(Washington, DC) – The World Bank Group should uphold human rights as it works to create a world free of poverty and economic exclusion, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the Group’s president, Dr. Jim Kim, that was released today.

Foreign ministers and central bankers are gathering in Washington DC, April 19 through 21, for the spring meeting of the joint World Bank, International Monetary Fund Development Committee. The Bank’s new vision document, ‘A Common Vision for the World Bank Group,’ will be at the center of the deliberations.

“The World Bank’s renewed attention to the poorest of the poor is key,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The World Bank needs to ensure it reaches marginalized and excluded people, with a deliberate effort to dismantle discrimination, and increase opportunities for people to take part in civic life.”

As early as 1998, the World Bank acknowledged that “creating the conditions for attainment of human rights is a central and irreducible goal of development” and that “the world now accepts that sustainable development is impossible without human rights.” But despite the rhetoric, 15 years on, the Bank continues to willfully close its eyes to the potential for negative impact of its “development” projects on human rights, Human Rights Watch said. The World Bank’s vision document says nothing about its responsibility to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights or the importance of human rights for development.

This vision document is the initial basis for a new World Bank Group strategy, which will be considered by the Development Committee at the World Bank, IMF annual meeting in October. Human Rights Watch urged the World Bank to embrace three additional themes in its strategy:

  1. The World Bank should actively support an enabling environment for civic participation and social accountability, so that people affected by development projects can participate in and exercise oversight over these efforts. The Bank’s contribution to the proper funding of civil society organizations through the Global Partnership on Social Accountability should be complemented by work with governments to allow these groups to operate freely and to prevent reprisals against critics.
  2. The World Bank should make a commitment to eliminating discrimination and ensuring equality in all of its activities. More than two thirds of extremely poor people in low income countries and lower-middle-income countries live in households headed by a member of an ethnic minority group. Human Rights Watch has documented instances in which people were denied access to World Bank projects because of their political opinions. Further, more than 80 percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries, illustrating the importance of actively addressing the needs of people with disabilities in development strategies.
  3. The World Bank should implement mechanisms to prevent it from exacerbating human rights problems or contributing to human rights violations, including by developing stronger safeguard policies. It should advance its commitment to sustainable development by recognizing that World Bank activities can have human rights risks, assessing those risks, and taking necessary measures to avoid and mitigate them.


“Our work around the world reveals the dire consequences of development that ignores human rights,” Evans said. “The World Bank should recognize that rights and development are inextricably linked.”

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