News & Analysis
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Development: Uncivil societies – Illiberal governments are blocking activists from receiving foreign cash

Original article found on: The Economist

Sep 13th 2014

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THE International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International: to most people these and thousands of other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) sound like outfits whose work should be welcomed and encouraged. But that is not how it looks to plenty of governments. In the last few years, around 20 countries have planned or passed laws restricting the freedom of NGOs to raise funds abroad (see article). Some echo the language of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and now require foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents”—a phrase that since the cold war has carried the connotation of espionage and treachery.

Many of the new laws grant officials wide discretion in applying them. Russian NGOs face surprise inspections seeking evidence of foreign influence; Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is “auditing” groups that receive foreign money as part of his self-declared mission to turn his country into an “illiberal state”. Egypt plans to force NGOs to seek permission from a government panel before they can get money from abroad.

Insisting that NGOs are open about where their money comes from and how they spend it is reasonable—especially in the many countries where they receive favourable tax treatment. And proper oversight helps ensure that NGOs are neither fraudulent nor ineffectual. But today’s crackdown is about weakening NGOs, not making them more transparent or effective. It is being undertaken by leaders who, if they accept democracy at all, want it to amount to nothing more than a tame vote every few years. Foreign donations are an easy target for autocrats whose worst nightmare is a flourishing civil society. NGOs’ activities in the “colour” revolutions a decade ago in the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the Arab spring, have sharpened autocrats’ hostility to them.

It is hardly surprising that leaders like Mr Putin want to curb those who seek to promote democracy, but these laws reach far beyond free speech and human rights. NGOs also suffer if they criticise poor public services, stand up for reviled minorities or disclose facts that the powerful want to hide. Mr Orban has targeted a group that publicises discrimination against Roma and another that runs a hotline for battered women. Among those Mr Putin has dubbed foreign agents are a group of women seeking information about Russian servicemen injured and killed while covertly deployed in Ukraine.

Don’t give them cover

Persuading autocrats who have decided that NGOs pose an existential threat to ease up will be a struggle. But donor countries can help stem the illiberal tide.

Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, launched in 2011, which supports governments keen to increase transparency and cut corruption, should help to stop the trend spreading. Trade deals offer some bargaining power: many of the governments seeking to block foreign donations are falling over themselves to attract foreign investment, including by providing legal protection for inbound capital. In future it should be made clear that these extend to funds flowing not just to businesses but to non-profits too.

Rich-country governments also need to avoid building barriers themselves. Heavy-handed enforcement of laws aimed at stopping money-laundering and the funding of terrorism has made it harder to send money to NGOs doing good work in some of the countries where civil society is under attack. A bank that knows a single slip could make it liable to draconian penalties may decide simply to close accounts rather than carry out costly checks or risk an expensive misjudgment.

At last year’s UN General Assembly Barack Obama drew on his own experience as a community organiser to praise NGOs for “making governments more effective and holding leaders like me to account”. He should speak more forcefully at this year’s meeting, which will be held later this month. Most important, though, is for rich democracies to practise what they preach. A recent kerfuffle about foreign governments giving grants to think-tanks in Washington, which sparked talk of illegal meddling in America’s sovereign affairs, offered unhelpful cover for the autocrats who are cracking down on NGOs and activists. They would be delighted to be able to point out that the West does it too.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described Viktor Orban as Hungary’s president instead of its prime minister. This was changed on September 15th.

Original article found on: The Economist

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Michael Sheridan to present The Messenger is the Message at Oxfam America

Michael Sheridan, Filmmaker and Educator to Present:

The Messenger is the Message: The impact of local perspective storytelling on education, advocacy and effective development

Oxfam America – Presentation, Wednesday, September 24, 2014 12:00-1:30pm

Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film and former co-founder of Oxfam’s Documentary Production Unit, will speak about his work to put Afghans, Haitians and Indonesians in charge of the storytelling about their community’s economic and social development issues.

