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Protesters on World Bank projects harassed, jailed, rights group says

Published by Business Insider on Tue, 23 Jun 2015

By Stella DawsonWASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Critics of development projects are harassed, threatened and jailed, yet the World Bank does little to stop governments and powerful companies from intimidating protesters on projects it funds, a watchdog group said.The World Bank prefers quiet conversations with governments behind closed doors over using its considerable leverage to publicly shame countries that fail to respect basic rights to freedom of speech and assembly, Human Rights Watch said on Monday in a report on reprisals against protesters.It urged World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to speak out in defense of activists' democratic rights and accountability, saying these are ideals the bank espouses but fails to uphold on its projects."We need a clear message from the top," Jessica Evans, a senior researcher, said in a telephone interview.The World Bank is in the midst of overhauling the social and environmental safeguards attached to its lending, including improvements to community consultations and grievance processes.It said in a statement that it often works in complex political and social environments, but when charges of reprisals are made, it works within its mandate to review them."We have strong policies and mechanisms that address many concerns raised by human rights advocacy groups and civil society, and we are open to dialogue on improvements," a World Bank spokesman said.Human Rights Watch called for a more aggressive approach toward protecting dissent and confronting repressive regimes, especially as more governments crack down on non-governmental organizations they accuse of being "anti-development".Activists from poor and marginalized communities in particular take extraordinary risks when they question the impact of large-scale development projects, which can rob them of their homes, livelihoods and clean water, it said."Too often, people live in a climate of intimidation that dissuades them from participating in public discourse about projects that will have profound and lasting impacts on their lives," the report said.Those who protest face a backlash.In Cambodia, security forces arrested eight people after 20 households painted "SOS" on their rooftops to protest forced evictions for the expansion of Phnom Penh international airport.In Uganda, the government began brutally removing residents,in violation of a High Court order, to make way for pine and eucalyptus plantations.Although the World Bank brokered a settlement with the forest company, Ugandan activists reported being followed and getting telephone calls to "back off", while one woman faced threats that her children would be kidnapped."The World Bank Group has not taken meaningful steps toward creating an enabling environment for participation andaccountability when it finances projects in countries that are closing or have effectively closed civil society space or routinely punish dissent," the report said.Human Rights Watch researched cases in Cambodia, India, Uganda and Uzbekistan, and reviewed complaints filed with the World Bank's Inspection Panel and Compliance Advisor Ombudsman since 2000.Of the 34 activists who responded to Human Rights Watch requests to discuss their cases, 18 said they faced some form of reprisals.(Reporting by Stella Dawson, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)Join the conversation about this story
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