World Bank’s new environmental and social safeguards a disappointment for Indigenous Peoples – By Lucile Tranchecoste

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim Opening Press Confeerence

At a time when the Bank intends to finance more high-risk projects, and with a history of projects which have negatively impacted the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples, the safeguards should ensure upward harmonization with international standards and provide heightened protection and vigilance. Instead, the Bank has proposed an increased freedom to borrower governments to design and manage projects without binding protections for communities. The rules received final approval from the bank’s governing board yesterday, Aug. 4th 2016.

A missed opportunity  The World Bank’s “environmental and social safeguards” (ESF) were established to require minimum standards to mitigate or remove the risk of harm to people and the environment directly caused by the activities it financed. In July 2012, the World Bank entered into an extensive consultation with the objective to update these safeguards : almost 8,000 participants participated, including representatives of affected communities from all over the world and notably 24 dedicated Indigenous Peoples consultations were held. Nevertheless, safeguard policies released by the World Bank appear to poorly reflect the input received. Instead, it vastly weakens core protections of affected communities and the environment, despite a succession of Bank-funded projects which have displaced and impoverished Indigenous Peoples in the past decade.

A step back in the identification of Indigenous Peoples First, the Indigenous Peoples safeguards has been retitled to include “Sub-Saharan African Historically Underserved Traditional Local Communities”. This has been seen as a compromise to the sensitivities of African governments who object to classifying certain tribes as “Indigenous” but it creates legal vagueness, potentially dangerous, for the enforcement of the Indigenous rights under international law. Especially since the identification of the communities in question will be made following “national processes” during project screening, “where these processes meet the requirements” of the safeguard. However, the text does not articulate what those requirements ae, allowing the Bank to exclude some affected Indigenous Peoples.

Huge gaps regarding the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples as it has been defined by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Indeed, instead of being applied for all activities affecting Indigenous communities, FPIC will only be required when “adverse” impacts on Indigenous lands and resources occur; when communities are relocated from their land and natural resources taken and when there are “significant” impacts on cultural heritage. Moreover, the Bank recommends to reach FPIC through a vague “culturally appropriate process” rather than through the “representative institutions” of Indigenous communities. Consent itself will not have to result from an Indigenous peoples’ independent and collective decision-making process: instead the Bank itself and the borrower governments will determine whether a community’s “collective support” for a given project exists or not, in a pure top-down approach.

The ESF neglects the collective aspects of Indigenous Peoples lives Although collective land ownership has been recognized as essential for the protection and cohesion of the communities by jurisprudence on a national and international scale, borrower governments can opt for converting Indigenous Peoples’ land titles from a collective to an individual ownership, with an obligation to consult with, but not to obtain the consent of, the community concerned. Furthermore, with these safeguards, it appears that affected communities will benefit from any commercialization of their land or natural resources only where the natural resources are “central to their identity and livelihood” and the collective aspect of these benefit sharing mechanisms will be ensured only through “efforts” made “where possible”. Indeed, the latest update includes human rights language only in the broad aspirational Vision Statement, missing to explicitly require any binding or operational human rights protection commitment on either the Bank or the borrower governments.

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