Indigenous Peoples Policy delayed

24 November 2003

In October, Professor Emil Salim, the Extractive Industries Review (EIR) Eminent Person, wrote a letter to the President of the World Bank asking that the Bank refrain from finalising its proposed indigenous peoples policy. Salim was concerned that indigenous peoples “deep dissatisfaction” with the draft policy might lead them to “disengage with the EIR process” if it were to be approved.

Salim requested that the policy not be submitted for final approval until two conditions were met. Firstly, that the Bank respond to recommendations in the EIR final report due to be submitted in late December. Secondly, that a high level discussion take place with indigenous peoples, including a legal roundtable discussion between Bank lawyers, indigenous peoples’ representatives and legal experts on the consistency of the policy with internationally guaranteed human rights.

On 20 October, World Bank Vice President Ian Johnson responded to Emil Salim confirming that the Bank will delay finalisation of the policy until the first quarter of 2004. This, Johnson says, will allow “adequate time for the Bank’s Indigenous Peoples Policy Team to review the December 2003 version of the EIR and to assess if future revisions to the policy are appropriate. Johnson also responded that, following the presentation of the EIR final report, the Bank’s legal department would be willing to organise a roundtable on indigenous peoples and international law.

Indigenous groups and NGOs campaigning to delay what they see as a deeply flawed policy were encouraged by the postponement. However they voiced concerns that Johnson’s letter appears to confirm fears that the policy will not be strengthened in any significant way on land rights, free and prior informed consent and prohibition of Bank funding for involuntary resettlement.

In what some critics read as an attempt to buy support, the Bank launched the Indigenous Peoples Grant Facility in July in a side event at the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations.