Civil society calls for more protection of human rights defenders in development as IFC publishes position

6 December 2018

In October, the International Finance Corporation (IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank) released a statement expressing its position on client retaliation against civil society and project stakeholders. According to the text, the “IFC does not tolerate any action by an IFC client that amounts to retaliation – including threats, intimidation, harassment, or violence – against those who voice their opinion regarding the activities of IFC or our clients. We take seriously any credible allegations of reprisals.”

The statement came after Defenders in Development, a campaign launched in 2016 by the Coalition of Human Rights in Development, published an open letter condemning increased violence against human rights and development campaigners (HRDs). According to international NGO Global Witness, 2017 was the deadliest on record for land and environmental defenders, as “at least 207 land and environmental defenders were killed…indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists [were] murdered trying to protect their homes and communities from mining, agribusiness and other destructive industries.”

The coalition welcomed the IFC’s statement, but implored development institutions like the World Bank to develop more specific procedures, in particular in the context of its ongoing push for privatisation through its Maximising Finance for Development approach (see Observer Summer 2017). As noted by Gretchen Gordon, of Defenders in Development, “We urge the IFC to develop a comprehensive and detailed approach to this issue that integrates not just the assessment of reprisal risks, and addressing risks as they arise, but proactive engagement to prevent reprisals, robust human rights due diligence, reprisal-sensitive stakeholder engagement, and a response protocol so that when threats and reprisals materialize the institution is positioned to respond in a timely and effective manner to minimize and remedy harm, and to prevent future attacks.”