World Bank critics threatened, jailed: rights group

Washington, June 23 (IANS) The World Bank Group has done little to prevent or dissuade governments from intimidating critics of the projects it funds in some countries including India, Human Rights Watch has said.

A 144-page report, “At Your Own Risk: Reprisals against Critics of World Bank Group Projects,” details how governments and powerful companies have threatened, intimidated and misused criminal laws against outspoken community members who stand to be displaced or otherwise allegedly harmed by projects financed by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The World Bank and IFC have failed to take adequate steps to help create a safe environment in which people can express concern or criticism about projects funded by the Bank Group without risk of reprisal, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

“The World Bank has long said that public participation and accountability are key to the success of the development efforts it funds,” said Jessica Evans of Human Rights Watch.

“But the World Bank’s repeated failure to confront intimidation or harassment of people who criticize its projects risks making a mockery out of these principles.”

Human Rights Watch found that people who have publicly criticized projects financed by the World Bank and IFC have faced threats, harassment and trumped-up criminal charges in Cambodia, India, Uganda, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.

When reprisals have occurred, the Bank Group has largely left victims to their fate, preferring silence or “quiet diplomacy” over the kind of prompt, public and vigorous responses that could make a real difference.

In spite of what are often grave risks, affected community members in numerous countries have spoken out about the problems that they see with Bank-supported projects.

In India, a 30-year-old Sita, not her real name, described how employees of the company in charge of constructing a hydropower dam in the country’s north publicly ridiculed community members protesting the project as “prostitutes”, viciously insulted them referencing their caste, and warned them of “severe” consequences if they continued their protest.

The World Bank Group generally has high-level access to the governments it supports and could exert pressure to push them to tolerate divergent views and accept criticism about development projects as valuable rather than cracking down on dissident voices, Human Rights Watch said.

But it has repeatedly avoided difficult conversations with partner governments, Human Rights Watch found.

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