Posts Tagged ‘World Bank’


Guatemala: Spanish Company Hidro Santa Cruz Denounced Before the World Bank


In April 2015, Cecilia Mérida, the partner of an environmental defender who was arrested and falsely charged and imprisoned in Guatemala testified at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.  She spoke of the damage being inflicted by the Bank’s financing of the Cambalam hydroelectric dam in the municipality of Barillas, Huehuetenango. She testified to the strategies of criminalization being employed by the Guatemalan government and the dam’s Spanish owner – Hidro Santa Cruz – in an attempt to silence local opposition. She spoke first hand about the impacts on families and communities when leaders are illegally detained and imprisoned for months, or even years on end.

The World Bank continues to be a major funder of resource extraction companies around the world, loaning hundreds of millions of dollars each year to companies working in the global South who are unable to guarantee that these investments are not contributing to human rights violations. The tragic situation in Santa Cruz Barillas is an example of this systemic problem: the Inter-American Infrastructure Finance Corporation (CIFI), a US-based private sector lender funded in part by the World Bank, loaned Hidro Santa Cruz more than $8 million for the construction of dam.

Since 2009, Hidro Santa Cruz has been planning a series of dams on the Q’am B’alam river that surrounds the town of Santa Cruz Barillas. The river and its three waterfalls are considered sacred by the Q’anjob’al community, whose ancestors named the river “yellow tiger” in the Q’anjobal language after the animal that was said to drink from its waters. The project would be installed in an area used by the community for ceremonial, recreational, and agricultural purposes. The project will also have significant impacts on the already fragile natural environment. A study by the International Commission on Tropical Biology and Natural Resources found the area of Barillas to be of the highest priority for conservation efforts within Guatemala. Barillas is home to many amphibian and insect species found nowhere else in the world.

The community has twice held referenda and voted unequivocally to reject the exploitation of its natural resources by transnational companies. Nevertheless, the government approved the Cambalam I dam, without the Free, Prior, Informed Consent of the community. To date, 18 men have been arrested after speaking out against the dam, including Cecilia’s partner Ruben Herrera, and have been held imprisoned for up to 8 months at time before eventually they are released to do lack of any evidence of having committed crime. Two men have been killed, one, Andres Francisco Miguel, was shot at by security guards of the company in 2012, and another, teacher Daniel Pedro Mateo,was kidnapped while on his way to a community meeting training environmental defenders in 2013.

Below is the statement by Cecilia Mérida before the World Bank.  (read the original Spanish testimony, here)

I am Cecilia Mérida. I come from the department of Huehuetenango in Guatemala where the town of Santa Cruz Barillas is situated. The Spanish company, Hidralia Ecoener, came to Santa Cruz Barillas in 2008 to begin a hydroelectric project above the Cambalan River on the outskirts of the town. This was carried out without consulting with the population of the town. Hidralia Ecoener has received financing from the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Inter-American Corporation for Infrastructure Financing (ICIF). I am responding on behalf of everyone affected by the hydro project to various questions posed by Oxfam’s report for example: What are the consequences for people on the ground who have been affected by the projects, financed with this money that has come from so far away?

Hidralia Ecoener, incorporated as Hidro Santa Cruz S.A, insisted on the implementation of their project even though the population of Barillas held a community consultation in good faith in 2007, where they decided to protect their lands and territories in the framework of Collective Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The company hired local staff to oversee technical and political control of community organisation. In November 2009, the company sued eight community leaders including my lifelong companion, Rubén Herrera, Mr Pablo Antonio Pablo, and Saúl Méndez. This initiated the practice of prosecuting community leaders with crimes such as: burglary, coercion, threats, aggravated arson, actions against the security of the state, plagiarism, kidnapping, and terrorism.

This gave rise to social unrest in the town and there continued to be violations of human rights. All those who did not support the interests of Hidro Santa Cruz endured acts of intimidation, persecution and criminalisation. In 2011, Rubén Herrera was forced to leave Santa Cruz Barillas, abandoning his work and his involvement with the youth in the town. (abandonando su trabajo y procesos de acompañamiento social a la juventud del municipio.) Towards the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, the conflict escalated to such a degree that the government of Guatemala declared a state of siege in Santa Cruz Barillas, and was able to suppress opposition to the hydro project and facilitate the continuation of Hidro Santa Cruz’s work. The campesino leader, Andrés Francisco Miguel was murdered on May 1st 2012, in an act directed at Pablo Antonio Pablo, who was seriously wounded. The security guards of the company participated in this armed attack and they were acquitted by the Guatemalan courts a year later.