Michael went to Afghanistan in 2009 to make a documentary on effective development from the perspective of Afghan villagers. To match the message to the method, he trained Afghan women and men in lived-reality documentary filmmaking. The intensive 5-week training resulted in a compilation of ten short films that provide a unique view of Afghans’ daily efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions.

As Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here and Now, reported, “Michael put cameras in the hands of Afghans and gave them training to make films about their lives. The result is an unprecedented intimate look at Afghan life with exchanges no outsider has been privy to before.” From Michael’s work in Afghanistan, he developed Community Supported Film an organization dedicated to strengthening documentary storytelling from the local perspective.

Michael will talk about the process, show a selection of the films made by the Afghan trainees and talk about CSFilm’s upcoming projects in Haiti and Boston. You can learn more about the films and the work at www.csfilm.org.

 

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Haiti, Development: Haitian Tourism Project Leads to Environmental Damage and Community Depression

Original article found on: Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Posted by: Deepa Panchang on Septemeber 15th, 2014
By Other Worlds and the Solidarity and Resistance Collective for the Population of Île-à-Vache

“Destination Île-à-Vache” is a government-driven tourist project planned for a small island off the northern coast of Haiti, Île-à-Vache. Plans include an international airport, golf courses,1,500 hotel bungalows, agri-tourism, and “tourist villages” which will include boutiques, restaurants and even a night club. Groundbreaking on the project occurred in August, 2013, without the inclusion or participation of the community.

Once the construction on the road began in late 2013, the community began to peacefully protest and formed a local group in December, 2013 called KOPI (Collective for Île-à-Vache). In response, the government has coerced, repressed, and intimidated the population. A leader of the resistance movement has been a political prisoner – imprisoned without charge or trial – since February 24. The details of some of these acts are included in the declaration below.

The declaration, signed by members of grassroots Haitian organizations, was circulated to local press at the end of August 2014.

Representatives from the Collective and KOPI (of Île-à-Vache) and family members of imprisoned Lamy speak to the press. Photo by: Jessica Hsu

Representatives from the Collective and KOPI (of Île-à-Vache) and family members of imprisoned Lamy speak to the press. Photo by: Jessica Hsu

[Declaration] denouncing the government conspiracy to intimidate and stifle the voice of the people of Île-à-Vache regarding the Tourism Development Plan

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

We, the signatory organizations of this [declaration], explicitly denounce the Martelly/Lamothe government’s maneuvers to repress the population of Île-à-Vache and grant investors free reign on the island.

We want to remind everyone that on May 10, 2013, the Martelly/Lamothe government issued a decree that Île-à-Vache was to be designated for tourism development and public utility, effectively pitting the population of Île-à-Vache against the government in a David-Goliath scenario. Since then, the islanders have watched politicians and businessmen land at Île-à-Vache with police escorts, to implement the first phases of the project in people’s own fields and yards all over the island.

On December 27, 2013, the population stood up and demanded a thorough explanation of the tourism development plan. The powers that be responded with lies of all sorts, repression, persecution, threats, and arrests of resistance leaders, among whom Jean Mathulnès Lamy has been sitting in prison since February, 2014. It does not take a genius to be suspicious of such “development” that takes place under repression, arbitrary arrests, intimidation, militarization, and threats. Since the government seems to envision displacing the whole island’s population under the May 10, 2013 decree, who will this development really serve?

Prime Minister Lamothe visited Île-à-Vache from June 27-30, 2014 under the pretext of supervising the advancement of various tourism projects. But the real objective of the visit was to continue the flow of lies, propaganda, and support for the machine of repression on Île-à-Vache. To prepare for this visit, the state promised households 10,000 gourdes (approximately US$220) each to help finance microbusiness [if they came to] Lamothe’s public meeting. People did receive something for coming out, but it was far from the 10,000 gourdes they were promised. When people arrived, they received bags of rice, cans of oil, and candy from the hands of Lamothe and his people. After the visit there appeared 20 motorcycles without plaques, cell phones which allowed for the state to maintain surveillance on the population, more police and military personnel, three new police cars, and three new judges. The government commissioner was replaced.

