Human rights must be at the heart of the first world summit of Public Development Banks
On the occasion of the first world summit of public development banks, Front Line Defenders and more than 200 local and international organizations address an open letter to the Director General of the French Development Agency (AFD).
From November 9th to 12th, 2020, the French Development Agency will convene the first global summit of all Public Development Banks (PDBs). Gathering PDBs from around the world, it is aimed to provide a collective response to global challenges, reconciling short-term responses to the Covid-19 crisis with sustainable recovery measures, redirecting financial flows towards sustainable development objectives.
The summit is highly relevant and timely, but for a truly comprehensive and inclusive dialogue, it should draw lessons from the past to shape the strongest future with full participation of the communities impacted by PDB projects and supporting civil society organizations.
In many instances, PDB supported activities have exacerbated poverty and inequality and human rights abuses such as reprisals against human rights defenders and forced evictions, without meaningful redress for affected communities.
The summit should include reflection and discussion on the importance of respecting international human rights standards in achieving sustainable recovery goals, including addressing human rights abuses widely documented in PDB supported investments and projects. The summit should contend with the challenges of increased investment from PDBs lacking robust standards for human rights, social and environmental protection, climate change, and anti-corruption, or where those standards exist, how to address failures to follow them in practice.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted and aggravated the failures of the health, social, and economic systems, requiring a deep rethinking of the way governments, PDBs, and other actors operate. Several grassroots community groups and organisations have been calling on PDBs to ensure that the funding and support they provide for the Covid-19 response, and during the economic recovery period, respects human rights and leads to economic, social and environmental justice for those who are most vulnerable. New impetus in attaining the core principle of “leave no one behind” is needed.
We welcome the opportunity to engage with PDBs during the summit to better serve the principles and goals of international human rights standards, the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), transparency, and accountability. To that end however, and as a matter of credibility and efficiency, it must be a priority to ensure human rights and community needs are explicitly discussed and part of the joint declaration foreseen at the end of the summit.
As stated by OHCHR last year:
“with the most pivotal decade of SDG implementation ahead of us, human rights are not only the right way, but the smart way to accelerate progress for more equitable and sustainable development. Development is not just about changing the material conditions …. It is also about empowering people with voice … to be active participants in designing their own solutions and shaping development policy. … Empowering people means moving beyond purely technocratic solutions and treating people as passive objects of aid or charity. People are empowered when they are able to claim their rights and to shape the decisions, policies, rules and conditions that affect their lives.”
As SDGs are at the core of the summit, human rights and participation of communities are then key. That requires adapting the agenda and the expected outcomes. Our recommendations on ensuring an inclusive event follow:
1. Human Rights should be reflected in the core agenda of the summit, attendance and participation. As conceived, the research conference and summit do not appear to provide specific space to human rights defenders and community representatives. Commitment to public participation and protection of civil society space have long been recognised as essential to ensuring effective development. Human rights and grassroots organizations, human rights defenders, and communities should guide the future of the development model, and therefore should be involved in organizing, contributing to the agenda, and participating in the summit. It is a matter of priority to have human rights defenders and communities directly impacted by PDB activities at the table.
2. The principles of a human rights-based and community-led development should be included and highlighted on the expected deliverables of the summit including research papers and collective statements. We encourage governments and PDBs to make a commitment to reinforce and strengthen the principles of human rights-based and community-led development in PDBs’ mandate and governance; policies and practices; internal culture and incentives; what projects and activities they support and invest in; and how they work with other PDBs, governments and key actors. These commitments should lead to improvements, such as:
(a) Full and free participation of directly affected communities in all PDB supported activities and projects, and free prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples. Innovative approaches will have to be developed to address the closing space, risks and challenges for communities, human rights defenders and civil society to meaningfully participate in decisions that impact their lives, livelihoods, environment and resources. Zero tolerance policies against threats and reprisals by PDBs and their clients should be a basic requirement.
(b) Identifying investments that are aligned with international human rights, climate protection, and SDGs, and reorienting investments towards sustainable development that respects these standards, while ensuring that the priorities and needs of marginalised persons are met.
(c) Improving social and environmental requirements through inclusion of human rights standards. PDBs and their clients should adhere to human rights principles and standards enshrined in international conventions. Safeguard policies and procedures should ensure that activities financed directly or indirectly by PDBs, respect human rights, do not contribute to human rights abuse, and contribute to equitable, inclusive development that benefits all persons.
(d) Developing and improving transparency, monitoring, oversight, grievance and accountability mechanisms to actively prevent PDB activities and investments from undermining human rights.
(e) Ensuring private sector clients or partners also adopt high human rights and environmental standards, and do not avoid or evade taxes.
(f) Development of common guidance by PDBs on ex ante human rights due diligence and impact assessments in project investments and in support for economic reform policies or programs. This includes identification of contextual and specific risks, prevention and mitigation strategies, and remedy in line with international human rights norms. Ensure that these assessments are developed in close consultation with affected communities, and are updated iteratively based on changing conditions and new information.
(g) Developing coordinated approaches to ensure that PDB supported activities do not exacerbate debt or contribute to cutbacks in public expenditure that will negatively impact human rights or access to essential services for the most vulnerable.
As reiterated by the OHCHR, effective governance for sustainable development requires non-discriminatory, inclusive, participatory, and accountable governance. With the most pivotal decade of SDG implementation ahead of us — and in the context of intersecting health, environmental, economic and social crises building greater integration and coherence between the development and human rights agendas will be key:
“Human rights are not only a guide on the right way to achieve SDG implementation, but the smart way to accelerate more sustainable and equitable development” .
PDBs should open channels for the meaningful participation of communities, human rights defenders, and civil society groups in the appraisal, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of their projects and activities, as well as in their decision-making processes.
For these reasons, the agenda and the deliverable of the summit should duly reflect the centrality of human rights and community-led development to effective and sustainable development.