In the wake of the events of May 1st 2012, 17 illegal detentions of community leaders occurred, including Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez. Nine were imprisoned unjustly for nine months, and none of them were proved to be guilty. Rubén Herrera was arrested on March 15th 2013, on demand from Hidro Santa Cruz. He was in prison for three months and was finally released on February 26th 2014 because the Judge considered that there had not been any cause to remain bound to the process. (el Juez consideró que no había causa alguna para mantenerlo ligado a proceso.)

In August 2013, Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez were captured again, accused of murder, femicide and lynching. Those of us in their defence are convinced that this case was assembled by operators of Hidro Santa Cruz, as part of its strategy to criminalise community leadership. After a corrupt trial, they were sentenced to 33 years in prison. Currently the case is under Special Appeal.

In September 2013 another community leader called Mynor López was captured illegally. Later that month, the Guatemalan army and the National Civil Police practically launched a military offensive against the civil population of Santa Cruz Barillas. This has never been seen before, not even during the internal armed conflict, at least not in this municipality.

In February 2015, three other community leaders were detained and imprisoned. Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan and Arturo Pablo (son of Pablo Antonio Pablo). They share the beliefs of everyone else who I have mentioned because they think that the presence of Hidro Santa Cruz is detrimental, and that it will seriously affect the natural surroundings, environment and culture of the area.

After seven years of persecution, the Spanish company and their methods of project installation, gave responses to the questions posed by Oxfam’s report. (Después de siete años de persecución, la empresa española Hidro Santa Cruz y las formas de instalación de sus proyectos, dan respuestas a las preguntas que plantea el informe de OXFAM.)

What are the human costs of loans from financial intermediaries when social and environmental safeguards do not work? The human costs are very high and painful. They materialise as persecution, murder, imprisonment and criminalisation. During the last few years, the communities have not received a single benefit. On the contrary, they have left a peaceful and quiet life for one of fear and terror. All of the energy and human potential has not been devoted to working towards local development from our own perspectives and aspirations; instead we have had to defend ourselves from the abuses of the company, Hidro Santa Cruz.

The human costs materialise in suffering families, wives, and children, due to illness and insecurity. We devote our lives and what little we have, to travel to the prison which is more than 400 miles away, where we seek private rooms with our spouses. All of the communities in this conflict are innocent and yet, it is us who suffer from the effects of bank loans which were thought to “produce development”. For us, the pain and suffering “is the human face of these projects”. We live with the real consequences each day as well as being, as Oxfam’s report indicated, “the poorest and most vulnerable people in developing countries”.

We also have questions: Who will pay us all of the costs that we have had to suffer, for a project that our community never asked for? Will it be the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, ICIF, or Hidro Santa Cruz who are going to compensate us for all the economic, social, and organisational damages which have resulted? Who will return to the families, the years which men have spent in prison?  We know that none of those who have died will come back to us.

Source: Cultural Survival


World Bank Safeguards Violated

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 4.25.45 PM

The World Bank’s Inspection Panel (IP), which monitors the Bank’s compliance with its own policies, has identified an “operational link” between the Bank’s provision of support to Ethiopia for basic services, and the country’s “villagization” (forced relocation) of Indigenous Peoples. The Bank refutes this connection, claiming that “the allegations raised…are matters that are not related to compliance with Bank policy.”

Another recent IP report acknowledged the Bank’s role in the Kenya Forest Service’s (KFS) eviction of the Sengwer Peoples from the Embobut Forest. The IP identified no direct link between Bank funding and the evictions, but found that the Bank “was noncompliant with its safeguard policies…by failing to adequately identify, address or mitigate the fact that the institution it was funding, KFS, was and still remains committed to [evicting the Sengwer].”

Debates surrounding the revision of language in the Bank’s safeguards are important, but the Bank also must be scrutinized for how it applies its safeguards to its due diligence and risk analysis processes. The IP’s findings reveal major weaknesses in this area.

