World Bank officials about the reprisals, “They said, ‘We have noted your complaint and we will talk to THDC manager PPS Mann.’ But we never heard back.” Two community members who were present for the same exchange claim that a World Bank official asked them why they were protesting against the project since THDC’s director was a “good man.” On the other hand, one community member said that the World Bank country director had given him his telephone number and email during a previous visit to the area, so he could contact him if he had any problems.
Community members also raised concerns in a January 2015 letter to the country director. They wrote:
The revenue authorities have threatened to take punitive action against us.… Recently, THDC has for the fifth time lodged FIR against people of Hatsari Village. THDC officials have threatened to kill us. We are suffering a life of horror.… We request you to immediately suspend funding of the project and save our lives.
All community members interviewed said that they did not see the World Bank as independent of the THDC, pointing particularly to the fact that THDC employees accompany World Bank officials whenever they visit the affected area, making it impossible to approach Bank staff on confidential terms. When the World Bank country director for India, Onno Ruhl, visited the area in mid-2013, however, he made a conscious effort to ensure that he met with community members separately from THDC.
Ruhl told Human Rights Watch that he and his colleagues had raised security issues with THDC on several occasions, particularly regarding women’s security, emphasizing that the World Bank expects THDC to uphold a standard that the World Bank can defend. While it is not always easy for the company to address these issues, Ruhl said, he does believe that they are working to address them and does feel that they have been responsive to the concerns raised.
Community members who had spoken to the Inspection Panel or other Bank representatives about their fears said that neither the World Bank nor the Inspection Panel ever enquired into their security. An Inspection Panel representative called one of the community members to check on the community’s safety after the June 2013 flood disaster which had caused extensive devastation in the state, including in Chamoli district. The community member said the Inspection Panel representative did not enquire about the broader security concerns: “We said yes the disaster is here but we aren’t secure even otherwise.” The Inspection Panel representative had understood that this was a reference to the community facing relocation, rather than a security threat. The Inspection Panel told Human Rights Watch that it did not hear anything more from the complainants or their representative about threats, harassment, or intimidation, even though they were in regular contact with the complainants’ representative. The complainants’ representative did not, however, live in the villages where some of the community members have alleged threats, harassment, and intimidation.
The Inspection Panel did address the issue of generalized threats to women’s security posed by project employees in its investigation report, which had been raised in the complaint. The Panel found that the Bank had given insufficient attention to the issue of women’s security, noting that fences around labor camps cannot alone be seen as an adequate mitigation measure. It emphasized that:
[T]here should be a systematic and regular monitoring of the conditions of the labor camps, ensuring that any breaches of agreements and standards are picked up early and not allowed to become serious conflicts between the community and labor. Going forward, the Panel notes the importance of regular supervision missions that may include gender expertise.…
In its response to the Inspection Panel’s investigation report, the World Bank outlined several measures that THDC and the civil works contractor would implement aimed at securing the safety of women living in villages around the labor camps. In addition to two previously agreed measures—to house workers in fenced camps to minimize their impact on local resources and communities and prohibiting their access to community forests so as to ensure the safety of local women collecting fuel and fodder there—the Bank said that the contractor had agreed to a range of additional preventative and awareness-raising measures. Despite these commitments, women protesting the project described to Human Rights Watch in 2015 feelings of insecurity that undermined their ability to go about their day-to-day lives and access community forest lands, which they needed for fuel and fodder.
In 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh leased 133 hectares of land in the Boeung Kak Lake areas to Shukaku Inc., a private company owned by ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin, for a period of 99 years. The company planned to develop the land into a high-end residential, commercial, and tourism complex. From that point onwards, the company and the Cambodian government began pressuring residents of the area to relocate, offering deeply inadequate compensation in exchange.
On August 26, 2008, the company started pumping sand into the lake, causing residents’ homes to flood and the destruction of some houses. By this time, the government and company had persuaded or coerced more than 3,000 of the 4,000 affected families from the land, despite many of the affected families having strong legal claims to the land under the Land Law. The municipality then issued a final eviction notice in April 2009. The government along with the company began forcibly evicting the remaining residents.
People look on as a house is demolished at Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh on September 16, 2011. © 2011, Reuters
As discussed below, over the course of the last seven years, Cambodian security forces have threatened and harassed current and former residents of Boeung Kak Lake areas in Phnom Penh for campaigning against their forced evictions. Cambodia’s security forces have aggressively denied the right to peaceful assembly by violently breaking up peaceful protests. The authorities have filed trumped-up charges against protesters or would-be protesters. Those charged have been routinely denied bail, convicted after expedited and truncated trials that did not meet international standards and did not give the accused adequate time to prepare and put forward a defense, and given significant prison sentences.
The World Bank Inspection Panel later investigated and found that there was a direct link between the Bank-financed $23.4 million Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) in Cambodia, which was approved in February 2002, and the forced evictions suffered by residents in the Boeung Kak Lake area.
Criminalization of Protests and Trumped-Up Charges against Community Members
Since 2009, Cambodian security forces have carried out a string of arrests of Boeung Kak Lake activists. Initially, police typically released the activists after one or two nights in detention. But since the May 2012 arrests of 15 Boeung Kak Lake residents and former residents, police have charged many detainees from the community with criminal offenses. In several cases, courts have convicted them in trials that do not meet Cambodia’s Code of Criminal Procedure or international fair trial standards.
May 2012: Boeung Kak Protestors Arrested, Charged, and Convicted
On May 22, 2012, about 80-100 residents of Boeung Kak Lake peacefully gathered, intending to host a press conference as 18 families sought to mark the boundaries of their now demolished homes. Police arrived almost immediately. Police confiscated the residents’ tools and prevented them from demarcating the boundaries of their houses.
As the hours passed, most of the gathered residents moved into the shade. A small core group remained on the sand lot where the lake used to be, singing songs. At about 11:30 a.m., a mixed force of regular police and district public order para-police surrounded the group and, as the demonstrators dispersed, chased down and arrested 13 women. One protestor described how she was arrested when trying to help a friend, whom security personnel had captured. She said:
They were chasing people like they were trying to catch dogs. Some stepped on my friend’s children.… They pushed me in the car and drove away very fast. I couldn’t get up. I wanted to jump even if I died but then I thought of my grandchildren.
Nget Khun, who was 72-years-old at the time, told Human Rights Watch, “Four or five [security personnel] carried me like they were carrying a pig and then threw me in a car.”
48 hours later, following a summary trial and having denied defense lawyers’ requests for time to prepare their cases or call defense witnesses, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted the 13 women: Nget Khun, Tep Vanny, Kong Chantha, Song Srey Leap, Tho Davy, Chan Navy, Ngoun Kimlang, Bov Sor Phea, Cheng Leap, Soung Samai, Phan Chhunreth, Heng Mom, and Toul Srey Pov.
The women were convicted under articles 34 and 259 of the Land Law for illegal occupancy of public property and article 504 of the Penal Code for obstructing public officials with aggravating circumstances. The court sentenced all 13 women to 30 months in prison, but in the case of six of the women suspended parts of their sentences.
At about 10 a.m. on May 24—the day of the trial—in front of the Phnom Penh courthouse, security personnel detained human rights defender Venerable Loun Sovath who was protesting together with community members and took him away in a vehicle. He was held at Botum Pagoda in Phnom Penh and released 10 hours later, after being required to sign a document stating that he would no longer continue his advocacy efforts.
Later that day, Sao Sareoun and Ly Chanary, who were going to appear as witnesses in the trial, were also arrested and charged with the same crimes as the 13. They were released from pretrial detention on June 15, still facing the charges, on the condition that they would be available if called by the investigating judge, that they visit their local police station regularly, and that they not move residence.
Following significant domestic and international pressure, the remaining 13 were released on June 27, 2012, when an appeal court upheld the sentences against them, but suspended all but 1 month and 3 days due to the burden that imprisonment imposed on them and their families.
One of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that she experienced extreme fear and depression while in detention. She said that on the day the police tried to transport them to prison, “We refused to go until day break, as we were afraid they would take us and feed us to the crocodiles.”  Once in the prison, the detainees were stripped naked and searched. One of the detainees said:
I wanted to commit suicide.… The way the guards at prison talked to me was very horrible like I am not a human being.… An inmate warned me that if I reported anything, I would be dead.
Five of those Boeung Kak Lake community members arrested had been arrested previously for their active opposition to the forced evictions, but none of them had been convicted of any offence. Soung Samai and Toul Srey Pov had both been arrested on two previous occasions. Kong Chantha had been arrested four times previously during peaceful demonstrations and had reported being subject to police observation and regular intimidation. Tep Vanny, one of the most high-profile activists, had also been arrested several times before.
The detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were aware of the World Bank’s involvement through LMAP at this time, but people from the Bank did not visit them in prison. One woman said, “During the time I was in prison, I hoped that the World Bank and others would do something to help me.” Several community members said that as far as they knew, the World Bank did not do anything to support the release of the 13 community members and the two proposed witnesses.
Following their release, several of these women remain concerned about their security. One of the women said, “I worry about my own safety.”
September 2012: Yorm Bopha Arrested and Convicted of Trumped-Up Charges
Yorm Bopha was a major voice in peaceful public protests campaigning for the release of the Boeung Kak 15. She described being regularly threatened, harassed, and intimidated by police as her activism increased, including multiple occasions during which police officers warned her that she was on “the blacklist,” apparently indicating that she was under surveillance and at risk of arrest.
On September 4, 2012, Phnom Penh authorities, in an apparent attempt to deter protests, arrested Bopha for alleged involvement in a conspiracy to assault a man for stealing side mirrors from her car. She was charged along with her husband, Lous Sakhon, and her two brothers. The four were tried by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on December 26 and 27, 2012. Despite insufficient evidence to establish guilt, Bopha was convicted of “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” under article 218 of Cambodia’s Penal Code and sentenced to three years in prison, while Sakhon received a suspended prison sentence. Her two brothers were convicted in absentia. Bopha appealed her conviction to the Appeal Court, which upheld the original verdict on June 17, 2013 but reduced Bopha’s sentence from 3 years to 2 years.
