Controversial World Bank safeguard policies rewrite goes to consultations

by Rhodri C. Williams

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the World Bank’s rollout of a draft set of reworked safeguard policies took little note of a critical petition initiated last month by Inclusive Development International. However, even as the Bank announced a consultation period scheduled to run through the end of November, IDI elaborated on its concerns in a comment in Devex.

Without having yet had time to read through the Bank’s draft, it is difficult not to be concerned by the fundamental nature of the regression indicated by IDI’s criticisms. Elimination of the requirement to prepare advance resettlement plans, removal of substantive monitoring rules, the right to opt out of indigenous peoples safeguards, and an approach so flexible that the World Bank Inspection Panel “would have no hard rules against which to hold the World Bank accountable.” As Nezir Sinani notes in Huffington, the opt-out provision alone could undo a real – but fragile – sea change in the recognition of indigenous rights in parts of Africa.

Its hard to imagine what progressive innovations could offset the negative effects of all the above, but the Bank’s plug for the new draft is both disarmingly bullish and alarmingly bland, checking off all the catchphrases without giving any meaningful indications of the actual changes involved:

Through the revision of our environmental and social safeguard policies, the World Bank is ramping up its standards to ensure the delivery of an environmental and social framework which is more efficient and comprehensive; includes a strengthened approach to the management of environmental and social risks that will support sustainable development through standards that are clear to those impacted by the projects we finance, those who implement, and those holding us to account.

It is no secret that the Bank’s public statements tend to run more progressive than its practice, and that there are real dilemmas that the Bank faces in trying to live up to its own standards. But to gut the standards while claiming to strengthen them would not only be wrong, but downright Orwellian.

 

Petition against watering down of World Bank safeguard policies

Having obtained and analysed a draft of proposed new World Bank social and economic policies, my colleagues at Inclusive Development International (full disclosure – I am on the IDI Advisory Board) have circulated a petition demanding that the Bank follow its own first principles in this matter – in that the draft submitted for upcoming consultations should provide for conditions “no worse off” than those that prevailed under the old policy.

There are alarming indications that the current draft standard fails to meet even this minimum threshold. The full text of the petition setting out these concerns can be downloaded here, and I have reprinted IDI’s summary version below. Concerned individuals and organizations are welcome to join the petition anytime before Monday at 12 pm (EST) by sending an email to IDI Managing Director David Pred (david@inclusivedevelopment.net).

–//–

Dear Friends,

As many of you will have already heard (depending on which lists you’re on), the World Bank has presented to its Board an appalling draft of its new social and environmental safeguards policies.  The Board Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE) will be meeting on July 30th to decide whether the draft is “fit for purpose” and should be opened up for public consultations.

A leaked version of the draft Social and Environmental Framework that we have reviewed effectively turns back the clock 30 years to the days before people and the environment were protected from harm by binding Bank policies.  At the same time, the Bank is proposing to significantly scale up its lending and get back in the business of high-risk mega-projects.  All this while slashing its operational budget and the resources available for project due diligence, monitoring and supervision.  Remember the Chixoy dam in Guatemala? The Sobradinho dam in Brazil?  Narmada in India?  We’ll be seeing plenty more of these human rights disasters if the Bank moves forward with this draft.

For those of us concerned about the global land grabbing crisis, this draft opens the floodgates to more massive land grabs, forced evictions, and dispossession of poor communities –  financed with our public purse.

Some of the most alarming proposed changes include:

  • An ‘opt out’ option for governments that decide they don’t want to apply the Indigenous People’s policy.
  • Major dilutions of the Bank’s current standards on “involuntary resettlement,” including the requirement for borrowers to submit and the Bank to review and approve – prior to project approval – a comprehensive resettlement plan that ensures affected people are not harmed and have an opportunity to share in the benefits of the project.
  • Exclusion of land titling projects from the coverage of the resettlement policy, leaving people like Cambodia’s Boeung Kak Lake community whose homes were demolished after they were determined not to have ownership rights by a Bank titling project completely unprotected from forced eviction. 
  • Totally inadequate protections against land-grabbing, despite an alarming reference indicating that Bank projects could involve large-scale transfers of land for agricultural investment. 
  • The elimination of essential appraisal and supervision requirements, which made the Bank itself accountable for non-compliance with the policies.