Sources: Anuak Media, Forest Peoples Programme


This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Canadian Industry Lags Behind in Human Rights

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published January 14, 2015

By Emily Sanders

Despite the reputation held by Canada for its comparatively respectful human rights practices, the country’s recent actions in Indigenous territories both at home and abroad has caused Vancouver businesses to gain notoriety in Latin America as the worst in the extractive industry. Both in terms of environmental degradation and human rights violations, the Canadian government has failed to prevent the corrupt behaviors of its extractive industries —the result of lacking policy standards and enforcement on the part of the Canadian government.

According to the World Bank’s Corrupt Companies Blacklist, a condemning list of firms banned from doing business with the World Bank due to their chronic malpractice, Canada is the reigning offender, providing 117 businesses out of the 600 listed. Efforts by the Canadian government to address such transgressions on indigenous land have been particularly poor, even after communities, UN bodies, and environmental reports call for attention to this matter.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

In Guatemala, Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine has repeatedly violated human rights and has been called on to close operations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the International Labor Organization, the Catholic Church, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, multiple advocacy organizations both locally and internationally, and even the president of Guatemala. A study by the University of Michigan has shown elevated levels of aluminum, manganese and cobalt are at problematic levels within public drinking and irrigation water sources downstream from the mine.  When the company first bought properties and land in Guatemala, citizens were not informed that it was a mining industry, but rather were made vague promises of community development. Since then, despite multiple violent altercations, the murder of Guatemalan citizen Alvaro Sanchez by the mine’s workers during a heated discussion over the company’s destruction of his homeland, and collapsing social fabric in the community, the Canadian firm has continued operations. Similarly negligent are the proposed plans for an open-pit silver mine by the Canadian company First Majestic Silver. In this project the Indigenous Wixarika people of Mexico face the destruction of their most sacred mountain, a site destination of traditional pilgrimage for over one thousand years, along with decimation of the region’s unparalleled biodiversity found in the Wirikuta Biosphere Nature Reserve.

Such astounding failure to practice environmental responsibility and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities has cost extractive industries more than just their reputation. In 2014, prices and earnings plummeted drastically for these Vancouver-based industries, many of which were forced to suspend or cease operations after failing to comply with environmental regulations.

One such case, involving Vancouver company Taseko Mines Limited, represents a cautionary tale for what is at stake when companies ignore Indigenous Peoples’ land rights. The company’s proposal to create the so called ‘’Prosperity’’ gold and copper mine had already been denied by an environmental review board because of its plans to dump toxic tailings into Teztan Biny, a lake home to a population of about 85,000 rainbow trout and used by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation People of Canada for traditional hunting, fishing, cultural, and spiritual ceremonies. Investing this time to propose an alternative tailings pond two kilometers upstream from the lake this “New Prosperity Mine” was rejected, again, after an environmental review and sustained protest by the Tsilhqot’in people. The Tsilhqot’in then succeeded ingaining title rights to land they have traditionally used in Canada’s Supreme Court—a hugely significant step forward on their decades long fight for the rights to their land under Canadian law.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Unfortunately, Canada’s reaction to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples’ in September 2014 seemed to lash back against this Supreme Court decision. Despite having endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,Canada singularly refuted the right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, fearing the sovereignty it would allow to First Nations against intrusive business. It argued that Free Prior Informed Consent is a veto of the sovereignty of parliaments. “[That idea] is a complete misrepresentation of what the whole document is about and what free and prior informed consent is about,” commented Les Malezer, the Indigenous co-advisor of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  “Despite the fact that they said they support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, if they don’t support the right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent they don’t understand or accept self-determination,” says Malezer.

Canada’s supposition that its federal government equally represents the interests of indigenous people as those of other Canadians is faulty, considering that along with many other nations, its established institutions inherently exclude indigenous interests and lifestyles. Chief Perry Bellegarde, now President of the Canadian Assembly of First Nations, in his address to the General Assembly at the UN in 2014, said Canada’s recent push for restricting indigenous rights, by allowing mere “consultation’’ rather than ‘’consent’’ is a misinterpretation of the Declaration, as well as a direct contradiction to its own Supreme Court decision. “In the Tsilhqot’in Nation Supreme Court of Canada decision, Canada’s Supreme Court used the term ‘consent’ in nine paragraphs and the ‘right to control’ the land in eleven paragraphs. The Court added that the ‘right to control’ means ‘consent’ must be obtained from Aboriginal titleholders,” asserted Bellegarde. As the only State to refuse Free, Prior and Informed consent to Indigenous peoples, Canada’s statements reflect a hesitation to commit to widely accepted human rights standards, in favor of negligent business.