When Human Rights Watch interviewed Bopha while she was in jail, she said that since her arrest, no one from the World Bank had visited her or, to the best of her knowledge, enquired about her detention. “I believe they should,” she said. In Bopha’s view:
The World Bank has an obligation and influence to pressure the Cambodian government on human rights. My case is only because of my activism regarding our situation in Boeung Kak, which was linked to the World Bank.… The World Bank should make sure that people’s rights are respected, including the right to speak out when they suffer injustice. The World Bank should at least have someone come and visit me to show their support. It should do what it can to pressure the Cambodian government to release me, as it is because of the World Bank project I ended up in jail.
November 2014: 11 Arrested, Convicted, and Sentenced
On November 10, 2014, Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissioner Chuon Sovan ordered police and other security forces to intervene against what the authorities deemed an “unauthorized” demonstration outside City Hall by Boeung Kak residents. The protestors had placed a bed frame in Monivong Boulevard to highlight the severe flooding that they were experiencing, which they blamed on the filling in of Boeung Kak Lake by Shukaku, Inc. The security forces scuffled with several protesters engaged in a sit-down that briefly hindered vehicles in one lane of traffic on a boulevard in front of City Hall, although traffic otherwise continued to flow.
The security forces detained seven women protesters, Tep Vanny, Nget Khun, Song Srey Leap, Kong Chantha, Pan Chunreth, Bo Chorvy, and Nong Sreng, charging them with obstructing traffic under the Land Traffic Law. The next day, November 11, a Phnom Penh court convicted all seven in a summary trial lasting less than three hours. The court sentenced each woman to the maximum penalty of one year in prison and fines of two million riel (approximately US$500) for offenses that would normally attract no more than a small fine or simply a warning.
On the day of the protesters’ sentencing, security forces broke up an “unauthorized” peaceful assembly in front of the court. The protestors were calling for the release of those arrested the day before. Security forces arrested three women protesters, Heng Pich and Im Srey Touch from Boeung Kak, and Phuong Sopheap, as well as a Buddhist monk, Seung Hai. Each detainee was charged with aggravated “violent resistance against a public official acting in the discharge of his or her duties.” On November 12, all four were given a summary trial in a Phnom Penh court and sentenced to one year in prison.
On April 11, 2015, the ten activists were released from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison after receiving a royal pardon. Seung Hai also was pardoned and released two days later.
Violence against Protestors
All of the community members interviewed described witnessing security personnel using excessive force to quell the community’s peaceful protests, and several described being injured during protests. This included during protests outside the World Bank office in Phnom Penh. They also described being stopped from protesting in front of the World Bank on several occasions.
Community members described witnessing violence or being kicked and beaten by police officers and subjected to electric shocks. Toul Srey Pov said, “On one occasion a police officer kicked me. I said, ‘Brother, if it makes you happy to kick me, keep doing it but make sure I have my house. If I get my house only if you keep kicking me, then do it.’” 72-year-old Nget Khun told how police hit her in the head with a stick when she attempted to help a pregnant woman whom police were trying to arrest.
On June 27, 2012, when the Boeung Kak 13’s appeal was due to be heard, a large unit of anti-riot intervention police attempted to block community members from reaching the court. Community members say that police officers turned violent as a group of children tried to rush through the road block. According to a statement from several independent groups, during the standoff, one pregnant woman—one of the 13 detainees’ sister—was kicked by a police officer in the stomach and later miscarried due to heavy bleeding. At least four other villagers and seven children were beaten by police and had to receive medical treatments.
On March 13, 2013, protestors who gathered in a public park outside the Prime Minister’s house to petition for Yorm Bopha’s release faced a particularly brutal crackdown by 60-80 gendarmes, anti-riot intervention police, and district para-police forces. Speaking of that day, a community member who was present at the time said, “Police beat people like they were animals.” Bopha’s husband, Lous Sakhon, bore the brunt of the attack, losing his front teeth and suffering several lacerations. He described being attacked by police:
I heard the chief of public park police order, “Arrest that man and beat him for me. If anything happens, I’ll be responsible.” I tried to run away.… More than ten police jumped on me … I felt someone grab me by the neck and then I felt punches and kicks all over me and felt them carrying me. Then I felt extreme pain in my leg.… They kicked me.… That is how they broke my teeth.
On May 29, 2013, authorities used high-pressure water from their hoses to disperse peaceful protesters, causing them, and those that attempted to rescue them, to fall down.
Security personnel also used violence in the course of several of the forced evictions. For example, on September 17, 2011, excavators, protected by approximately one hundred anti-riot police officers and district public order para-police, destroyed eight homes. Police officers allegedly kicked and beat protest leader Suong Sophorn with bricks and batons after he reportedly encouraged residents to join hands to prevent the demolitions.
Threats, Intimidation, and Surveillance in Communities
Several community members described to Human Rights Watch local police officers surveilling their day-to-day activities. One of them said, “I feel I’m not safe these days, as I feel my every move is watched.” When one community member asked the police officer in civilian clothing that was routinely following her what he was doing, she said he answered, “Mother, I’m just doing as I’m ordered.”
Numerous people detailed being threatened by members of the security forces and company officials. Tep Vanny told of one day in 2012 when she was approached by an unknown man wearing the uniform of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit. He told her, “I visit your children nearly every day at your mother’s house. I play with them. Don’t you feel sorry for them?” Vanny said, “I knew that was a threat.”
Some people also spoke of facing verbal and gender-based harassment. Bo Chorvy described the local authorities criticizing her appearance and bullying her about her divorce. According to Chorvy, employees of the local authority tried to “break the bond between members of the community” and succeeded in several instances. Another community member said that some of her neighbors, who did not participate in the protests, alienated and bullied her. She said, “Some of [them] spit on the ground … when I’m around.”
In addition to facing harassment, some community members said that they had been offered enticements should they agree to cease participating in public demonstrations. One community member said, “A municipal official called me and offered me $1,500 to fix my broken roof if I stopped acting as a land activist and helping the community protest. I rejected the offer.”
Others were threatened by their employers that they would be fired from their job for protesting. Family members of two activists who hold government positions suffered reprisals because of their family member’s activism or their own support for that activism. One was suspended, while the other lost benefits that drastically reduced his salary. One of these activists described her ordeal:
The local government used to contact [my family member] and ask him to be internal spy and be paid $500 per month.… They told him … to tell [me] to stop protesting. They threatened to fire him from his job if he kept protesting.… I decided to stop protesting so he could go back to work and we could afford our children’s education.… Since I stopped protesting, all the threats and pressure has gone.
The World Bank and Inspection Panel’s Responses
Community members have met with World Bank officials on several occasions since 2009, and continue to do so. The World Bank responded strongly to the forced evictions in Boeung Kak. In August 2011, the World Bank announced it had frozen all new funding to the Cambodian government until a solution could be found for the affected families.
A week after this announcement, the Prime Minister granted 12.44 hectares of the area to the remaining 779 families. The Municipality, however, arbitrarily excluded 96 families who could have benefitted from the grant while giving some of the land to the company instead of the families. Meanwhile, the company and security forces continued to harass residents and destroy homes. For instance, on September 16, 2011, company workers and armed forces demolished eight families’ homes without notice. The government has since granted titles to almost all the families that were initially excluded.The World Bank is seen by the community as being the reason why titles were properly granted to most of the excluded houses. At this writing, insufficient steps have been taken to appropriately compensate the families that were forced to relocate, and on May 7, 2015, government para-police again clashed violently with some community members who were protesting to demand better compensation.
While the World Bank has responded strongly against the government’s forcible eviction of Boeung Kak Lake residents, it has been largely silent about the reprisals against community members. Community members say World Bank staff told them that they could not do anything publicly to assist those who were imprisoned or even appeal directly to the government. According to community members, World Bank staff said that they would try to encourage the UN Human Rights Office to “get involved.” In addition, according to Tep Vanny, some staff at the World Bank encouraged them not to be in contact with nongovernmental organizations because criticizing the World Bank and government was “their job.”
World Bank country manager, Alassane Sow, told Human Rights Watch that while he has met with Boeung Kak activists on several occasions, he has never told them he will reach out to the UN human rights office on their behalf. He said that the focus of his conversations with the Boeung Kak activists has been on the status of provision of land titles. He emphasized, “We have systematically encouraged the activists to reach out to local authorities to discuss [the] status of provision of titles.” He does not recall the activists specifically raising arrests, threats, surveillance, and harassment with him. He said that the World Bank portfolio of projects in Cambodia is very small at the moment, something “he is not proud of given the World Bank mandate to fight poverty.” In view of the very small portfolio, he said, the issue of reprisals against people in relation to Bank projects is not relevant.
When asked by Human Rights Watch whether the Inspection Panel enquired about security risks facing community members following their visit, the Panel responded:
The Panel continued to keep in touch with the Requesters’ representative and Bank Management about the situation on the ground. Although we were aware of the difficulties some of the community members were facing, we were not made aware of particular incidents that may have happened as a result of the request/investigation.
As the Panel was on notice of the general security risks facing the communities, Human Rights Watch believes that the Panel could have been more proactive in monitoring the security situation following its investigation, including by conducting a follow up visit to Cambodia.
Several community members described receiving very little support from World Bank officials after requesting their support for community members that were imprisoned. One community member, Ngat Sophat said, “I’ve not known the World Bank to do anything to make us safe.”
Back in 2002 after a brutal government crackdown on a protest in Cambodia, a World Bank official condemned the crackdown, calling it “unacceptable … You can’t talk about participation and consultation on one hand and beat people who express their opinions on the other.” Despite similarly brutal crackdowns in recent years, the World Bank has remained silent.
UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai has argued that the World Bank Group and other multilateral institutions should:
[T]ake aggressive action when … reprisals [related to their projects] take place, including by intervening in specific cases and publicly condemning the Member State(s) involved.… There must also be a willingness to call out Member States who fail to respect fundamental rights.