The World Bank released a statement last year pledging that its new safeguards would be informed by the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure and that “additional efforts must be made to build capacity and safeguards related to land rights.”  This commitment, which we welcomed at the time, has translated into one vague line in the draft framework about assessing risks or impacts associated with land tenure, which fails to articulate any policy objectives related to access to land or security of tenure, while many of the protections in the current Bank policies have been eviscerated as outlined above.

We have drafted the attached statement on land rights to send to CODE by Monday morning with the message that this draft is a non-starter for consultation and must be sent back for major revisions.   It has been endorsed so far by Asian Indigenous People’s Pact, Forest Peoples Program, Ulu Foundation, Urgewald (Germany), Friends of the Earth (US), Indigenous Peoples Links, Jamaa Resource Initiative (Kenya), Institute for Policy Studies, Center on International and Environmental Law, Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (Senegal) and Inclusive Development International. 

Will you add your voice to the global outcry?  Please consider signing on as an organization or an individual and sharing this with anyone else you think would want to join. 

In solidarity,

David and Natalie 
Inclusive Development International

 

 

Happy Midsummer’s Eve – and World Refugee Day

by Rhodri C. Williams

Every now and then the various preoccupations of this blog collide in unexpected ways. Today is such a day. Sitting here on Åland, its the first day of my summer vacation and time for the rites of Midsummer Eve, a pagan celebration the observance of which is an important part of the local community’s sense of itself. It is a day of rootedness in traditions carried out on a particular piece of turf since time out of mind by people connected through the ages by language and a sense of cultural continuity and the simple fact of their abiding presence.

All of which makes the contrast with this day’s other guise so jarring. It is World Refugee Day and not just any such day, but the one that has seen the greatest spike in conflict-related displacement since World War II. As this village’s 30 families raise the midsummer pole tonight, over 50 million people in other parts of the world have been violently uprooted from their communities, their traditions, their homes and their lands. It is a truly grim milestone and one that will cast a shadow over this and many future midsummer evenings to come.

International Humanitarian Law more clear and more debated than ever – updated

by Rhodri C. Williams

The immediate inspiration for this post was the fact that the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) recently put online its vast and expanding database on which norms of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) are now deemed to have attained the status of customary international law (CIL), binding on all parties to armed conflicts whether or not they have ratified (or otherwise assented to be bound by) the treaties that give rise to these rules.

The database consists of both a comprehensive listing of the rules now deemed applicable and a compendium of practice, both that which supports the emerging rules and objections against its validity (anyone want to take some wild guesses on what states frequently feature in the latter category?) In the new online version, the practice of some seven further states and a number of international tribunals have been added. The new database constitutes a highly accessible and useful tool alongside ICRC’s additional databases on treaty ratification and application by States Parties.

The good news is that there has been considerable progress in this area. I have written on this blog and elsewhere about the role of soft-law documents like the 1998 UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in consolidating a human rights based approach that has transformed humanitarian action in the post-Cold War period. This transformation has brought new possibilities for advocacy by pairing the cautiously phrased and state-centric provisions of IHL with the less ambiguous and more individual-oriented rules of international human rights law (IHRL).

Moreover, because advocacy for the Guiding Principles has focused on engaging willing states (at the risk of to some extent being co-opted by them), they have been far more successful than most soft-law standards, to the extent of having been incorporated in numerous national laws and policies (compiled by the Brookings Institution here) as well as a groundbreaking regional convention adopted by the African Union. This, in turn, has provided support for customary IHL to more vigorously address areas such as the prohibition against arbitrary displacement (including in internal conflicts), the right of voluntary return for internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as the state obligation to respect their property rights.

