World Bank Accountability on Forced Resettlements Must be a Priority at Its Spring Meetings
Oakland, CA—World Bank accountability on forced resettlements resulting from its programs must be front and center at its spring meetings, taking place this week in Washington DC.
Between 2004 and 2013, nearly 3.4 million people were physically or economically displaced due to World Bank programs in the developing world. In recent years, Bank-funded projects have resulted in forced evictions and human rights abuses in Uganda, Honduras, Cambodia,Peru, and Kenya, amongst other countries. While the Bank has acknowledged failures around resettlement, insufficient action has been taken to address the situation.
In Ethiopia, the Bank recently launchedEnhancing Shared Prosperity through Equitable Services (ESPES), which replaces the decade-long, Bank-funded Promoting Basic Services(PBS) program. For years, the PBS program was associated with human rights abuses and the forced relocation of indigenous communities while paving the road for large-scale land grabs in Ethiopia. These issues were highlighted in a report by the Bank's own independent Inspection Panel in 2015. Rather than addressing these grave concerns, the Bank chose to launch an almost identical initiative under a new name—ESPES.
One of the most shocking aspects of ESPES is that it is not subject to World Bank safeguards, including the Involuntary Resettlement and Indigenous Peoples Policies. Safeguards exist to protect indigenous groups against resettlement abuses and harm. With ESPES, the Bank has opted to not use its safeguards and instead relies on Ethiopian Government's own institutions and legal structures to prevent social harm. This flawed approach ignores the fact that the Ethiopian Government routinely uses its laws, such as the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, to arrest critics including journalists, land rights defenders, and political opposition members. The fact that ESPES is not subject to these key safeguards is appalling and irresponsible.
Also shocking is the revelation that the US Treasury violated several congressional laws by voting in favor of ESPES. Since 2014, the annual Appropriations Bills have explicitly instructed the US Treasury to vote against any activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Ethiopia. Despite the history of linkages between ESPES's precursor program and forced evictions, the US voted in favor of the new program.
It is appalling that the World Bank, whose mandate is to alleviate poverty, overlooks the forced relocation of millions of farmers, rural communities, and indigenous people, resulting from its policies and programs. Government officials meeting in Washington DC must call on the Bank to take responsibility and address land rights and human rights violations in Ethiopia and around the world.