Historically there have been occasions where the World Bank, particularly under the presidency of James Wolfensohn, has taken precisely that kind of “aggressive action.” While even then such action was sporadic, the Bank seems to have regressed on this front. Human Rights Watch found no evidence of the Bank proactively working to create a safe environment for participation and limited evidence of the Bank responding to reprisals related to the situations studied in the research for this report.
Many of the examples documented in this report demonstrate that the Bank does not do enough to ensure that critics of the projects it invests in can complain to the Bank without fear of reprisal. All of the 79 community members and activists interviewed in the course of this research told Human Rights Watch that, to the best of their knowledge, the World Bank and IFC had not taken any measures to create a safe environment for critics of the project they were affected by or working on. As the CAO highlighted in its response to Human Rights Watch’s enquiries regarding this research, the “culture of intimidation and reprisals within a given context should form part of any pre-project assessment of the appropriateness for engagement.” In practice, this is rare.
The World Bank Group’s response to reprisals linked to their projects differs considerably depending on the staff involved. In certain instances, World Bank country directors have told Human Rights Watch that they have actively raised allegations of threats and harassment by government officials, security forces, or staff or contractors of private companies linked to their investments with the relevant authorities. But even in those cases, the community members are rarely informed of the outcomes of those interventions. The World Bank should reward efforts by staff who actively work to prevent and respond to reprisals, and encourage them to routinely report back to community members about the steps that they have taken.
A long-serving World Bank staff member that works on civil society engagement told Human Rights Watch that when community members or civil society organizations face threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrest, or similar attacks linked to Bank-projects, staff are not encouraged to raise issues that might cause a fight with the government that the Bank does not want. In the rare case where Bank staff do raise concerns, he said, it is at their own risk—with the risk being the loss of their job. He said, “Torture and repression are seen as political, and we interpret our articles as prohibiting [raising those issues with governments].” In the World Bank Group’s brief response to Human Rights Watch, World Bank Vice President Cyril Muller similarly stated, “the World Bank Group is not a human rights tribunal.”
World Bank staff have often pointed to bilateral donors or the United Nations as the responsible body to deal with human rights issues. In the Bank Group’s response to Human Rights Watch, Muller said that “the international community has entrusted other organizations with that role.” While both bilateral donors and the United Nations have an important role to play in preventing and responding to reprisals, when there is a link to World Bank Group activities, the Group cannot palm off its responsibilities by pointing to others as the responsible actors. When determining how to respond to a reprisal, it is reasonable for the Group to consider the links to its activities, the presence of other actors, and its own leverage. In all cases, however, it should develop an explicit strategy to provide a remedy to reprisal victims, with coordinated actions and accountability.
Muller said that the Bank shares Human Rights Watch’s “concerns with the issues surrounding participation and accountability that threatens or prevents NGOs from conducting their work.” He did not speak to threats, intimidation, or attacks against community members affected by World Bank Group projects or those working with them. Nor did he answer any of the questions that Human Rights Watch had put to him. Muller said:
While we cannot reveal details of Bank staff deliberations with our clients, there are several publicly documented occasions where the Bank has flagged concerns with client governments when the treatment of civil society has not conformed to internationally recognized standards. The World Bank Group has initiated appropriate discussions recognizing that our ability to save lives and improve livelihoods would be severely compromised in the absence of an enabling environment for civil society.
Muller highlighted the Bank’s safeguards policies and the amendments proposed in the new draft standards, the IFC’s sustainability policy and performance standards, the Bank’s new Grievance Redress Service to address complaints related to World Bank projects, the Inspection Panel, and the CAO in his response to Human Rights Watch. However, he did not provide any information as to how these mechanisms work in practice to prevent or respond to reprisals.
Historic Action Responding to Reprisal: Chad
The controversial Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project went forward, with Bank support, in a context characterized by widespread government intimidation, including arrests of activists and physical attacks against them. However, on this occasion the Bank displayed more willingness to intervene in the face of government repression linked to the project than it has shown in more recent years. This example is important because it shows that the Bank is fully capable of responding more forcefully to similar problems than it does today, if only it possessed the commitment and the political will.
In December 1999, Serge Michailof, then country director for the region, wrote to Korinna Horta of the Environmental Defense Fund, responding to concerns that local authorities and police forces were intimidating people opposed to the project. The letter seemed to recognize that the Bank should play a role in helping to prevent human rights abuses, and claimed credit for securing the release of Chadian parliamentarian Ngarlejy Yorongar, who had filed a complaint to the Inspection Panel. It said:
Unfortunately, it appears that some local officials have not fully understood the commitment of the national authorities to a peaceful and open consultation process.… We have communicated our concerns about this type of practice to the Government.… Mr. Yorongar's pardon and release from jail were likely directly due to World Bank intervention, and he continues his activities at liberty.
In May 2001, when Chadian authorities re-arrested Yorongar and detained five other opposition leaders, Horta telephoned then-World Bank President James Wolfensohn and asked him to intervene. Wolfensohn then personally telephoned Chadian President Idriss Deby and successfully pressed for the release of the six detainees, who were released a few hours after the telephone call. The Inspection Panel noted that Wolfensohn “personally intervened to help free local opposition leaders… on more than one occasion.”
While this was a rare, positive example of the World Bank’s intervention, Horta told Human Rights Watch how challenging it was to convey the message to Wolfensohn, even though he had personally told Horta to contact him should any significant human rights issues arise regarding the pipeline project, as the staff incentives at the Bank were, and continue to be, to keep “bad news” away from the president. Horta said, “For almost an entire day I got the run-around. I explained the dire situation of Yorongar … my need to speak to Wolfensohn (and Wolfensohn’s invitation to me to do so) … to the Vice President for Africa, Wolfensohn’s staff, and others.” While staff told Horta that they would pass the message to Wolfensohn, they did not. Eventually, Horta reached Wolfensohn’s scheduler who passed the message to the president, and he returned her call within minutes. He confirmed that he had not previously received Horta’s messages and proceeded to call President Deby.
People who make use of the Inspection Panel, the CAO, or other channels to complain about negative impacts of or abuses linked to Bank-supported projects need to be able to do so safely. In particular, it is important that all accountability mechanisms implement effective confidentiality procedures, risk assessment protocols, and protection measures to avoid reprisals. Accountability mechanisms should also implement early warning systems, including monitoring mechanisms, so that they can react promptly and offer effective protection to affected communities, their representatives, and organizations working on their behalf.
On occasion, representatives from both the Inspection Panel and the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) have spoken publicly about the significant risks that people and organizations can face from filing complaints with them. However, neither mechanism has systematically worked to identify risks of reprisals and address them.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the Inspection Panel’s decision to develop a Guidance Note for its staff on how best to ensure confidentiality for complainants and how to respond to reports of reprisals when these are related to requests for inspection. We encourage the Panel to ensure that this note covers all who are involved in complaints, not only the listed complainants. Human Rights Watch similarly welcomes the CAO’s commitment to look at how recommendations from this report can inform its systems moving forward.
Concerns Regarding Confidentiality Procedures
According to the Inspection Panel’s current chair, the Panel’s primary measure for ensuring security is by offering complainants confidentiality. The Inspection Panel emphasized that it is clearly stated on their website and printed materials that complainants can ask for confidentiality when they have fear of retaliation and/or reprisals. The Panel believes that it has “developed strict provisions to maintain the confidentiality of Requestors when they so ask.” The CAO also allows complainants to remain confidential should they desire to. The Panel also points to procedures allowing affected people to submit a complaint through a local representative or another representative in special circumstances.
Several community members interviewed by Human Rights Watch stressed the importance of confidentiality procedures for them. A representative of the complainants in one case told Human Rights Watch:
The main difficulty [in filing the complaint] was to persuade the local people to complain because they were afraid. [The company involved] is very powerful and there are agents and contractors of [the company] in the area and the potential complainants were scared that they may be targeted. The reason they finally agreed was confidentiality.
This guarantee is not always meaningful, however. In some cases, despite the promises of confidentiality, public authorities or company officials have been able to identify the complainants during the Inspection Panel’s visits.
In its response to Human Rights Watch regarding this research, the Panel said that it gives “utmost importance to implement measures in keeping the Requesters’ identity confidential, especially during field trips.” It said:
In order to ensure confidentiality, the Panel: (i) prepares its itinerary in close consultation with the Requesters and their representatives in order to ensure that meetings with Requesters take place at venues where they feel most secure; (ii) does not share with the World Bank management or the government, or any other third party the details of its itinerary related to Requesters and the affected community; (iii) hires independent translators; (iv) if security measures allow, hires its own vehicles; (v) keeps a low profile during its visits and refrains from interaction with media, and (vi) depending on the circumstances applies other necessary measures in consultation with the Requesters and their representatives.
The Panel has acknowledged that despite these efforts, World Bank management may identify the complainants based on community members having sent letters to the World Bank raising the same concerns and, in particular, using the same language that is included in the Inspection Panel complaint or making public presentations about the same issues. In such cases, the World Bank should itself respect the community members’ requests for confidentiality and should not disclose the identity of critics to the government or others.
Systematic Consideration of Risks
All of the complainants and NGO representatives interviewed told Human Rights Watch that neither the CAO nor the Inspection Panel had proactively enquired into their security or, throughout the complaint process, enquired whether they were experiencing any security risks.
For example, in Nepal, Sunil Pant, a prominent activist for LGBTI rights, filed a complaint in September 2013 regarding a project which he alleged excluded the LGBTI community. Pant and his organization at the time, Blue Diamond Society, had been targeted over several years because of their human rights work. Despite this, according to Pant, the Inspection Panel never enquired about his security situation or asked if he was likely to be at risk because of filing this complaint. The Inspection Panel explained to Human Rights Watch that it did not enquire in this case “as the issue of threats/security was never raised” by the complainant and the request was not sent in confidence.
