Local communities affected by development projects too often face reprisals when they speak out against disruptions to their lives. With development aid surging globally, now is the time for major financiers like the World Bank to require a commitment from recipients to protect human rights.
PARIS – International financial institutions, including the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other regional development and investment banks, have increasingly emphasized the importance of participation, good governance, and accountability in the countries where they disburse funds. Added scrutiny from these institutions is welcome, because development finance can be a powerful tool for safeguarding human rights, so long as the communities it most affects have a say in how it is put to use.
Unfortunately, while there is a surge in new development financing around the world, especially in energy and infrastructure projects, there is also an uptick in efforts by governments to restrict freedom of expression, association, and assembly. In this environment, when human-rights defenders speak out, they often come under threat. By one count, activists were threatened in more than 109 countries in 2015.
Why would members of a community that receives development aid object to it? In many cases, they do so because investments undertaken in the name of development can disrupt the actual needs of local populations, are imposed against the population’s will, can expose members of the affected community to serious human-rights risks, and can damage the local ecosystem.