There has, however, been an increasing recognition of crimes against First Nations by extractive industries, both domestically and abroad, in Canadian courts. In North-eastern Quebec and Labrador, the Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John successfully brought a 900 million dollar lawsuit against the Iron Ore Company of Canada. Operated by Rio Tinto, the “IOC megaproject” had refused to cooperate with offerings by the tribe for peaceful negotiation and cooperative settlement since the 1950s, when its serial violations against Indigenous rights were initiated. In El Estor, Guatemala, the gruesome violations of human rights against the Indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ by Hudbay Minerals have been acknowledged by an Ontario court and will proceed to trial in Canadian court. The three cases arose in response to a murder, a shooting, and the gang-rape of 11 Indigenous women committed by security workers during the forced relocation of their village from ancestral lands by Skye Resources, another Canadian mining company which later merged with HudBay Minerals. Such emblematic victories for Indigenous rights will hopefully pioneer the path towards adequate punishment of inhumane action and wrongful expulsion by extractive industries in the higher courts.

Learn more about efforts to regulate Canadian mining companies at Mining Watch Canada.

Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about. To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.


World Bank Incentivizes Governments to Violate UNDRIP

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized the World Bank’s draft Safeguard Policies for “going out of their way to avoid any meaningful references to human rights.” Among its criticisms is the fact that the safeguards now require Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples, but “it is not clear whether the processes prescribed…to obtain such consent meet the standards required by international human rights laws.” Furthermore, the safeguards enable borrowers to “opt out” of the FPIC requirement, ostensibly to “facilitate projects in countries where the existence or the notion of Indigenous Peoples is contested. However, the ability of borrower countries to effectively choose whether or not to recognize Indigenous Peoples appears incompatible with the fundamental purpose of UNDRIP…[and] may also undermine progress achieved in recognizing and implementing the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples in certain regions of the world.”

By proposing weaker lending criteria for countries that do not recognize Indigenous Peoples, the Bank is incentivizing governments to violate UNDRIP. This has serious consequences not only for Indigenous Peoples, but for companies with investments in emerging markets, as the Indigenous Rights Risk Report demonstrates an unmistakable correlation between Country Risk and risk to the private sector.


This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Why the World Bank’s New Environmental and Social Safeguards Are A Step Back for Indigenous Peoples

In response to the World Bank’s release of their new Environmental and Social Safeguards (ESS) draft in July 2014, 360 civil society organizations issued a statement of objection to the draft, as it fell far short of the rules needed to protect the environment and respect the rights of affected communities, workers, and indigenous peoples. Below is excerpted commentary on the ESS draft by the Bank Information Center (BIC), an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability in the governance and operations of the World Bank Group.

The draft Environmental and Social Framework…

Undermines the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Allowing borrowers to “opt out” of implementing the proposed Indigenous Peoples standard would directly undermine successive and hard-fought battles by indigenous peoples at the national, regional and international levels to have their rights recognized and respected, and thus contradict their rights to self-determination and collective ownership of lands, territories and resources. This would constitute a massive dilution of current World Bank safeguard protections and undermine the credibility of the world’s most prominent development finance institution.

The World Bank’s intention to allow our governments, which have marginalized our communities for decades, to decide whether we are indigenous or not would severely undermine our fundamental human rights and weaken the limited protections we currently have. This approach would completely contradict the growing recognition of our rights, and must not be allowed to happen.”

Adrien Sinafasi Makelo, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Does not meaningfully address climate change. Despite the Bank’s prominence in warning of the dangers that a warming world poses to development, the draft includes only sporadic mention of climate change. The draft does not ensure that projects are in-line with national climate plans, nor does it have clear requirements for assessing and managing the impacts of climate change on the viability of projects or the resilience of ecosystems or local communities in project areas. At the same time, the draft fails to require assessments of greenhouse gas emissions for all high-emission projects or to take steps to reduce emissions.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 12.20.32 PM