On top of that, police visited members of the Peasant Organizing Collective of Île-à-Vache (KOPI) at their homes, with arrest warrants in hand. Most importantly, the inhabitants of Île-à-Vache no longer feel safe because of a number of members of the Haitian National Police, specifically the UDMO [the Department Unit for the Maintenance of Order], who are circulating the island heavily armed, and intimidating the populace. This has continued despite the numerous human rights violations that organizations have already documented on the island.

Moreover, on August 14-15, 2014, while most people were celebrating [at the annual patron saint celebration] on Gelée Beach, the government created a phantom organization called MPDI [Farmers’ Movement for the Development of Île-à-Vache] whose head is a former director of KOPI that the government has since bought off. The government then promised the organization $1.5 million gourdes [about US$34,000] to fund its activities. Lots of talk, little action.

What is really happening on this island? It’s just one of the many programs happening all over that is touted with empty promises like Ti Manman Cherie [Dear Mother, a component of the national assistance program “Ede Pep”, or Aid the People, established by the Martelly-Lamothe Administration], streetlamps, new jobs, handouts of money, etc from the Minister Against Extreme Poverty, Roseanne Auguste. All this is being shoved down the throats of the people. The only positive thing that has happened has been the construction of a police station and housing for Dominican workers.

Île-à-Vache was once a region covered in beautiful vegetation. These projects are blindly destroying a huge number of natural resources that the island’s inhabitants depended on to live. The projects are laying waste to the environment. No serious study was conducted prior to the demolition and clear-cutting of the forests, and now officials are realizing that the spot they envisioned for the airport is not appropriate. They have since chosen a new location to tear up in the heart of the island, according to the testimony of many of the inhabitants. This is a clear violation of articles 253 and 254 of the Constitution of Haiti. [Article 253: Since the environment is the natural framework of the life of the people, any practices that might disturb the ecological balance are strictly forbidden. Article 254: The state shall organize the enhancement of natural sites to ensure their protection and make them accessible to all.] This situation will continue to create tensions on the island.

In light of all these facts, the Collective for Solidarity with the Île-à-Vache Peasants’ Struggle supports all forms of grassroots mobilization and community organization and reminds the population to stay vigilant. We, the signatory organizations of this [declaration], demand that the government cease all forms of propaganda, intimidation, repression, and violation of human rights on Île-à-Vache.

At the same time, the Collective reminds the government of the demands of the people:

- Retract the [May 10, 2013] decree that is being used as a justification to confiscate peasant lands on Île-à-Vache;

- Unconditionally release Jean Mathulnès Lamy, a native of the island unjustly held by the state for the past seven months for his involvement in peaceful protests (a right he retains) concerning the tourism development plan. [A well-respected leader and president of KOPI, Lamy was arrested and has been detained at the National Penitentiary without seeing a judge. The initial reason given for his arrest was his role in organizing a protest on the island on February 7, 2014.]

- Recall all UDMO and other police forces that have been recently stationed on the island.

On behalf of the Collective:[Solidarity and Resistance Collective for the Population of Île-à-Vache]

Nixon Boumba, Popular Democratic Movement (Mouvman Demokratik Popilè – MODEP):

Jackson Doliscar, Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (Fòs Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay – FRAKKA):

Jules Esaie Gelin, Neighborhood Association of Solino (Asosiyasyon Vwazen Solino – AVS)

Samia Salomon, Group for the Development of the South (Gwoup Api pou Develop Sid – GADES)

Celine Lajoie, Progressive Youth of Les Cayes (Jèn Pwogresis Okay – JPO)

Olrich Jean Pierre, Popular Collective to Revitalize Haiti (Konbit Popilè Pou Remanbre Ayiti -KOPRA)

Translated by Nathan A. Wendte

 

Original article found on: Peace and Collaborative Development Network

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Afghanistan, Development: Challenges around aid access in Afghanistan

By John James

Original article can be read at: IRIN

Photo: John James/IRIN Reaching the needy is a challenge

Photo: John James/IRIN
Reaching the needy is a challenge

DUBAI/JALALABAD, 9 September 2014 (IRIN) – Few issues get more attention nowadays in Afghanistan’s aid circles than insecurity-engendered restrictions on humanitarian access.