The only time that security issues were raised in the CAO process, according to one NGO representative, was during the filing of the complaint where people were told, “If you think there may be security issues, you can ask not to release your names.”
When complainants have requested confidentiality, the Panel said that it asks complainants about threats or intimidation. The Panel further noted that it is:
[A]ware that certain country contexts are less ‘open’ and more prone to repressive reactions towards individuals seeking redress from external entities, than other country contexts. In the former, regardless of whether Requesters requested confidentiality, the Panel is cautious how it interacts with Requesters so as to not jeopardize their personal security.
The CAO told Human Rights Watch that as part of its “engagement with the complainants particularly related to the assessment phase and dispute resolution phase, [the] CAO would endeavor to learn about the complainants’ security situation and whether following provisions should be put in place to address these concerns.”
Human Rights Watch urges the CAO and Inspection Panel to proactively enquire into potential security risks of complainants, rather than leaving it to complainants to raise concerns with the accountability mechanisms. This is particularly important as some complainants told Human Rights Watch that they had not noticed that they had the option to keep their identities confidential when filing complaints, and others said that they did not raise security issues with the mechanisms as they did not think that there was anything that the mechanisms would be able to do about risks or reprisals that they were facing.
On occasion, the Inspection Panel has taken proactive measures to identify security risks. For instance, regarding a complaint related to a project in Uzbekistan, the Inspection Panel said that it became aware of the pressures that the representatives of the complainants were already facing when it researched the names and organizations of the representatives and found that there was a “prevailing and worrisome security situation” in which the complainants were operating. In this case, the Panel took additional measures to mitigate the security risks, including hiring different drivers and interpreters than the ones it used when meeting with government officials.
The CAO provided Human Rights Watch with a list of provisions that it may put in place to address security concerns. However, it did not provide any information about how often these provisions are utilized in its cases or systems that the CAO has in place to ensure that security risks are identified and properly mitigated. These provisions include:
· Capacity building to complainants to help level playing field and power imbalances with other stakeholders;
· Immediate appointment of local practitioner to engage with the community and commence conflict mapping exercise;
· Offer of confidentiality, specifically ensuring non-disclosure of identities and documentation;
· Non-disclosure of meeting venues, off site meeting venues, shuttle meetings, bilateral meetings rather than group meetings; and
· Ensure proper contracting so that WBG security can be called into action where necessary.
Both the Inspection Panel and the CAO largely rely on community members to bring security concerns to their attention. For example, in one case in which complainants had raised serious security concerns at the beginning of and throughout the complaints process, the Inspection Panel told Human Rights Watch, “After the visits we did not hear specific concerns about this issue so did not enquire.” Human Rights Watch urges the Inspection Panel to be more proactive in addressing ongoing security concerns beyond its formal process, routinely enquiring with complainants and other affected community members about their well-being and utilizing follow up visits become aware of possible reprisals.
Human Rights Watch also urges both offices to use the existing capacity they have to monitor for reprisals more robustly. The CAO could mainstream consideration of security risks and reprisals in its monitoring mandate. While the Inspection Panel does not have an express monitoring mandate, in past years it has undertaken a final mission following the conclusion of the Inspection Panel process. This creates a key opportunity for the Panel to identify whether there have been reprisals stemming from the Inspection Panel process or criticism of a World Bank project more broadly.
Response to Reprisals
The Inspection Panel’s response in the face of threats, harassment, and other reprisals has differed greatly from case to case. In its 2009 report, it said:
The Panel also stands ready to report to the highest authorities any instances of pressure or reprisal faced by Requesters, both to limit the negative ramification on all people’s desire to put forth claims, and as a fundamental concern for the protection of human rights. 
While this kind of response has in fact been evident in some cases, particularly regarding the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project and the Mumbai Urban Transport Project, it has not in others. Recently, the Inspection Panel has not treated reprisals with the same vigor, instead seeming to delegate this responsibility back to the World Bank. The most extreme example of this is regarding the arrest and detention of the Inspection Panel’s interpreter during its investigation visit to a project site, as described in an earlier section of this report.
In its response to Human Rights Watch regarding this research, the Panel said that threats vary from case to case, and the Panel has addressed them on a case-by-case basis. It said that it takes reports of threats and intimidation seriously, and “addresses them depending on the nature of the threat, as there is no single response that will be suitable in all instances.” It also noted that it has documented threats and intimidation faced by complainants in some of its reports.
Despite recognizing the severe security environment in Uzbekistan in its response to Human Rights Watch regarding this research, and noting that specific incidents of threats came to its attention during its visit to the country, the Inspection Panel did not raise these issues in its report regarding the case. Nor did the Inspection Panel press the World Bank management to address the broader security environment in its programming in the country.
Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO)
The CAO’s response to reprisals has also differed greatly from case to case. CAO has spoken publicly about the important role that the mechanism should play in understanding, mitigating, and responding to reprisals. In certain cases, as illustrated in the example involving communities in Ratanakiri province, Cambodia discussed above, the CAO has actively worked with community members, their representatives, government officials, and company officials to create an environment that minimizes the risk of reprisals in a mode welcomed by community members. However, the negative experience that complainants have had with some CAO cases when they sought support to prevent or respond to reprisals suggests that the CAO does not have systems in place to ensure an appropriate response in all cases.
In the CAO’s response to Human Rights Watch’s enquiries regarding this research, it noted that it has sought World Bank Group “support in instances where community perceives government as being the source of the threat. Where local government representatives have appeared hostile, national government support in the form of a letter has been obtained and shared with the community.” It also noted that it has “reached out to the private sector directly in response to claims by the community that they are being harassed. In some instance this has been of assistance. In others not.”
The lack of serious response to concerns about retaliation, and then to allegations of retaliation in some instances is illustrated by the following case. Human Rights Watch has removed all identifying information, including the country, project, and people involved, in order to minimize ongoing security concerns. Human Rights Watch asked the CAO a series of questions regarding a number of cases, including each of the CAO cases discussed in this report. The CAO elected “not to respond to the case-specific questions due to potential sensitivities with the complainants and confidentiality concerns that we would also be unable to address within the timeframe for requested inputs.” After viewing Human Rights Watch’s draft findings in this case, the CAO reiterated “the serious consideration that it gives to concerns raised by complainants regarding reprisals and security issues, and the importance of learning from these experiences to inform future practice,” and welcomed the opportunity for continued engagement with Human Rights Watch on its research and findings in this regard.
On March 26, 2013, an NGO representative wrote to the CAO and noted that many of the complainants, workers of the company the IFC was supporting, who had alleged labor violations had expressed fears and concerns about the potential for management to retaliate against them for meeting with the CAO. The NGO representative asked that the CAO request that the company issue a notice that “no one will be victimized to [sic] any actions by the company which will endanger their life or livelihood. The NGO representative emphasized this request in a March 30, 2013 email, noting that this should be achievable since the company had publicly indicated its full cooperation for the CAO process. The CAO representative responded that they would be happy to request such a written note, but they would likely need to provide location specificity and disclose the names of the NGOs involved—otherwise the company would be issuing a “blank check.” In response, an NGO representative restated their reasons for fearing retaliations should the names of their organizations’ be disclosed and reinforced their request for confidentiality.
The NGOs agreed to disclose the locations where the complaints were stemming from. Soon after, they began receiving reports of alleged harassment and intimidation in retaliation for perceived involvement in the CAO complaint, which they reported immediately to the CAO. In a May 20, 2013 telephone conference with CAO representatives, the NGO representatives again sought a letter from company management undertaking that there would not be any form of retaliation. According to notes from the telephone conference, the CAO representative “agreed that she would again ask management for a letter from management that they would not interfere with the CAO,” but emphasized that the CAO does not have “police power” and can do nothing the company refuses. The NGO representatives asked that the CAO raise this with the IFC management, which she undertook to do.
On May 29, 2013, an NGO representative wrote to the CAO again, saying, “I am writing this mail with much concern about your silence. We have been constantly called by [affected people] who are enquiring about what steps CAO has been taking as they are continuously been [sic] harassed in one way or another and it is going unabated.” In a following skype conference, the CAO representative emphasized that “they cannot play the role of a judge and decide whether the allegations of retaliation are true.”
A human rights professor who has closely followed this case told Human Rights Watch:
The NGOs could not have been more explicit about the risks of retaliation.… But once the retaliation began, the CAO response was defensive and resentful. I was on the call when the CAO officer claimed both that such retaliation had never occurred before—as if to explain why it was reasonable not to have done anything in advance—and also claim, incomprehensibly, that the CAO had been more concerned about the risks to workers than the complainants themselves. The NGOs were ready to take risks, but they expected the CAO to give them support and respond, particularly when workers were targeted.
According to the CAO, it brought these allegations to the attention of the IFC and company management. The IFC undertook to visit the area where the allegations stemmed from in its next supervision visit. The CAO also convened and facilitated a meeting between the three NGOs and company management on July 3, 2013, where they talked about the nature of the allegations and agreed in principle on several ground rules going forward. However, this in principle agreement later broke down for unrelated reasons. Since then, the CAO has not taken additional steps to address the allegations of retaliation or to prevent future acts of retaliation. In addition to having done far more to prevent the risk of reprisals, once allegations of retaliation were reported, the CAO should have insisted that the IFC require an explicit undertaking from company senior management that there would be zero tolerance of any reprisals and allegations would be investigated, provided sufficient information about the allegations was available to the company to enable it to investigate. It should also have pressed IFC to monitor and report on this investigation.
In another case, a complainant told Human Rights Watch that he had advised the CAO ahead of a visit by email that media who were connected to the government were challenging the veracity of the complaint and the complainant’s character. The CAO representative responded, “Thanks indeed for keeping us informed on these developments.” According to the complainant, when the CAO representative was visiting the proposed project site, he said further, “We are really sorry to hear that, but there is nothing we can do about it.” At a follow up in person meeting in Washington, he told a different CAO representative that threats were continuing and a fellow complainant had been beaten up. According to the complainant, the CAO representative responded, “That is very common in our cases. In Latin America, somebody got shot. There is nothing we can do about it.”
