Voice

Are human rights too political for the World Bank?

Human Rights Watch's Jessica Evans argues here that the World Bank needs to insist that recipients of its loans respect basic human rights:

[New World Bank president Jim] Kim should lead the World Bank to work tenaciously to open space for civil society and the media, and to promote government accountability.The Bank seemed to start down this path last April when Robert Zoellick, the outgoing president, reflected on the Arab Spring in a landmark speech that affirmed the importance of civic participation and social accountability in development. But despite ripples at the most senior levels of its Washington headquarters, Bank staff did not seem to learn the lesson. When Human Rights Watch warned Bank staff that the military government was closing space for civil society in Egypt this year, we were told that this issue was too political for the World Bank to touch.

This is particularly troubling as the Bank has also announced that it wants to increasingly fund civil society. But it is difficult to see how this would work if the Bank is not willing to speak out to make sure civil society can operate in countries where the Bank works. How would the Bank do this in Ethiopia, where authorities have used intimidation, laws, and violence to silence independent groups? The Bank needs to tell governments consistently not to intimidate or silence civil society if it wants its new program to work.

The World Bank's conception of what is "political"--and therefore beyond its remit--has changed significantly over time. For much of its existence, the Bank deemed corruption too political; that has now changed. In theory, there's no reason human rights couldn't make a similar migration. But there are powerful political and institutional obstacles. The Bank and the IMF are in the process of giving greater voting power and institutional influence to emerging powers--several of whom have no desire to see the Bank meddling on rights issues.    

The Multilateralist

Report: ASEAN forges ahead with human rights declaration

The Associated Press is reporting that ASEAN will move ahead with a planned human rights declaration even in the face of objections from key UN officials and human rights organizations:

Southeast Asian leaders plan to adopt a human rights declaration aimed at fighting torture and illegal arrests in a region notorious for violations, despite calls for a postponement by rights groups which say the pact falls short of international standards.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are scheduled to formally adopt the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration on Sunday during the group's annual summit in Cambodia, according to diplomats and documents obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday....

However, more than 60 international rights group urged ASEAN leaders on Thursday to postpone the adoption of the declaration and have it redrafted to correct flaws, including the removal of provisions that could limit rights in the name of "national security" or "public morality."

Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch said the declaration "as written, does not meet international human rights standards and may, we fear, be used by ASEAN governments to justify violating rights."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay earlier expressed concerns that the nonbinding declaration was drafted without adequate public consultations.

Pillay elaborated her dissatisfaction with the ASEAN draft at the recent Bali Democracy Forum, where she said that the document "will only serve to undermine the respect and ownership that such an important declaration deserves."