“In almost every district where security has been handed over from ISAF [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] to Afghan security forces we’ve seen an increase in attacks,” Omar Hamid, head of Asia Analysis at IHS Country Risk, told IRIN. “The writ of the government to provide security to aid agencies is reduced and there’s a risk that the situation will only get worse as the political instability increases.”

Disputed elections and the imminent pull-out of ISAF forces is compounding an already difficult situation for aid workers.

“In terms of fragmentation [of the country], it’s getting increasingly similar to the 1980s and 90s,” said Arne Strand, from Norway’s CMI development research institute, the author of a recent Chatham House briefing paper on innovative aid delivery.

“More serious NGOs will probably remain: they have the knowledge and dedication of staff. But monitoring capacity will need a boost in the current environment. These direct links are vital, and a kind of control on your own staff – you need to have those kinds of control mechanisms.”

The evidence in this year’s Humanitarian Needs Overview is that areas with the greatest need often have the fewest humanitarian actors. With the overall aid package to Afghanistan anticipated to drop, this year’s tightly-focused humanitarian appeal for US$406 million (currently 56 percent funded) attempts to shift work towards the areas of greatest need.

Nuristan

The eastern province of Nuristan on the border with Pakistan is a case in point. State control is limited and there are few aid workers despite needs judged “high level” in nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and health, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The infrastructure is poor with four separate valleys lacking direct road connections between them. Those roads that are usable can be blocked by snow for long periods in winter. International aid sometimes has to be delivered by donkey. Humanitarian convoys have been attacked, and the government’s disaster management authority, ANDMA, is “reportedly non-existent” on the ground, according to the OCHA overview.

The only international NGO with a stable presence in the area is the International Medical Corps (IMC), while the Afghan Red Crescent is the main local actor.

To face the future security challenges, analysts suggest a range of measures, from negotiating with a broader set of stakeholders, to using cash-transfer schemes, remote management, third-party monitoring, and having a greater tolerance for risk, allied with risk mitigation measures.

Talking to anti-government forces

With the withdrawal of international forces, more of the fighting is now between Afghans themselves. Security analysts predict that this will mean more intense combat, more casualties, and less access for humanitarians. Potential power vacuums after withdrawal may also increase criminality.

The mid-year Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan showed a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties on the same period last year.

“This year has been one of the worst since the conflict started: It’s definitely not getting better, and that’s obviously a concern,” said Alexander Buchmann, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Afghanistan. “Access is not improving for patients needing to get to health centres or for aid actors to get to those needing help. What is clear is that things are not getting better and at best things have stabilized at a very high intensity of violence.”

Where local power holders are anti-government actors, humanitarians find themselves in a difficult position – do they negotiate and risk the ire of the state? Discussions and even agreements with such groups can inadvertently mean giving them legitimacy.

“We need to be thinking ahead and talking to the other side,” one international aid worker, who asked not to be named, told IRIN in the eastern town of Jalalabad.

While large humanitarian organizations may have the potential to reach out to key leaders, that is not something that is possible for all, especially with shifting leadership structures. “It’s not realistic for [a] small organization to go to Quetta [in Pakistan, an important base for the Taliban leadership],” said a protection specialist in Kabul. “Anyway, lower level commanders are not necessarily in contact with the overall leadership. Showing a letter from [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar might not even go down too well with these guys.”

Anti-government forces are not necessarily opposed to humanitarian interventions, especially in particular sectors like health.

“We talk to all parties to the conflict and try to guarantee safe access for patients,” said MSF’s Buchmann. “There’s a general acceptance of the idea, but it varies on the ground in the application.” MSF has long-standing projects in places like Helmand, but Buchmann says the key challenge is getting out of provincial centres to address needs in distant districts.