These examples suggest that the CAO has not yet developed a comprehensive set of tools for appropriately preventing reprisals and responding to allegations of reprisals. Human Rights Watch welcomes the CAO’s commitment to work to address any shortcomings and to look at how this research and recommendations below can inform its systems going forward.
As an international organization that supports and works with governments around the world, the World Bank Group has ample opportunity to support governments to open space for participation and accountability and confront governments that are actively working to close that space down. The Bank should see this as central to its work since it is a key avenue to assure itself that it has access to information about potential or actual harmful impacts from its projects that the Bank should seek to avoid or remedy. Unfortunately, the World Bank Group has done little to pursue these important objectives through its extensive engagement with governments.
Advancing Space for Participation, Accountability at the Country Level
Human Rights Watch has analyzed all World Bank country strategies, including interim strategies, from January 2011 until mid-2014 to assess the degree to which the Bank has considered whether there is an enabling environment for public participation and accountability. The presence or quality of discussion of the environment for civil society was greatly mixed from country to country. Out of the 98 country strategies, only a handful included discussion of the environment for civil society. The most comprehensive was in Egypt, which highlighted:
Despite a large number of non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt, freedom of association remains severely hampered by a restrictive regulatory framework and discretionary administrative decision-making. The Ministry of Social Solidarity plays an important role in the oversight of NGOs, with control over NGO activities and sources of funding and authority to intervene in their internal affairs and governance, including the power to dissolve any NGO by decree.… In the medium term, it will be essential to ensure a vibrant civil society with access to information and freedom of expression, and well-established mechanisms for providing feedback on the full range of public and private sector activities.
In Rwanda, the Bank noted that “international human rights organization[s] have expressed concern over restrictions on journalists and civil society. National civil society advocacy is relatively underdeveloped in Rwanda, perhaps as a corollary to the firm Government presence.” In South Sudan, it noted that civil society “faces limits on its freedom to operate,” but proposed “capacity building” as the answer to this rather than working with the government to enhance freedoms. And in Comoros, the Bank noted that “there is limited social accountability and Civil Society Organizations are generally excluded from real decision-making processes, with limited influence on development policies.”
Other strategies included only a cursory mention of civil society, without analyzing the space within which it was operating, though about one-fifth of them included some discussion of the right to information. There are several countries where the lack of discussion of the obstacles to participation and accountability are particularly glaring, including in Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, Angola, and Pakistan where space for criticism is incredibly limited and the risk of reprisal for speaking out is significant.
The World Bank Group should lend its analysis and voice to opening space for civic participation and social accountability. It should consistently, privately and publicly, raise concerns with governments when authorities use intimidation, laws, and violence to silence independent groups, arrest journalists and opposition politicians who criticize the government, or introduce repressive laws aimed at silencing civil society. In particular, the Bank should analyze the environment for speech, expression, and assembly in every systematic country diagnostic, country partnership framework, or country engagement note and articulate any concerns regarding the absence of an enabling environment for civic participation or social accountability in both routine and high-level meetings with government officials, drawing on evidence indicating that such an environment leads to more sustainable development results, and share information that such concerns were raised publicly.
As a leading authority on development effectiveness, the World Bank Group can also play an important role by illustrating how an enabling environment for participation and accountability can advance sustainable development. The Bank should discuss the problems that illegal surveillance and internet blocking present in its next World Development Report, “Internet for Development,” and broader obstacles to participation and accountability in its 2017 report on “Governance and the Law.”
Human Rights Watch has long urged the World Bank to ensure that its approach to engagement with the Ethiopian government takes into account the extremely challenging human rights conditions in the country and the deterioration since 2005 in specific areas relevant to World Bank programming, notably freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
Since the passage of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law), which regulates nongovernmental activity, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in 2009, basic rights that are fundamental to civic participation and social accountability, such as freedom of expression, assembly, and association, have been increasingly restricted in Ethiopia. The effect of these two laws, which consolidated existing government efforts to repress free expression, coupled with the government’s widespread and persistent harassment, threats, and intimidation of civil society activists, journalists, and any other individuals who express views critical of government policy, cannot be overstated.
The government is particularly sensitive to reporting on problematic “development” initiatives. For example, journalists from private publications report being threatened and harassed by security officials for reporting on sensitive development issues such as the Grand Renaissance Dam and sugar production in the Lower Omo Valley.
The current climate has profound implications for any efforts to enable participation and accountability and even for basic monitoring and information-gathering about any topic deemed sensitive to ruling party interests. This extends to government employees questioning government data, as discussed above. Despite this, the World Bank has not raised these issues in its country strategy for Ethiopia, including how it will ensure compliance with its own commitments to participation and accountability in light of these challenges. Further, it has largely neither identified these challenges as risks to its projects in the country nor identified measures to mitigate these risks.
The World Bank should recognize the extreme obstacles that these government policies and practices create for participation and accountability in its analytical work, country programming, and in individual projects. It should also raise with the government the importance of participation and accountability for effective development, highlighting the problematic laws as well as repressive practices that undermine participation and accountability. At the project level, it should work to create space for people to be able to participate and critique the project, without fear of reprisal, as discussed above.
Creating Space for Participation, Criticism at the Project Level
The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation should take steps to help build an effective environment for participation and accountability in all of their projects, including and even particularly in complex environments. While this can be exceptionally challenging, it is essential if the World Bank Group’s talk about participation and accountability is to carry real weight. The World Bank Group has consistently missed the opportunity to achieve this, particularly in complex environments.
The former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has emphasized:
When it comes to ensuring that local communities affected by projects and those defending their rights have an opportunity to participate effectively from the early stages of the project, it is essential that those implementing projects acknowledge the existence of rights at the local level and the importance of protecting them.… In the context of large-scale development projects, the Special Rapporteur recommends making the protection of those affected by such projects and those acting on their behalf an integral part of an overall strategy, in order to ensure that those affected can effectively participate in the process without fear of retaliation.
The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation should consider the environment for expression, association, and assembly when analyzing the risks related to proposed projects or programs. It is considerably less likely that a community member would report a problem with a Bank-funded project in countries where repressive NGO laws exist or are about to be enacted; where critical journalists, activists, or political opponents are jailed or violently targeted; or where there is a history or practice of violent crackdowns on protests. Social norms impeding women’s participation may also hamper the ability of women’s organizations or activists from coming forward with complaints. Laws, policies, and practices that marginalize other groups can present a similar hurdle. Therefore, the Group should identify these factors as risks and put additional monitoring in place to enable it to detect problems with the project. In countries where there is a history or practice of violent crackdowns on protests, the World Bank Group should seek an undertaking from the government to protect the rights of protesters.
Uzbekistan: No Space for Participation, Accountability in Projects
In Uzbekistan, the World Bank is increasingly investing in projects that benefit the agricultural sector, particularly the cotton sector which is grounded in a state-forced labor system.
The Uzbek government continues to deny freedom of speech, association, and assembly, and torture and ill-treatment are endemic to the criminal justice system, which suffers from a systemic lack of due process rights. Many Uzbek citizens risk politically-motivated charges to expose the harsh realities of the government’s forced labor system and document other human rights abuses. For this, some are routinely harassed, detained, imprisoned, and ill-treated in custody.
Child picking cotton in September 2012, Suyima Pakhtakor, Jizzakh. © 2012 Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights
On May 31, 2015, Uzbek police arrested and sexually violated Elena Urlaeva, head of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, as she was documenting the Uzbek government’s forced mobilization of teachers and doctors to clear weeds from cotton fields near the city of Chinaz in Tashkent region. According to Urlaeva, kindergarten teachers told her that the mayor had ordered the schools to send them to weed the fields. Urlaeva also photographed 60 physicians who were required to work in the cotton fields by representatives of the city hall.
Urlaeva told how, following her arrest while detained at the district police station, a police officer hit her on the head and interrogated her about where she hid a data card from the camera. She said that they swore at her, accused her of bringing shame on Uzbekistan, and asked why she had not left the country and was still “making trouble for them with photographs and pickets.” Urlaeva described a doctor giving her three injections, which made her feel weak. The police then ordered a doctor to search for the data card in her vagina, causing her to bleed, and then her rectum, before x-raying her chest and abdomen. Urlaeva said:
After the x-ray I needed to use the toilet but they would not allow me and so I asked for a bucket but they said “you’ll go outside and we will film you bitch and if you complain about us then we’ll post the video of your naked ass on the internet.” I couldn’t stand it any longer and was forced to relieve myself outside in the presence of police officers who filmed me.”
Urlaeva said, “I have never experienced such humiliation in my life. The police were laughing and enjoying humiliating me.” The police confiscated Urlaeva’s camera, notebook, and information sheet of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. Urlaeva said that the authorities’ “brutal approach is an indication of how much they fear information about forced labor getting out.”
Human Rights Watch alerted senior World Bank officials and the Inspection Panel of the attack against Urlaeva on June 2, 2015.
The attack on Urlaeva is not an isolated incident. For example, in 2013 Uzbek authorities imprisoned Bobomurad Razzakov, a farmer and regional chairman of Uzbekistan’s only legally registered human rights organization, Ezgulik, for his human rights work on behalf of farmers and agricultural communities. The Uzbek government continues to hold dozens of human rights activists, journalists, political opposition activists, and other perceived government critics for no other reason than their legitimate and peaceful civil society work. Many other individuals are imprisoned on overly broad and vague politically-motivated charges of “anti-constitutional activity” and “extremism.” In its latest report on Uzbekistan, the UN Human Rights Committee reported it remained “concerned about the number of representatives of independent nongovernmental organizations, journalists, and human rights defenders imprisoned, assaulted, harassed or intimidated, because of the exercise of their profession.”