However the new force and reach that a rights-based approach has given to IHL has brought new risks as well. Most obviously, by encouraging humanitarian actors to condemn violations of human rights (such as forced displacement) and demand accountability and remedies (such as restitution), the rights-based approach may create dangerously high expectations on the part of beneficiaries of aid while simultaneously undermining the perceived impartiality of humanitarian actors. In the worst cases – and we do not have to look far to find them – this limits the access of humanitarian actors to vulnerable populations and puts their own security at risk.

As a result, this ongoing retrenchment of the rules of conflict has opened up new policy debates, most recently in the extremely difficult humanitarian arena of the Syrian conflict. The latest iteration came with the 28 April 2014 publication of an open letter signed by 35 eminent legal scholars. The letter noted that 3.5 million civilians – over a third of those in urgent humanitarian need in Syria – are living in areas accessible only from neighbouring countries. However, because Syria has denied consent to humanitarian actors operating in Syria to send cross-border aid, these civilians face a catastrophe.

Continue reading

Xenophobes elected to oversee European integration

Rhodri C. Williams

Well, the loonies have officially taken over the boobyhatch, as my late sainted Aunt Pat would have said. Marine Le Pen takes 25% of the French vote. Great Britain scores the first national election won by neither Labour nor the Conservatives but a party advocating independence for the UK (why didn’t anyone think of that before?) Austria and Denmark veer wildly right. And lets not even talk about Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. So now we all get to adjust to the fact that a party campaigning under a swastika entered the European Parliament. At least they took some trouble to disguise it. Plausible deniability and all that.

Sweden was one of the few bright spots, with a very robust Green party (that has taken on some of the tough issues related to e.g. fisheries) taking second place. The election of the xenophobic and weasely Sweden Democrats (9.9%) who refused to say whether they would join a future Le Pen-led racist bloc was bad, but symbolically somewhat offset by the arrival (5.3%) of what had previously been a somewhat marginal feminist party (both were in a dead heat at 7% as of yesterday but lets take what we can get).

So with all that said, let me sign off with quotes from the Facebook feeds of three Sweden-associated friends of mine. First, as the voting began:

People who cannot be bothered to vote do not deserve to live in democracy. There are plenty of people denied any chance to make their voice heard who would gladly trade places with you. If you do not know enough – read or listen to debates. If you do not agree with any candidate – give a blank vote. Not voting has no excuse rather than laziness or stupidity. Usually both.

And as the results began to drop in:

Proud to have voted in Sweden today, wish I could have voted a few 100,000 times in the UK as well.

And as we wake up to our just desserts:

A black day for Europe. Happy that I live in a country, and from a country, that actively rejects these types of bigots and morons.

Seven decades since the end of World War II next year. I suppose Europe was overdue for a bit of teenage rebellion. Hope they don’t wrap their car around anyone’s tree.

The Kosovo Constitutional Court on displaced persons’ property rights: Can mediation ever count as enforcement?

by Massimo Moratti

Protecting the property rights of displaced persons in post-conflict scenarios presents a number of interesting challenges, not least when internally displaced persons (IDPs) face illegal construction on their land and therefore are forced to seek remedies before the relevant institutions, including mass claims mechanisms.

One of these cases, which is probably not an isolated one, occurred recently in Kosovo, where the Kosovo Property Agency (KPA) is the local mass claim mechanism which inherited the competences of the UNMIK Housing and Property Directorate (HPD).  Established in 2006, the Kosovo Property Agency became an independent agency functioning in accordance with the Constitution of Kosovo after the unilateral declaration of independence.  The mandate of the KPA focuses on claims for land and commercial property, which were not addressed by the UNMIK HPD, since the HPD’s mandate did not cover such claims and the local courts were in theory competent for the receiving them. Since its inception, the KPA has collected claims for over 42,000 properties and decided 96% of those claims.

While the process of issuing decisions is approaching its end, the implementation of such decisions in a number of cases is becoming particularly problematic, especially those cases where a new building has been constructed on claimed properties. It is worth recalling that the KPA was created in 2006 and for the period 1999-2006 there was no claims mechanism to deal with claims for land, nor were courts capable of effectively processing such claims.  In the meantime, “a lot has been built in Kosovo”, to quote one of the officers of the Ombudsman office when contacted about the issue of illegal construction.