Many provinces contain a shifting scene of local warlords, commanders and tribal alliances. Nuristan itself has 7-8 separate armed groups with different agendas. This is where the knowledge of local NGOs can be particularly useful. Muslim NGOs are also seen as a possible way to gain greater acceptance for humanitarian work.

But aid workers stress that it is not just about educating people on humanitarian principles; you need to also show that you can deliver. “Services buy access”, one aid worker told IRIN in Jalalabad.

Working with communities

Communities and their leaders have long been a favoured route for gaining access.

“People ask us how we manage to work in areas that are not nominally under government control,” said Nigel Jenkins, former country head at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has run programmes in the country since 1988. “The simple answer is through community acceptance. In this country, people very much work on trust, on memory, on history and it takes a long time to build up a relationship with a community.”

IMC’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Giorgio Trombatore, recommends hiring community-based staff with outstanding reputations and avoiding unnecessary branding. “The local community or shura must be involved or consulted at every stage of the humanitarian work being done in the area, bridging the role between NGO/humanitarian organizations and non-state actors to prevent any potential misunderstandings or misbeliefs about what is being done,” he said. “All the amendments or potential changes in the given set programmes must be thoroughly discussed and conveyed within the community.”

The flip side of building strong community relations though is that this may lead humanitarians to work where they have relations rather than where the needs are greatest. It is clear that building community understanding and support takes time.

The European Commission’s aid body ECHO is involved in a number of projects to boost access, something that can be difficult for NGOs to dedicate resources to under normal short-term project funding.

“Access is something that is difficult to measure – not like counting shelters constructed or hygiene kits distributed,” said Danielle Moylan, protection and advocacy manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “It’s an extremely long-term project, but rolling out projects is proof that access works.”

“This year has been one of the worst since the conflict started: It’s definitely not getting better, and that’s obviously a concern” NRC have been working in Kandahar for 18 months – setting up, just as many agencies were leaving. This week they start a new push to work on rural projects in Faryab Province.

“Recruiting people from villages in Faryab where we want to work, is a big element of gaining acceptance. We also empower all our 500-plus national staff so everyone knows what we stand for. That has an incredible benefit for community liaison,” said Moylan.

Some groups, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, have long worked with armed groups and also wider community leaders to spread the word about international humanitarian law and protection issues. These are long-term efforts, which, when successful, build acceptance of aid work.

New methods

Technological developments do potentially open up some new avenues for aid workers to manage a lack of aid access.

As US troops pull-out, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is reportedly looking for bids on a five-year monitoring contract, potentially worth up to $170 million, to keep an eye on aid projects after the drawdown using a range of tools including smartphones and GPS technology.

Mobile phones are increasingly widespread in Afghanistan, with network coverage increasing as well. In 2010 USAID estimated 61 percent of the population had access to a mobile phone. Communication, photographs and even GPS are all possible on relatively cheap devices.

The World Food Programme’s Beneficiary Feedback Desk, allows beneficiaries to call into a hotline to report issues with aid delivery.

Nevertheless aid workers or their partners could also face the risk of appearing to be spies as they carry out their monitoring work. And technology rarely provides a complete solution. Network coverage is still patchy, and mobile phones are largely in the hands of men, and also under shifting ownership.

“You need to have a combination of solutions – mobile phones won’t solve everything but it can provide a record,” Strand told IRIN. “It’s a kind of add-on to the documentation, and also a way to set-up complaint mechanisms. But you still need physical visits. You need to sit and drink tea.”

The idea of remote management of projects is seen negatively by many in the humanitarian community. According to a January 2014 report by the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organisation (APPRO), “most [international NGOs] recognize that remote management cannot be a permanent substitute for ongoing onsite management because the quality of the work would very likely suffer.” Corruption is seen as a significant risk when working without an on-the-ground presence.