In the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, where the World Bank is financing an irrigation project, authorities continue to crack down on local civil society and have imprisoned dozens of peaceful Karakalpak activists, imposing strict controls on the freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
In this environment, the World Bank has not taken any measures—or pressed the government to take measures—to ensure that community members and independent groups can monitor forced labor and other rights issues in Bank-financed project areas without risk of reprisal. Nor has the World Bank taken steps to ensure that individuals and groups can complain to the Bank or the Inspection Panel without risk of retaliation. The Bank is working with the ILO to monitor its projects in Uzbekistan and set up a feedback mechanism, but this is not enough on its own.
At a minimum, as Human Rights Watch and others recommended at the time, the Bank should have included a covenant in the loan agreement allowing independent civil society and journalists unfettered access to monitor forced labor and child labor, along with other human rights abuses within the Bank’s project areas and to ensure that no one faces reprisals for monitoring human rights violations in the area, bringing complaints, or engaging with monitors. World Bank staff advised in response that their legal advisors had told them such a covenant was not possible.
Despite recognizing the severe security environment in Uzbekistan in its response to Human Rights Watch regarding this research and noting that specific incidents of threats came to its attention during its visit to the country, the Inspection Panel did not raise these issues in its report regarding the case. Nor did the Inspection Panel press the World Bank management to address the broader security environment in its programming in the country. When Human Rights Watch and other NGO representatives asked the Inspection Panel about this during a 2014 meeting, a Panel member, said that it was not the role of the World Bank to create a safe environment for independent monitors of its projects, including independent groups and journalists.
Under international law, both states and the World Bank Group have an obligation to respect and protect international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to information, and the right to liberty and security of person. They also have an obligation to guarantee that these and other human rights can be exercised free from discrimination, including on the basis of sex and gender. States also have additional human rights obligations. Companies, including those that receive money from the International Finance Corporation, similarly have a responsibility to respect human rights and remedy human rights abuses that they have contributed to.
The Right to Participate in Development
The right to participate in the conduct of public affairs, directly or indirectly, without unreasonable restrictions, and individually or in association with others, is a means of ensuring respect for other human rights in addition to being a right itself. The Human Rights Committee has confirmed that this right “covers all aspects of public administration and the formulation and implementation of policy at international, national, regional, and local levels.”
Governments have also committed themselves to participation in the context of several development-related declarations and environmental conventions, and have endorsed (through the inter-governmental Committee on World Food Security) voluntary guidelines that promote consultation and informed participation. The right to development further reinforces the importance of participation. The right to development requires active, free, and meaningful participation in development choices, free of coercion, pressure, or intimidation. The former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has underscored the difference between “active, free, informed, and meaningful participation of persons” and “participatory processes that are pro forma ... or undertaken to give predetermined policies a veneer of legitimacy.” The right to development also involves a substantive element that should include benefit-sharing, improve the capabilities and choices of people, and is violated if the development in question decreases the well-being of the community.
Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for Indigenous Peoples
The World Bank Group and states have a duty under international law to consult and cooperate with Indigenous peoples through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent. This is supposed to occur before the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization, or exploitation of mineral, water, or other natural resources. This duty is derived from Indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights.
The Right to be Free from Retaliation
States and the World Bank Group have an obligation to respect and protect the right to hold opinions without interference, to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and to life, liberty, and security of person. These rights are equally fundamental and protected at the international level. As the former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has emphasized:
Communities and those defending their rights should participate actively, freely and meaningfully in the process and be protected from retaliation and other violations at all stages. Ensuring such participation and protection is a responsibility of both State and non-State actors involved.…
An enabling environment for civil society are indispensable for the enjoyment of these rights.”
States must refrain from violating the rights of community members who speak out against proposed development projects and those working to protect the rights of community members, and act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and bring to justice the perpetrators of any attack against these community members and human rights defenders. The World Bank Group should similarly act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and help ensure access to a remedy, and ensure that none of its employees or contractors are involved in such attacks.
States also have an obligation to provide an effective remedy for human rights violations. The World Bank Group similarly has an obligation to provide an effective remedy for any such violations that it has contributed to or is responsible for. Such a remedy includes prompt and impartial investigations into alleged violations, prosecution of the perpetrators, and provision of redress, including appropriate compensation to victims. The World Bank Group can play an important role in pressing the state to provide such remedies, as well as independently investigating alleged violations and providing compensation when states refuse to do so.
Human Rights Obligations of the World Bank Group
As an international organization and a UN specialized agency, the World Bank has legal obligations to respect and protect human rights. The World Bank Group’s member states also have their own similar and additional specific human rights obligations that they continue to be bound by as members of the Bank and with which their agents are required to comply.
As an international organization, the World Bank derives human rights obligations from customary international law and general principles of law.As a UN specialized agency, the World Bank has an obligation to respect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. UN member states are obliged under article 103 of the UN Charter to comply with the Charter over other international agreements in the event of a conflict between the two. The International Bill of Rights, which refers to the combination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), is recognized as the key source used to interpret the rights provisions in the UN Charter.
While some have argued, incorrectly in the opinion of Human Rights Watch, that the non-political mandate of the Bank outlined in the articles of agreement precludes it from considering human rights, few argue that the World Bank itself is permitted to violate human rights protected under international law. The World Bank’s own rules do not supersede these human rights obligations. In 1998, the World Bank stated in its own publication that it “has always taken measures to ensure that human rights are fully respected in connection with the projects it supports.”
In addition to the World Bank bearing human rights obligations in its own legal capacity, each of its member countries has similar and additional specific human rights obligations that derive, for example, from treaties to which they are a party. As a matter of international law, governments retain all their human rights obligations when they become members of an international organization and therefore cannot abandon them in their capacity as governing members of the Bank. In that capacity, governments are obliged to exercise due diligence with respect to their human rights obligations. According to UN human rights bodies and academics expert in this area, the World Bank’s board of executive directors also have an obligation to ensure that the policies and decisions of the World Bank are consistent with their governments’ human rights obligations, including those obligations derived from human rights treaties that they have ratified.
The Bank’s view towards human rights has evolved over the last 15 years. There is now not only recognition that consideration of human rights is permitted, but that in some cases it is required. For example, former Bank General Counsel Roberto Danino wrote in 2006 that the Bank should “recognize the human rights dimensions of its development policies and activities, since it is now evident that human rights are an intrinsic part of the Bank’s mission.” However, in practice, the World Bank still uses the constraints of its articles of agreement to avoid human rights issues that it does not wish to address.
The World Bank’s articles of agreement with the United Nations state that the Bank operates independently of the UN and that the UN is to refrain from making recommendations with regard to particular loans and terms or conditions of financing. As the Tilburg Guiding Principles on World Bank, IMF, and Human Rights state, this “provides an organizational independence from the UN, not from international law.”
In addition, the World Bank Group can play an important role in advancing human rights protections. The UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, Maina Kiai has emphasized that “multilateral institutions are uniquely positioned to help foster the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association at the national level by pressing member states to comply with international laws and standards, or even requiring it.” He has further stated that multilateral institutions, as well as states, “bear the responsibility to recognize the positive role of peaceful protests.…”
Human Rights Responsibilities of Businesses
Companies are the subject of a number of international human rights standards. These include international norms that elaborate the respective roles of governments and companies in upholding human rights and avoiding complicity in violations, as well as standards developed to specifically address concerns related to security and human rights.
In 2008, then-Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie elaborated the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework for business and human rights, which was further supplemented by a set of “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” endorsed by the United National Human Rights Council in 2011. This framework sets out: 1) the state duty to protect human rights, 2) the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and 3) the need for a remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses. All businesses should have adequate policies and procedures in place to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for their impact on human rights. To meet its human rights responsibilities, a company should carefully assess potential human rights risks, monitor the impact of their activities on an ongoing basis, seek to prevent or mitigate harm, and adequately address any adverse human rights impacts it causes or to which it has contributed.
The World Bank Group has a responsibility to help ensure an environment in which people can participate in development decisions that affect them, and publicly critique World Bank Group-supported projects that have caused them harm openly and without fear. It also has considerable power to do so, and considerable ability to push back against governments who threaten or punish people who engage in public debate about projects financed by the World Bank Group. This action plan outlines how the Group’s management and accountability mechanisms can better support such an enabling environment and appropriately respond when reprisals related to World Bank Group supported projects do occur in spite of those measures.
The World Bank Group’s shareholder governments, and their appointees on the board of executive directors, should urge the Group to promptly and effectively implement these recommendations. They should also press the Group to respond to reprisals that do occur in a meaningful and effective manner. Governments should actively work to ensure that their human rights commitments, particularly regarding human rights defenders, are conveyed in the course of board discussions.
Take All Necessary Measures to Prevent Reprisals
Analyze the environment for freedom of expression, assembly, association, and information in all systematic country diagnostics
The World Bank Group’s engagement with many countries is rooted into a multi-year strategy of engagement agreed upon with the government. To help inform the process of creating those strategies, the World Bank Group in each case prepares a systematic country diagnostic that analyzes the opportunities for and constraints to poverty alleviation efforts in the country. Management should ensure that every diagnostic includes an analysis of the legal and regulatory environment for freedom of expression, assembly, association, and information. It should also outline any constraints that this environment presents for public participation in development processes, advocacy by civil society organizations (CSOs), public expression including protests, and criticizing government and specific projects supported by the World Bank Group. This should include assessments of the following:
· The legislative environment for CSOs, including an analysis of whether CSO legislation meets international human rights standards and whether there are other laws, including anti-terrorism legislation, that are used against activists, journalists, and other critics. The assessment should draw on the analysis of human rights treaty bodies and special procedures as well as independent groups that specialize in this area;
· Any laws or practices that tend to prevent people from peacefully demonstrating or constrain their exercise of that right in violation of international law, or punish peaceful demonstrators through criminal sanctions or other means;
· Whether there is a pattern of surveillance of government critics or independent groups;
· Whether there is free access to information within the country, or whether there are significant obstacles to this including, for example, a pattern of internet blocking;
· Whether community activists or organizers, people working for CSOs, labor union leaders, journalists, or other government critics are arbitrarily detained or victims of extrajudicial killings;
· Whether there is direct or indirect discrimination against women or marginalized groups that is likely to undermine their opportunity to participate in development decisions; and
· Whether there are security issues that are likely to undermine the opportunity of people or groups of people—particularly women and girls as well as sexual and gender minorities—from participating in development decisions, for instance, where homosexuality propaganda laws are in place.
