“The World Bank is a Human Rights-Free Zone” – UN expert on extreme poverty expresses deep concern

29 September 2015

Photo by NYU School of Law

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has called on the World Bank World Bank
WB
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 180 members in 1997), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

http://worldbank.org
and its member States to adopt a new and consistent approach to human rights.

For most purposes, the World Bank World Bank
WB
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 180 members in 1997), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

http://worldbank.org
is currently a human rights-free zone. In its operational policies, in particular, it treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations
,” Alston says in a new report* published online on the approach to human rights by the World Bank, the most important international actor on poverty alleviation.

The report, which will be officially presented to the UN General Assembly on 23 October, explains that the biggest single obstacle to better integrate human rights into the work of the World Bank is “the anachronistic and inconsistent interpretation of the ‘political prohibition’ contained in the Bank’s Articles of Agreement.”

“They invoke the Articles of Agreement, which were adopted in 1945, and argue that this clause not to interfere in States’ political affairs effectively prohibits the Bank from engaging with issues of human rights,” the expert says.

However, he stresses, “these Articles were written more than 70 years ago, when there was no international catalogue of human rights, no specific treaty obligations upon States, and not a single international institution addressing these issues.”

In his report, Alston notes that –despite their legal arguments– the World Bank’s real reason to avoid dealing with human rights is clearly political.

“Western countries, cheered on by Western civil society, have often pushed the Bank to sanction developing countries with a poor human rights record by delaying or withholding development loans to those countries. Countries that borrow money from the Bank, or member states that are critical of human rights, don’t want the World Bank to turn into a ‘human rights cop’ that meddles in their internal affairs,” he explains.

For the Special Rapporteur, all these approaches are misguided. “World Bank member States from all parts of the world are to blame,” he says.

“The use of the human rights framework makes an enormous difference, which is exactly why the Bank is so resistant to using it,” the expert notes, stressing that human rights invoke the legal obligations that States have agreed upon and brings a degree of normative certainty. “Even more importantly, the language of rights recognizes the dignity and agency of all individuals.”

“It is striking how little thought has been given to what a World Bank human rights policy might look like in practice. It is now time for World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to take the initiative”, Alston says in his report. “But World Bank member states also have a responsibility: they should begin to grapple seriously with what a World Bank human rights policy should look like, and they should start doing that today!”

The UN Special Rapporteur will spend the next few weeks talking to the World Bank and its member states about his recommendations, before the official presentation of his report to the UN General Assembly in New York.

(*) Read the full report: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view...

- See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/...


Philip Alston (Australia) took office as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014, following his appointment by the Human Rights Council. He is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Mr. Alston has previously served the UN in several capacities including as Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, as well as chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

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