An older technology, radio, is seen by many as the most useful channel for communication with communities, and NRC have a long-running project supporting a popular radio drama that explains humanitarian work.

Approach to risk

Greater risks around humanitarian access mean risk assessments become far more important, according to the Chatham House briefing.

This is something underlined by the head of OCHA in Afghanistan, Aidan O’Leary, who writes that “Humanitarian agencies need to build a culture of ‘how to stay’ as opposed to ‘when to leave’, allowing actors to take acceptable risks when these are warranted and using creative approaches to reduce risk.”

The setting up of the Common Humanitarian Fund this year has helped encourage humanitarian actors to move into key areas where access can be difficult – funding frontline healthcare, evacuating civilians, and providing basic health and nutrition services in contested areas. A humanitarian risk management unit was also established this year to better identify risks and put in place mitigating measures.

The humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, says he believes progress is being made on access, pointing to the absence of attacks on health centres during the presidential election, despite the controversial use of several as voting centres.

“It’s a tangible aspect of what I think is better recognition. We still don’t have anything like free and open access from either side. But there’s a feeling that we’re moving forward on this issue, and that legitimate humanitarian actors are being recognised,” he said.

For long-term actors in Afghanistan, the concern is that the easiest response to access problems will be to abandon difficult zones for the relative safety of urban programming and informal slums.

There is no magic bullet that fits all agencies. Instead, humanitarian actors need to each develop their own access strategies in line with their operations and dynamics, says ECHO’s Luc Verna. Support from NRC helps actors to share strategies and learn from others.

“Access is also about having flexibility without putting staff at risk; acting where possible, withdrawing when you need to,” said Verna. “It’s about not putting staff at risk simply to go where no one else is.”

By John James

Original article can be read at: IRIN

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Development: Concern over World Bank proposals to roll back safeguards for indigenous people

Original article from: IRIN

Photo: Dana MacLean/IRIN Indonesia's Dayak people remain unrecognized as indigenous, and now might lose the World Bank's backing

Photo: Dana MacLean/IRIN
Indonesia’s Dayak people remain unrecognized as indigenous, and now might lose the World Bank’s backing

BANGKOK, 3 September 2014 (IRIN) – Activists warn of a harmful regression in the World Bank’s safeguard policies, claiming that proposed changes being considered this autumn could weaken the rights of indigenous people, and others in danger of displacement and abuse as a result of Bank-funded development projects.

“This [version of the safeguards] will be dangerous backsliding into their bad legacy of treatment against indigenous people if it is approved,” said Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), a network that operates in 14 Asian countries.

According to the World Bank, “the proposed Environmental and Social Framework builds on the decades-old safeguard policies and aims to consolidate them into a more modern, unified framework that is more efficient and effective to apply and implement.”

However, campaigners say the current draft dilutes the protective promise of the safeguards and fails to include indigenous rights considerations in projects funded by the World Bank by obtaining “free, prior, and informed consent” for development interventions. The proposed changes, including an “opt out” policy, could leave development decisions solely at the discretion of governments.

“In order for grievance mechanisms to work, environmental and social standards need to be clear and prescriptive,” said Kristen Genovese, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog.

Other adjustments suggest a broader attempt to roll-back responsbilities: “The elimination of clear, predictable rules also appears to be a clear attempt by the Bank to avoid accountability for the negative impacts of projects that it funds,” BIC said.

With more than US$50 billion in development aid at risk of being funnelled into projects that could forcibly evict, displace, or fail to adequately compensate communities for resource losses, pressure is mounting on the Bank as board meetings begin on 3 September.

Loophole

The pending amendments retain the requirement for project-affected peoples’ “free, prior and informed consent” to relocate; proper compensation; labour rights of workers; and non-discriminatory development. However, the draft includes options for the Bank’s non-compliance, which leaves it for governments to decide how to proceed with projects – including by ignoring indigenous people.

“Allowing [governments] not to recognize groups [as indigenous] is incredibly problematic particularly when we know the history of government violating indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Jessica Evans, senior researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch’s (HRW).