Initiate a dialogue with all World Bank member governments emphasizing the importance of an enabling environment for public participation and accountability for sustainable development
At all levels of management, particularly through routine engagement through the country director and high-level engagement through the president and vice president, the World Bank management should speak with government officials about the importance of public participation and accountability for sustainable development and the environment that is necessary to achieve this. The World Bank should raise these issues publicly, as well as privately, particularly in countries that are increasingly limiting the space for participation and accountability.
Make protection of potential critics of World Bank Group programs, projects, or activities a core element of dialogue with every government, particularly governments known to crack down on dissent.
The World Bank should consistently emphasize to member states that criticism of World Bank Group-financed activities is welcomed and seen as an important part of enhancing the impact and effectiveness of development initiatives, and that reprisals against critics or people otherwise involved in such activities will be publicly and vigorously opposed.
The Bank should emphasize that this includes reprisals carried out by state and non-state actors, and that governments have an obligation to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and remedy reprisals by non-state actors, including companies, as well as by government officials. The Bank’s dialogue with governments on this should include an elaboration of how the Bank will respond to any reprisals including the potential for concrete negative consequences for cooperation should governments carry out, condone, or fail to respond appropriately to reprisals.
Proactively and publicly denounce the labeling of critics as “anti-development”
The Bank should make a public point of denouncing the rhetorical trend among some governments to label critics of controversial development projects as being “against” development or accuse them of undermining the government’s efforts to realize development. The Bank’s public messaging should emphasize that it is in fact the stifling of criticism that is likely to result in negative development outcomes, while public criticism of and debate about development efforts is likely to improve development outcomes.
Design a participatory process for developing systematic country diagnostics and country partnership frameworks
While the Bank has made efforts to make its processes for developing systematic country diagnostics and country partnership frameworks more participatory, experience is mixed across different countries. The Bank should ensure that across all countries, meaningful consultations with affected communities and other key stakeholders are held at the very beginning and then throughout the lifespan of a project, with sufficient information being provided in an accessible form a reasonable time in advance of in-person consultations.
The Bank should publish draft diagnostics and frameworks for a defined comment period to ensure public participation and substantive exchange with civil society. It should then publish comments received (with consent of the interveners) and provide a meaningful summary of them to the board of executive directors.
Agree with governments how protests outside World Bank country offices or linked to World Bank Group-financed projects will be policed in a rights-respecting manner, and monitor such protests
Ensure that all security personnel tasked with policing protests outside World Bank country offices or linked to World Bank Group-financed projects are required to comply with and trained on international standards, that use of force is investigated, and that those who use excessive force are held accountable through administrative sanctions and, where appropriate, criminal charges. Request that domestic authorities regularly produce a report detailing how demonstrations, protests, and other public gatherings outside the World Bank or linked to World Bank Group-financed projects were managed by police, and request that such reports be made public. Independently monitor all such protests and investigate any reports of excessive use of force.
At the Project Level
Undertake due diligence to ensure the World Bank and IFC do not support activities that will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations
This should include identifying the human rights impacts of its activities and taking steps to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts. The Bank and IFC may wish to do this in the course of its social risk assessment and social impact assessment, rather than undertaking a stand-alone human rights impact assessment.
Consider the environment for expression, association, assembly, and information when analyzing the risks related to proposed projects or programs
Both the World Bank and the IFC should identify obstacles to participation and accountability as a risk facing potential projects, and put targeted measures in place to create an environment as conducive to participation as possible. Mitigation measures should include, amongst other things, seeking an undertaking from the government that they will not carry out reprisals against project critics or tolerate them from non-state actors or, in countries where there is a history or practice of crackdowns on peaceful protests, an undertaking from the government to protect the rights of protesters. Similarly, where appropriate, the IFC should seek an undertaking from the borrowing company that they will not retaliate against project critics and will investigate all allegations of retaliation by employees or contractors.
Ensure meaningful participation of affected people in all World Bank Group-financed activities in order to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent for Indigenous peoples and endeavor to obtain broad community support in other cases
Ensure engagement with all stakeholders in development efforts is in good faith, not just as a formality. Require borrowers to consult and cooperate with communities in an effort to obtain broad community support for all World Bank Group-financed activities and free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous peoples whose lands or territories and other resources are affected in any way. When working in countries where there is not an enabling environment for participation, the World Bank Group should take an active role in the consultation process, including in its design, by being present throughout consultations, by putting in place enhanced monitoring of consultations, including independent, third party monitoring, and, where necessary, requiring consultations to be organized and run by an independent group.
Take all necessary measures to ensure that people who are traditionally marginalized or often excluded from decision-making have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in decisions about World Bank-financed activities that affect them
The Bank should make every effort to strengthen the capacity of those traditionally marginalized or excluded from decision-making, including women, to actively and meaningfully participate in decision-making processes related to projects that affect them. The Bank should also take additional measures where there is a risk of violence against some participants, to ensure that they can freely participate without risk of violence, criminal charge, or other reprisal.
Routinely consult communities to determine their protection needs and work with the government to provide protection accordingly
Human Rights Watch found that many community members that it interviewed said it did not occur to them to raise their security concerns with World Bank staff, either because the security concerns were obvious or because the staff did not indicate an interest. Therefore, it is important that staff proactively and periodically consult with communities to identify risks, determine their protection needs, and work with the government and other donors to provide the necessary protection.
Develop project level grievance mechanisms that are well-resourced, impartial, effective, protected against corruption, and free from political and other types of influence
Ensure that affected communities and civil society organizations have information about how and to whom to submit a complaint, as well as on the established timeline and stages for processing their complaint. In addition, ensure they are provided with particular material of other avenues for complaint should they be threatened or intimidated in any way. Ensure that such mechanisms are accessible to the most marginalized of those affected, and that special efforts are made to inform marginalized groups of thee mechanisms.
In high-risk operating environments, in cooperation with independent civil society organizations, create independent oversight mechanisms including third party monitoring and an independent grievance redress mechanism. Include as a key component of all grievance mechanisms an early warning system in case of threats or other violations against those who have filed or are considering filing a complaint, with proper risk assessment and protection measures available, and require borrowers to report on complaints received.
Enshrine protection of whistle-blowers at the World Bank Group in policy and in practice
The World Bank Group should develop policy protections for whistle-blowers on Group-financed activities that are not Bank Group staff. It should also improve its 2008 Staff Rule 8.02: “Protections and Procedures for Reporting Misconduct” to meet best practice standards.
Identify and respond to any indications of discontent
Be attentive to displays of concern and discontent regarding proposed and ongoing projects and work with all partners to ensure that people who are expressing their discontent are not stigmatized in any way, including by monitoring local media for information about public protests, sit-ins, or complaints. Explicitly monitor for public labeling of critics and immediately address them with the government.
Incentivize staff to prevent, respond to reprisals
In order to incentivize staff to take all necessary measures to prevent reprisals and vigorously respond if reprisals occur, integrate the above duties into the job descriptions and performance appraisals of employees, particularly managers.
Include relevant criteria in project completion reports and evaluations
The World Bank and IFC should integrate into their project completion reports and evaluations of projects consideration of measures taken to support meaningful participation, to prevent reprisals, to monitor and respond to for early signs of a risk of reprisals, and to respond vigorously to any reprisals that may occur.
The World Bank’s review and update of its safeguard policies provides a key opportunity for the Bank to institutionalize measures to prevent reprisals against critics of Bank Group-financed projects. In order to achieve this, the draft framework should be amended to:
· Prohibit the borrower from punishing, retaliating, or otherwise acting against a stakeholder who has made his or her views heard, however critical they may be, and require the borrower to take all necessary measures to prevent others from similarly acting against a stakeholder.
· Ensure that due diligence extends beyond the project to consider risks posed by the broader operating environment
· Require the Bank to:
o Carry out independent consultation activities where there are concerns about whether the environment is conducive to civil society and all potentially impacted community members, including those from marginalized groups, freely participating without risk of reprisal.
o Design grievance redress mechanisms in a way that allows all potentially impacted community members and civil society to complain freely without risk of reprisal, including by creating independent grievance mechanisms and allowing for anonymous complaints to be raised and addressed.
· Require borrowers to:
o Communicate to communities how their inputs have been taken into account in the design and implementation of a project; and identify any obstacles to participation or security risks that groups or individuals may face in the course of its Stakeholder Identification and Analysis and to describe measures that will be used to remove obstacles to participation and address security risks.
o Work with independent intermediaries to consult with stakeholders and ensure confidentiality of participants, in high-risk situations.
o Promptly report any indication of opposition to a project by affected community members, workers, civil society organizations, or any others.
o Inform stakeholders where they can go to access independent information about project risks, impacts, and mitigation measures, including nongovernmental organizations, academics, and national human rights institutions.
o Prevent, investigate, prosecute, and remedy security incidents, including by putting in place protections for victims and witnesses to ensure confidentiality and appropriate treatment.
Analyze the risk of reprisals and other security risks linked to every complaint received
Upon receiving a complaint, proactively discuss with the complainants and any independent groups working with them what are the security risks linked to the complaint, encouraging them to think about each of the actors involved (often government, company, and other community members) and to take into consideration the unique risks of individuals and those associated with them based on their gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other status that might heighten vulnerability to abuse. Discuss with the complainants and those working with them:
· What measures they can put in place to address these risks, with a focus on providing information about measures that are sensitive to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other status;
· A process for reassessing the risks routinely throughout the accountability process and beyond;
· Encourage the complainants to report every threat, show of intimidation, security issue, or something similar to the accountability mechanism; and
· Agree preliminarily how the complainants would like the accountability mechanism to respond should problems arise. In the course of this discussion, agree a dispute resolution or investigation process which fully addresses any security concerns for complainants or people closely associated with them, including their children or others in their households.