Tramples the rights and threatens the welfare of communities subject to forced displacement. The draft eliminates the fundamental development objective of the resettlement policy and the key measures essential to preventing impoverishment and protecting the rights of people uprooted from their homes, lands, productive activities and jobs to make way for Bank projects. The draft allows the Bank to finance projects that entail the physical and economic displacement of communities without first ensuring that there is a reconstruction plan and budget available to ensure adequate compensation, sound physical resettlement, economic recovery and improvement. This would be an unconscionable regression in Bank policy that will result in the large-scale impoverishment of affected people and exacerbate inequality, in flagrant contradiction of the Bank’s mandate and goals. The draft also fails to ensure a transparent accounting at project completion that no displaced people end up worse off than without the Bank project.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 12.10.58 PM

Eliminates protections for forests and forest-dependent peoples. The newly rebranded biodiversity standard establishes a single-minded focus on species biodiversity at the expense of ecological integrity and the local communities dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and cultural survival. Far from safeguarding forests and other natural habitats, the biodiversity standard permits projects in previous ‘no-go’ areas and provides loopholes for logging, while the standard’s heavy reliance on biodiversity offsetting leaves no natural areas off the table for destructive interventions. The draft must strengthen protections for the natural resources that the majority of people living in extreme poverty depend on.

“The Bank must not rely on national legal frameworks without independent assessment in order to ensure the rights of Indigenous Peoples are protected in its activities. Under international law, Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral land rights are an inherent right, established by their customs and practices, and are not dependent on national law.”
Amnesty International

Fails to protect and promote land rights. Despite the growing land-grabbing crisis displacing countless indigenous communities, small farmers, fisher-folk and pastoralists throughout the Global South, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land-grabs. While the Bank pledged that the new safeguards would be informed by the Committee for World Food Security’s ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries’, the draft fails to strengthen protection of the land rights of poor and vulnerable groups. Instead, it undermines them in many ways, such as by excluding the application of the land and resettlement standard to projects concerning land titling and land use planning.

“Not only does the draft Framework fail to include a comprehensive set of safeguard standards on land tenure and land rights, as is acutely needed, alarmingly, it actually acts to narrow the scope of the current policies and weaken land rights protections for poor and vulnerable groups.”
Joint civil society input on ESS5, endorsed by 97 civil society groups and 17 individuals

To learn more about the Environmental and Social Safeguards and the World Bank, visit 


World Bank Makes Killing Indigenous Peoples More Profitable

The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework draft neglects Indigenous rights

Washington, D.C. – Not only does the World Bank’s new Environment and Social Framework (ESF) draft incentivize governments to ignore Indigenous peoples, it strategically neglects Indigenous and human rights of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) and protection from forced evictions. Despite the Bank’s repeated “alignment” with international human rights laws and standards, the new ESF draft prioritizes rapid loan approval for borrower countries over protection of human rights, by allowing countries to “opt-out” of FPIC requirements if they do not recognize Indigenous peoples within their border. The neglect of Indigenous rights in the new ESF draft sends a clear and false message that protecting Indigenous peoples, let alone basic human rights, should drive up the cost of lending.

A set of environmental and social safeguards designed to support borrower countries’ Bank-funded projects, the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) draft was released for consultation on July 30, 2014. A concerned letter from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHCR) accuses the World Bank of continually prioritizing rapid approval of loans over the enforcement of safeguards, likely due to increased competition from other lenders to secure the “business” of developing country borrowers. However, incentivizing governments to adopt poor engagement practices with Indigenous peoples is counter-intuitive: countries that have negligible or non-existent policies toward Indigenous peoples are found to pose a much higher business risk than those that do have Indigenous policies, according to a recent study by First Peoples Worldwide. The Bank is cultivating a more hostile environment, both for Indigenous communities and business, with this safeguard draft.

While the ESF draft does require borrower countries to obtain Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous communities, it allows countries to define who Indigenous peoples are to begin with. Countries where “the existence or notion of Indigenous peoples is contested” can choose to opt-out of the ESF’s FPIC requirements – essentially incentivizing governments with fewer standards to comply with if they choose to not recognize Indigenous peoples within their borders. If countries decide to opt-out, the piecemeal treatment of rights throughout the document fails to protect Indigenous rights under any other safeguard clause. Even if countries do comply with the FPIC requirement, the processes for acquiring FPIC outlined in the ESF draft don’t comply with international standards, and don’t require requesting parties to have meaningful consultations with or participation of affected Indigenous peoples.