According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons (UNDRIP), indigenous people are those who maintain historical continuity with pre-colonial groups, have strong relationships with natural resources and land as the basis of their cultural and physical survival, and self-identify themselves as indigenous as part of their belief systems which differ from the dominant society.

While UNDRIP has been adopted by 143 countries, domestic implementation has been limited. The draft safeguards give governments a loophole to escape recognition of indigenous persons when it comes to Bank-funded development interventions status if it causes conflict or goes against the constitution of the country.

According to a 30 July statement from the Bank about the proposed safeguards draft, indigenous status can be opted out of “in exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country…”

“Setting the standard is something an institution as powerful and influential as the World Bank should be considering as mandatory, rather than optional.” As the draft safeguards go under review by the Bank’s board, activists warn that without major reform to the draft, consultations with indigenous groups when designing and implementing development projects have little meaning.

“If they provide the opt out option for recognizing indigenous groups, indigenous people will suffer adverse impacts,” warned AIPP’s Carling, adding that government refusal to acknowledge the indigenous status of many ethnic minorities can be a contributing factor to statelessness, poverty and forced relocation.

A history of abuses

A root concern about the proposed safeguards is that they shift the onus for environmental and social responsibility away from the Bank and onto borrowing governments, which means funds could go to states already notorious for land grabs, corruption and human rights violations.

In recent years researchers have documented cases of forced evictions in poor communities as a part of World Bank-funded projects.

For example, in East Badia, a community in Lagos, Nigeria, Amnesty International reported that 9,000 people had their homes razed to make way for luxury apartments. In Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, up to 135,000 families will be relocated in the next three years to make way for urban development, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Sri Lankan NGO, argues.

In East Badia, community protests against the razing of homes met all of the requirements to trigger the safeguards for a full World Bank investigation. However, the Bank’s eight-member board instead decided to institute a pilot project for resettlement which compensated communities one-third below the market rate for informal housing in Lagos.

“The compensation was so low it did not enable them to live anywhere else except another slum or precarious accommodation which will put them in danger of being forcibly evicted again,” said Alessandra Masci, Amnesty International’s senior analyst for business and human rights, and lead advocate for the report on Lagos.

The Bank’s pilot, implemented in November 2013, was in line with the new direction of the bank (and the draft safeguards currently under consideration), in which vague language creates flexibility in decision-making for the Bank and the borrower government – leaving the poor to fend for themselves, analysts say.

“Banks and panels are standing back and leaving communities completely alone to deal with entities much more powerful than them,” explained Masci.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the government, armed with US$213 million of World Bank loans, will forcibly relocate an estimated 300,000 people under the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project (MCUDP), according to CPA.

A commitment to ending poverty?

Critics warn that without airtight safeguards for vulnerable people, the rights of indigenous groups will continue to be violated by development projects, and undermine the very target the Bank has set for itself: to end poverty.

While indigenous people comprise 5 percent of the global population, they make up 15 percent of all people living beneath national poverty lines globally, according to the UN.

“In order for grievance mechanisms to work, environmental and social standards need to be clear and prescriptive,” said Kristen Genovese, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog.

Some fear that growing competition in international lending – with the emergence of Chinese and Japanese development banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the BRICS bank – may stoke a fear of losing clients and trigger a race-to-the-bottom panic. Experts argue that the World Bank should see its safeguards as an opportunity to assert its position as a global leader.

“Competition is good. It means more finance for development,” said HRW’s Evans. “The Bank could show other lenders best practices and be a model development bank.”

Sophie Chao, a project officer with the Forest People’s Programme (FPP), a Netherlands-based indigenous and environmental rights organization, said: “Setting the standard is something an institution as powerful and influential as the World Bank should be considering as mandatory, rather than optional.”

Carling asked: “If their main target is to address poverty – if not for the poor, who is development really for then?”

 

Read the original article online at: IRIN

 

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