Improve confidentiality processes
Take all necessary measures to ensure complainants who ask to have their identities be kept confidential are kept so throughout the process. This will likely require additional measures to ensure that other community members, government officials, and any company employees do not see staff from the accountability mechanisms alone with the complainants at any point. Do not utilize photographs in reports without express consent from everyone in the photo, following a conversation about the security risks. In high-risk scenarios, irrespective of consent, do not use photographs in which people are identifiable.
Actively monitor for and report on reprisals
Throughout and following the accountability process, actively monitor for reprisals including by asking each of the complainants whether they or people closely associated with them had any security concerns or had faced any problems whatsoever, particularly following community visits. Provide all interviewees with the contact details of an appropriate staff member of the accountability mechanism and urge them to contact that person, either directly or indirectly, should any security issue develop. In the past, the Inspection Panel visited affected communities at the conclusion of its process. These follow up visits should be reinstated in all cases in which there are risks of reprisal. The CAO and Inspection Panel should also include discussion of all instances of threats, intimidation, or other reprisals in their reports, while respecting the confidentiality of complainants and interviewees.
Discuss with the World Bank country office early and throughout the accountability process security concerns and risks of reprisals
Work with the country office to develop an early warning system to identify threats or other security issues particularly for those who have filed or are considering filing a complaint or are otherwise critical of a project, to analyze the risks, and to promptly implement protection measures. Identification and analysis of risks should take into consideration the unique risks of individuals and people closely associated with them based on their gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or other status or classification that might heighten vulnerability to abuse.
Vigorously Respond to All Reprisals
Implement protection measures in close cooperation with those they are intended to protect
As soon as there is a reprisal of any kind, World Bank and IFC management should work with those at risk to develop and implement all necessary protection measures that are sensitive to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation, or other status or classification, including whether measures should be taken for people closely associated with them or in their household. Protection measures should not significantly hinder those at risk from continuing their work as advocates or human rights defenders. The efficacy of protection measures should be monitored periodically with the close participation of those at risk.
Publicly denounce every instance of reprisal
The World Bank should publicly denounce every instance of reprisal, using messaging that emphasizes the links to development, consistent with its mandate. These public statements should strive to maintain confidentiality of the individuals facing reprisals if requested by those at risk after considering whether public identification may increase risk and to mitigate future risks.
Intervene in specific cases
Raise specific incidents of reprisals with senior government officials and actively seek an appropriate response, including the unconditional release of critics detained on trumped-up or fabricated charges. Visit imprisoned detainees.
Accountability mechanisms should work with management to respond strongly to any reprisals linked to their cases
If the CAO or Inspection Panel receives information about reprisals or security risks, immediately engage senior-level World Bank Group officials to ensure that the security of complainants and others is restored and maintained, as is their ability to continue their work as human rights defenders. Accountability mechanisms should urge the World Bank president to raise any reprisal with the government involved at its most senior levels and, should management not do so, make that call publicly. Accountability mechanisms should also press management to emphasize that any such reprisal indicates a lack of respect for the role of the accountability mechanism, which is required of every World Bank Group member. It should also use every avenue available to it to respond to such reprisals directly, for example, seeking information from government agencies and visiting detainees in prison.
This report was researched and written by Jessica Evans, senior researcher and advocate on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch. Follow up research was undertaken by Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and two other researchers in Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.
The report was reviewed and edited by Chris Albin-Lackey, acting director, Business and Human Rights Division; Janet Walsh, deputy director, and Amanda Klasing, senior researcher, Women’s Rights Division; Felix Horne, researcher, and Maria Burnett, senior researcher, Africa Division; Aisling Reidy, senior legal advisor; and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director. Additional editorial and production assistance and research support was provided by Darcy Milburn, business and human rights senior coordinator. Research support was also provided by Storm Tiv, Asia associate, and interns Maya Jacobs, Carmel Rabin, Cindy Woods, Morgan Kaufman, Alessandra Cambiaso, and Emily Goldman. The report was prepared for publication by Kathy Mills, production specialist, and Fitzroy Hepkins, production manager.
Human Rights Watch expresses its deep gratitude to the individuals and organizations that assisted with this research, particularly activists and community members who have faced reprisals for their work. We are also most grateful to those external experts who reviewed the report and shared their valuable insights.
Human Rights Watch extends its appreciation to the World Bank Group, CAO, THDC, and the Inspection Panel for responding to our enquiries. We wish to acknowledge the Inspection Panel for its in-depth responses to our questions both in writing and in person.
Human Rights Watch also extends its appreciation to individuals and organizations that have generously supported its work on development and human rights.
From: Cyril Muller
Sent: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 6:44 PM
To: Jessica Evans
Cc: Margaret Anne Muir; Edith Jibunoh
Subject: RE: HRW Research into Reprisals Linked to World Bank Projects
Thank you for your letter of April 21, 2015, in which you asked for information on accountability mechanisms linked to World Bank Group projects.
The World Bank Group’s goals are to support countries end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. We share your concerns with the issues surrounding participation and accountability that threatens or prevents NGOs from conducting their work. We view the principles of human rights and development as mutually reinforcing, essential for sustainable development, and this ethos is consistently applied in our development activities. While we cannot reveal details of Bank staff deliberations with our clients, there are several publicly documented occasions where the Bank has flagged concerns with client governments when the treatment of civil society has not conformed to internationally recognized standards. The World Bank Group has initiated appropriate discussions recognizing that our ability to save lives and improve livelihoods would be severely compromised in the absence of an enabling environment for civil society.
Our scorecard on the MDGs demonstrates the Bank’s contribution to the delivery of essential human services, i.e. water, health, education, and jobs, which we have achieved while maintaining high standards in the execution of Bank Group projects. While the World Bank Group is not a human rights tribunal – the international community has entrusted other organizations with that role – we see our role in protecting and supporting the poor, and promoting inclusive, sustainable development in line with goals.
The World Bank Group has created opportunities for participation of, consultation with and feedback from communities in the project design, implementation and evaluation phases of our activities. Allow me to highlight a few institutional mechanisms that support this.
Our approach begins with our policies. To this end, core principles - transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and equality of opportunity, governance, empowerment, participation and inclusion - have been incorporated into the World Bank’s draft environmental and social safeguards policy, which have been designed to prevent and mitigate undue harm to people and their environment in the development process. Our current policy already includes meaningful consultation, effective public participation, property rights, and other key principles.
The World Bank Group is following a new approach to country engagement called the Country Partnership Framework (CPF). This new approach aims to make our country-driven model more systematic, evidence-based, selective and focused on the goals of ending extreme poverty and increasing shared prosperity in a sustainable manner. Before a CPF is defined, a Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) is undertaken to inform each new country partnership. Throughout the preparation of the CPF, the team engages in consultations with civil society and other stakeholders in the country. This is critical in determining the most important challenges and opportunities at the country level for reaching our corporate goals. Beyond consultations, engagement with stakeholders also includes collaborative processes—such as third-party monitoring, social assessments, citizen report cards, and community score cards—to help increase the effectiveness of WBG interventions and improve the implementation of the CPF program.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has long recognized the responsibility of the private sector to protect human rights, and incorporated human rights responsive principles into its Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards. IFC’s standards include provisions for stakeholder engagement, disclosure of information and access to a grievance redress mechanism. For more information see www.ifc.org/sustainability.
In this regard, the World Bank has also just introduced a new Grievance Redress Service (GRS), to address complaints related to World Bank projects. Through this service, individuals and communities that may be directly and adversely affected by a World Bank-financed project can bring their concerns directly to the attention of World Bank management. The GRS ensures that complaints are being promptly reviewed and addressed by the responsible units in the World Bank. The objective is to make the World Bank more accessible for project affected communities and to help ensure faster and better resolution of project-related complaints.
The Inspection Panel (IPN) is the Bank’s independent accountability mechanism for people and communities who believe that they have been, or are likely to be, adversely affected by a World Bank-funded project. The IPN was created in 1993 by the World Bank Board of Executive Directors, as a three-member body, in an important step to increase the transparency and accountability in Bank operations. The IPN provides independent investigation, subject to Board approval, to determine whether harm has occurred from noncompliance with Bank Policy in connection with the implementation of a project financed by the World Bank. The IPN is the first body of its kind to give voice to private citizens in an international development context.
The Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent accountability mechanism for the IFC, also provides redress for communities by ensuring that their concerns are heard through a process that can achieve positive solutions for all parties. Today, the Panel’s and CAO’s success have provided other international financial institutions (IFIs) the example and value of an independent accountability mechanism upon which to model their own accountability mechanisms.
The referenced projects include completed and ongoing IPN and CAO reviews. You can find Management Responses to the completed reviews of IFC projects on the CAO’s website (www.cao-ombudsman.org). Management Responses on all World Bank project cases that have completed the IPN process are available on the IPN’s website (www.inspectionpanel.org).
Group Vice President
 According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a human rights-based approach to development is grounded in international human rights standards, operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights, and seeks to analyze inequalities which lie at the heart of development problems and redress discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power that impede development progress. See OHCHR, “Frequently Asked Questions on a Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation,” 2006, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FAQen.pdf (accessed June 1, 2015). See, for example, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, “Freedom from Poverty – Freedom to Change, Strategy for Denmark’s Development Cooperation,” July 2010, p. 4; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, “Democratisation and Human Rights for the Benefit of the People,” June 2009, http://amg.um.dk/en/policies-and-strategies/freedom-democracy-and-human-rights/ (accessed June 6, 2015), p. 7; Government of Germany, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, “BMZ Strategy Paper 4: Human Rights in German Development Policy, Strategy” 2011, http://www.bmz.de/en/publications/type_of_publication/strategies/Strategiepapier305_04_2011.pdf?follow=adwordc (accessed June 6, 2015).