The Bank also backpedaled on their land acquisition, restrictions on land use, and involuntary resettlement standards, particularly concerning for Indigenous peoples. While an existing standard (ESS5) states that involuntary resettlement should be avoided, the new ESF draft fails to prohibit projects that will cause forced evictions, and fails to recognize that forced evictions violate international human rights law. There is also no reference to the need for prior notice before resettlement, security of tenure, access to public services and facilities, and most alarmingly, no prohibition on use of bank funds for land grabbing and the consequent displacement of people.

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Moreover, the recent evictions of Sengwer peoples in Kenya due to a Bank-funded project demonstrate the Bank’s regard for Indigenous lives – that they have none. When a Bank-financed watershed conservation project in the Embobut Forest of Kenya resulted in forced evictions, the Sengwer community challenged the project through litigation in Kenyan courts and filed a complaint with the World Bank. “As the World Bank started to defy their own safeguards, the Sengwer started looking for ways to end the negative impacts the project was having on their community,” says Rebecca Adamson, president and founder of First Peoples Worldwide. “We’re all familiar with a race to the bottom in the business world, but now we are seeing it in the international aid world too.” The Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme is a grantee of First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund.

The ESF draft egregiously avoids significant mentions of human rights or international human rights law throughout most of the document. Although the Bank has aligned itself and its operations in support of human rights through its Articles of Agreement, the ESF fails to stipulate how. While the draft includes a new standard on Indigenous peoples rights, they are built into the document incrementally. The ESF draft does not include a comprehensive safeguard that addresses all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights collectively, as in other international human rights laws and standards. Furthermore, the human rights norms expressed in the ESF draft fail to reflect any existing human rights laws and standards, which may muddle implementation and enforcement. The UNHRC calls for the World Bank to include human rights within its overall program objectives, and incorporate due diligence into its risk management policies.

Read the UN Human Rights Council’s letter of concern here.


World Bank Pressured to Dilute Indigenous Peoples Policy

According to the Bank Information Center, some African governments are pressuring the World Bank into restricting application of its Indigenous Peoples Policy in Africa, arguing that the term “Indigenous” is not applicable to their countries. Doing so would reverse decades of progress made by Africa’s Indigenous Peoples to gain recognition, and accelerate the onslaught of land grabs, evictions, and other irresponsible development tactics on the continent. Indigenous identity in Africa is certainly complex, but there are communities that unquestionably fit the UN’s working definition of Indigenous Peoples. The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee has a network of more than 155 Indigenous organizations in 22 African countries.

The World Bank promised that the current overhaul of its social and environmental safeguards would not result in a dilution of its policies. Enabling African governments to “opt out” of its Indigenous Peoples Policy would violate that promise, and the implications would extend far beyond World Bank projects. Given the World Bank’s role as a global standard setter, this would allow governments and companies to justify continued disregard for the rights of some of the most marginalized communities in the world.

Sources: Huffington Post


World Bank Investigates Impacts on Indigenous Peoples

In July 2013, the World Bank will investigate whether its $1.4 billion investment in Ethiopia’s Promoting Basic Services Project (PBS) is resulting in the “villagization” (forced relocation) of Indigenous Peoples.  According to the Ethiopian government, the project is a voluntary process aiming to “increase access to basic services, improve food security, and bring socioeconomic and cultural transformation.”  Anuak communities are alleging that the project is resulting in forced population transfers and human rights violations, and that they are being removed from their fertile, ancestral lands to make way for foreign investment.  This violates Bank policies which require “free, prior, and informed consultation leading to broad community support” from Indigenous Peoples relocated by Bank-funded projects.

Also in July 2013, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) will audit its $18.2 million investment in Eco Oro Minerals (TSE:GSL) for a gold mine in the high altitude wetlands of Colombia, to ensure compliance with its Performance Standards.  Indigenous communities are claiming that the mine will rupture fragile ecosystems and pose security risks to the region.

Sources: Inclusive Development, MiningWatch


UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

From May 20 to May 31, over 2000 Indigenous Peoples from around the world gathered in New York for the twelfth annual session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).  UNPFII is the UN’s central coordinating body for matters pertaining to Indigenous Peoples.  It consists of sixteen independent experts appointed to three-year terms by governments and Indigenous organizations, acting as an official advisory body to the UN Economic and Social Council.  Throughout the session, UNPFII members heard from thousands of representatives from Indigenous communities and organizations about their rights, development, culture, health, environment, and education.

