New Orleans The World Bank, a joint financing project invariably led by an American, but amalgamating many countries resources for major, and sometimes controversial, public works and other investments in developing countries particularly, is big bucks. If you want to build a power plant, a dam, a railroad, or anything in the billions, your country’s delegation is going to apply for a visa and start packing for a trip to Washington, DC to appeal for funds. Let’s agree from the onset that the World Bank has the purse strings so it has a big stick in stirring the drink and making stuff happen.
Human Rights Watch has issued a report called “At Your Own Risk” running almost 150 pages and documenting cases in countries from India to Cambodia, Uganda to Uzbekistan, and around the globe where despite their own rules, demanding community engagement and a direct process for complaints and grievances, they have allowed critics of World Bank funded projects to be harassed, imprisoned, and abused with impunity. A story cited in India is standard. Dam projects in India have been battlegrounds for more than a decade on any number of grounds, so the World Bank is fully aware that any project of this nature they fund is going to be controversial.
Human Rights cited a recent example that is as good as any:
Beginning in February 2015, 40-50 residents of Durgapur village in northern India, mostly women, sat in protest for more than a month. A state-owned company called the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd. (THDC) was developing a hydroelectric power project near their community and some villagers believed that tunneling for the project endangered their homes and the overall well-being of their community. The women and their children sat all day in protest, singing folk songs that gave voice to their worries regarding the future, as well as songs of courage and hope.
Seems like standard fare and no big deal in the world’s largest democracy, as India styles itself, and certainly a country that has a long history of dealing with much harder edged protests and demonstrations. But in this case the women were harassed, threatened with reprisals, personally attacked, and abused. Human Rights and just plain common sense raises the question, “Why does the World Bank allow this kind of activity?”
Human Rights Watch had a multi-paged list of recommendations for the World Bank, its management, shareholders, and the countries involved about doing better. More training, more consultations, more serious attention to complaints, and so forth.
Strangely missing was the one recommendation that would have real meaning: cut the money off!
If you have a big stick, use it! Not just to dig dirt, block water, or whatever but also to protect speech, assembly and the basic rights of communities on the wrong end of these high-faluting developments.
What’s with the World Bank? Can’t they really stand for something besides interest rates and repayments schedules? Can’t they stand for the voiceless as well as the big whoops among the politicians and rich developers where their projects are being built? And, why are we – and Human Rights Watch – biting our tongue and not demanding that they cut the money off, if basic rights of people and communities are not respected?
Shaming isn’t enough. They need to step up or shut down.
Pete Seeger – This Land is Your Land