World Bank Safeguard Policies

August 8, 2014

Proposed changes to World Bank safeguard policies will undermine decades of advances in indigenous peoples’ rights – Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK)

As the United Nations (UN), prepares to mark International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples tomorrow, August 9, the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples are now under greater threat by new policies being promoted by the World Bank, the international financial institution that provides funding for projects in developing countries.

The Bank has recently unveiled a new set of ‘safeguard’ policies, with which it is supposed to comply with to ensure that the billions of dollars it lends for projects such as roads, dams and logging schemes each year cause no harm to local people or the environment, and do not infringe their rights.

But whilst the Bank claims that it is “strengthening” these policies, the document reveals that it is introducing critical weakness –such as allowing borrowing states not to comply with special measures to protect indigenous peoples if they deem it to be too “sensitive”. The new ‘safeguards’ would not comply with internationally applicable standards already agreed by the United Nations, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), or ILO Convention No. 169. According to the UNDRIP, the United Nations and all its agencies (including the World Bank) should promote respect for and full application of the rights of indigenous peoples.

RFUK has responded with a detailed critique of why the Bank’s new policies will not protect indigenous people Francesca Thornberry, RFUK’s Head of Programmes, said: “These new draft standards clearly fall well below internationally accepted norms for respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and risk significantly undermining the rights of these peoples in general.”

Another major cause for concern is that countries could opt out of applying the indigenous peoples safeguard altogether if they felt it was too "sensitive” or was not consistent with their national laws. This is particularly worrying in terms of future Bank projects in Africa, where the rights of indigenous peoples are still only protected in the laws of two countries (Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo).

RFUK has been working alongside civil society and indigenous groups in the Congo Basin region for nearly two decades to advance legal protection of the rights of these peoples.

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