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World Bank's new safeguard policies "ignore" human rights, other development banks will follow suit: NGOs

By Our Representative
Top civil rights groups across the world have sharply criticized the World Bank’s new set of environmental and social safeguard policies, approved by its board of directors on August 4, saying they were “frustrated and disappointed” that the Bank “couldn't agree on stronger policies to fully guarantee the rights of communities affected by the projects they fund.”
Head of Oxfam International’s Washington office, Oxfam International, Nadia Daar, has said, the approval of the policies is the culmination of a four-year long process, and “they will impact not just the Bank's lending, but the policies of other development banks around the world that look to the World Bank to set the standard.” The Bank had released its final draft on July 20.
The Bank Information Centre (BIC), which is the world’s most important watchdog lobbying with the Bank on environmental and social safeguard issues, has said that “experience has shown that sustainable development cannot be achieved through projects that impoverish communities and destroy the environment.”
“At a time when the Bank intends to finance more high-risk projects in high-risk contexts, the safeguards should provide heightened protection and vigilance”, BIC says, adding, “Instead, the Bank has proposed increasing ‘flexibility’ and relaxed requirements.”
BIC particularly objects to what it calls “clear time-bound requirements with vague language, loopholes, flexible principles and reliance upon ‘borrower systems’ instead of Bank safeguards to determine what social and environmental standards a project must meet.”
Korinna Horta of Urgewald in Germany says, the new policy “reflects a race to the bottom in a shameful scramble to eliminate requirements for careful environmental and social due diligence, and fails to take the lives and livelihoods of affected communities into account.”
Adds Stephanie Fried of the Ulu Foundation, a US environmental organization, “By diluting the Bank’s due diligence requirements, eliminating requirements for borrower compliance and clear accountability structures, and introducing vague language throughout the draft, the Bank has effectively dismantled thirty years of environmental and social protections for the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable peoples.”
Washington-based Human Rights Watch says, the new World Bank policy has “refused to acknowledge its human rights obligations in its new policy framework”. Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at Human Rights Watch, emphasizes, “In refusing to acknowledge its rights obligations, the World Bank anticipates it will be able to violate human rights without consequence.”
“Rather than using this review of key environment and social policies to advance human rights and cement its role as a leader in development, the World Bank has done the opposite”, Evans says.
Human Rights Watch says, information it received from World Bank sources suggested that its management “opposed language that would require the bank itself to respect human rights throughout its operations”.
However, it praised the Bank for certain changes: “The new framework was in development for four years and includes some important reforms, including commitments to avoid discrimination and protect labor standards. It also requires governments borrowing from the bank to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples who traditionally own, occupy, or use land or natural resources that will be adversely affected by a proposed project.”

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