Indigenous peoples lodge complaint over Bangladesh World Bank project

26 September 2016

In late August, indigenous peoples from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh submitted a complaint to the World Bank’s accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel (IPN), regarding the Chittagong Port–Thegamukh connectivity project, which forms part of the World Bank-funded Bangladesh Trade and Transport Studies RETF project. The project includes a Bank-funded feasibility study looking at options to connect the border of India with Chittagong port, through the Chittagong Hill Tracts, but the complaint argued that the area along the project’s proposed routes “includes several crucial watersheds and fragile eco zones”, as well as “a number of sites that are of high cultural value to the communities.” According to the complaint the area is recognised by law as a “tribal inhabited region”, but the Bank’s operational policy on indigenous peoples, including the principle of “free, prior, informed consultation”, was not applied. The request to investigate the project is currently under consideration by the Inspection Panel. The complaint followed a June letter to the Bank, signed by 16 Bangladeshi organisations and 25 individuals, which raised concerns about breaches of Bank policies, including land issues and lack of meaningful consultation.

In mid-September indigenous people’ organisations submitted a position paper regarding the project’s compliance with the Bank’s safeguard policies, following a review of project documents and community consultations. Prabindra Shakya of NGO Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact said: “The position paper details how not only the government of Bangladesh has failed to comply with the Bank’s relevant safeguard policies but the Bank also has failed in its duty to supervise and ensure the compliance of its safeguards. It will be unfortunate and perilous if the project is carried on without addressing those concerns of the indigenous peoples.”