World Bank accountability mechanisms look to improve complainant protection

29 June 2016

In March the Inspection Panel (IPN, the World Bank’s accountability mechanism) released its new Guidelines to reduce retaliation risks and respond to retaliation during the Panel process. In its guidelines the IPN notes that it has “experienced cases in which affected people have felt pressured during the Panel process” and that “people who come to the Inspection Panel are often poor and/or vulnerable and lack voice or influence.” The guidelines focus on risk assessment, mitigation measures, such as suspending contact with complainants, and on the Panel’s response to retaliation. A June 2015 report by human rights NGO Human Rights Watch documented a number of such cases, including in Uzbekistan and in India (see Observer Summer 2015).

In April, following the release of the IPN guidelines, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the accountability mechanism for the International Finance Corporation and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (the World Bank’s private sector arms) initiated a process of consultation on their approach to complainant protection. As part of its consultation process, the CAO released a draft document for stakeholder feedback. The public consultation period has been extended to 15 July.

The release of both documents takes place within the context of the shrinking of civil society space globally and increased violence against human rights defenders (see Observer Spring 2016), a trend that has been recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Writing for UK newspaper the Guardian in June, in the wake of recent assassinations of environmental defenders, three UN special rapporteurs on human rights called on international financial institutions to “explicitly tie their continuing support for development projects to the implementation of safeguards for human rights, including rights of freedom of expression and association.”

In June, echoing concerns about the safety of human and environmental rights defenders, over 130 international civil society organisations, including Khpal Kore Organization (KKO) from Pakistan and Proyecto Tarahumara Sustentable from Mexico, called “on all international financial institutions to ensure that the activities they finance respect human rights and that there are spaces for people to participate in the development of IFI projects and hold IFIs to account without risking their security.”