CHRGJ Faculty Director and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, Philip Alston, has published a new report on the World Bank and human rights in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. He will present his report to the UN General Assembly on 23 October.
The report analyzes the confusing approaches to human rights taken by the World Bank in its legal policy, public relations, policy analysis, operations and safeguards. It then seeks to explain why the Bank has historically been averse to acknowledging and taking account of human rights, argues that the Bank needs a new approach and explores what difference that might make. The report concludes that the existing approach taken by the Bank to human rights is incoherent, counterproductive and unsustainable. For most purposes, the World Bank is a human rights-free zone. In its operational policies, in particular, it treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations.
The biggest single obstacle to moving towards an appropriate approach is the anachronistic and inconsistent interpretation of the “political prohibition” contained in its Articles of Agreement. As a result, the Bank is unable to engage meaningfully with the international human rights framework, or to assist its member countries in complying with their own human rights obligations. That inhibits its ability to take adequate account of the social and political economy aspects of its work within countries and contradicts and undermines the consistent recognition by the international community of the integral relationship between human rights and development. It also prevents the Bank from putting into practice much of its own policy research and analysis, which points to the indispensability of the human rights dimensions of many core development issues.
The report argues that what is needed is a transparent dialogue designed to generate an informed and nuanced policy that will avoid undoubted perils, while enabling the Bank and its members to make constructive and unproductive use of the universally accepted human rights framework. Whether the Bank ultimately maintains, adjusts or changes its existing policy, it is essential that the policy should be principles, compelling and transparent. The recommendations that follow provide some indication as to what a World Bank human rights policy might look like in practice.
Read the full report here.