The problem the KPA is facing now is how to deal with such cases, where an illegal occupant has built a residential or commercial building on a claimed plot of land. In theory, the KPA could resolve to seize and demolish the building, sell it at an auction, broker a lease agreement or place the building under administration. However, practice has departed significantly from the procedures foreseen in the law. The KPA has instead developed a mediation procedure in order to try to solve these cases without resorting to destruction of buildings. IDPs facing illegal construction are now routinely informed by the KPA about the impossibility of demolish such buildings and offered the possibility for mediation.

This offer of mediation raises a number of issues and leaves a number of questions unanswered.  The case KI187/13 recently brought before the Constitutional Court of Kosovo highlights how the procedure of mediation collides with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In this case, a female IDP who left Kosovo in 1999 and has lived in destitute conditions since sought repossession of a large plot of land in an attractive location outside Pristina with significant commercial value. On the same plot, an illegal occupant had built three houses with a swimming pool. The applicant claimed her property in 2006 and a KPA decision in her favor became final and binding in 2013.

The KPA however told the applicant that they could not enforce her claim, because the property had changed since the time she owned it and the KPA lacked the resources to demolish the existing buildings. They offered instead to mediate between her and the illegal occupant. The applicant refused such mediation and instead addressed the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, claiming a violation of her rights to property, to a fair trial and to an effective remedy. Continue reading

One Europe?

by Rhodri C. Williams

As I type this, the points are rolling in for the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. Its all a little bit surreal. Having done its best to stave off ‘politicization’ of a 2012 contest handed without strings to autocratic Azerbaijan, the organizers of Eurovision are now finding European politics bashing down the door and tracking muddy footprints down the hallway.

At the other end of Europe, it has been another bloody, divisive day in Eastern Ukraine, which is now described by the Guardian as ‘on the brink of civil war’. As mob rule descended on the Eastern city of Mariupol, one local Russian speaking resident described his view of the casus belli as follows: “This is the Donetsk people’s republic! We will destroy the Kiev junta and the Euro-gays! We will win!”

At this end of Europe, the picture could not be more different, with the Euro-gays sitting rather clearly in the ascendancy as the last minutes of the Eurovision contest roll down. A few minutes back, the astonishing transvestite performer Conchita Wurst of Austria passed the point of no return, taking high points not only from predictable Western countries but also east of the Oder locales like Georgia with rather mixed past records on moving past hetero-normativity.

More sadly, a pair of talented twins who happen to hail from Russia (but probably enjoy fairly little direct responsibility for troop movements on the Ukrainian border) initially drew loud and sustained boos from the crowd every time one of Russia’s few remaining friends in the region tipped them their 10 crony points. By the end the boos seemed to be drowned out by cheers, which indicate a far greater capacity to learn quickly from past mistakes on the part of the Eurovision crowd than the Kremlin regime.

The phenomenon of Conchita Wurst at this moment in European history highlights both the ascendancy of socially liberal values across many parts of Europe and the political division that gapes ever wider between European regimes that can handle individual expression and those that find it threatening. Not that the two never play footsie, mind. Just look at former Eurovision capital Azerbaijan, returned decisively to its draconian ways after the foreign media pulled out and yet all dolled up to assume the chairmanship of Europe’s ever less credible human rights organization, the Council of Europe, in just three days.

And yet, in the afterglow of a Eurovision contest that fell overwhelmingly to an Austrian ‘bearded woman’ who could belt out a power ballad like nobody’s business, the last word is best left to Conchita herself:

Waking in the rubble
Walking over glass
Neighbors say we’re trouble
Well that time has passed

At some point, now or in the future, Moscow will need to decide whether it always wants to be that grumpy neighbor or would rather integrate more meaningfully with a European community it has every claim to be a part of. But Europe would do well in the meantime to be a little more careful about who it welcomes into Conchita’s house.