The impacts of economic development on Indigenous Peoples were important components to this year’s discussion.  The 2013 agenda featured an official session to discuss the impacts of extractive industries on Indigenous Peoples, with a special report on the mining boom in Australia.  Another session was held featuring over 30 delegates from five major multilateral lending institutions – the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank – to discuss the safeguards for Indigenous Peoples’ rights contained in their operating policies.  In addition, side sessions were held on land rights and FPIC by First Peoples Worldwide, Cultural Survival, and the International Land Coalition.

In addition to attending UNPFII and hearing firsthand accounts of Indigenous Peoples’ positive and negative experiences with corporations, First Peoples Worldwide hosted an event on corporate leadership and Indigenous Peoples.  The event was attended by both corporations (including Shell, Hess, Rio Tinto and Anadarko) and investors (including Boston Common Asset Management and Rockefeller and Company), and marked the first official convening of corporate leaders to discuss issues specific to Indigenous Peoples during UNPFII.  The workshop explored the value of direct and culturally-appropriate engagement with Indigenous communities, and highlighted methods of incorporating Indigenous values into contemporary business models.

UNPFII was established in response to concerns that existing UN structures lacked Indigenous representation and were not well-suited to comprehensively address Indigenous Peoples’ issues.  Discussions surrounding the creation of the forum began in the late 1980s, and several planning workshops were held throughout the 1990s.  In 1995, establishment of the forum became an objective of the first UN International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004).  The first session of UNPFII took place in May 2002.  UNPFII’s most notable achievement was the 2007 passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with widespread support from the UN General Assembly, which references Indigenous Peoples’ right to FPIC six times.


Ethiopia’s Development Agenda Threatens Indigenous Livelihoods

by Nick Pelosi on Making the Business Case

A January 2013 report published by International Rivers details the negative impacts that the Gilgel Gibe 3 Dam, currently under construction in Ethiopia’s Omo River, is expected to have on an estimated 500,000 Indigenous Peoples in the region.  Communities in the Omo Valley, including the  MursiSuriNyangatomDizi and Me’en, practice a sophisticated system of flood-retreat agriculture and seasonal grazing that allows them to gain subsistence with minimal environmental impacts and coexist with Ethiopia’s large wildlife population.  The dam will compromise the agricultural productivity of the communities’ land by curtailing the Omo River’s annual floods, thus jeopardizing food security and creating potential for conflict among communities over strained resources.

Flood-retreat cultivation on the Omo River (Source: International Rivers)

Flood-retreat cultivation on the Omo River (Source: International Rivers)

The dam will also disrupt the flood cycles and increase the salinity levels of Lake Turkana in neighboring Kenya, the world’s largest lake, to which the Omo River is a tributary.  The dam’s negative impacts will be further exacerbated if Ethiopia moves ahead with large-scale sugar plantations in the region, which will require significant water resources to be used for irrigation.  Salini Costruttori, the Italian firm constructing the dam, announced plans to release annual controlled floods that will “fully compensate” for the loss of natural floods.

The European Investment Bank (EIB), which considered funding the dam, commissioned an independent study finding that the controlled floods were planned without an adequate assessment of the problems they are intended to solve or their likely effectiveness.  International Rivers, Friends of Lake Turkana, and other civil society groups engaged with the EIB on behalf of the affected communities.  The EIB’s Statement of Environmental and Social Principles and Standards require companies to pay special attention to Indigenous Peoples’ sensitivity to changes in socioeconomic contexts brought about by development projects, and to adopt policies that reflect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  In 2010, the EIB announced that it would stop funding the dam.

International Rivers hailed the decision as a breakthrough for the affected communities and the environment, and called on the dam’s other potential funders, such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Italian government, to do the same.  The EIB later released a statement declaring that its decision was based on the Ethiopian government’s obtainment of alternative financing sources, rather than the results of social or environmental impact studies.  Regardless, the case exemplifies how negative impacts of development on Indigenous Peoples can be mitigated when projects receive funding from the growing number of multilateral lending institutions that have incorporated Indigenous Peoples’ rights into their operating guidelines.