'ADB Needs to speed up action on human rights complaints'

Kathmandu, July 12: NGO Forum on ADB has asked the ADB to accelerate actions for addressing human rights complaints made in the 49th annual governors meeting (AGM) and as per the words given by ADB president, Takehiko Nakao.

"More than 3 months after the 49th Annual Governors Meeting (AGM) of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the answers given by President Takehiko Nakao during the dialogue with the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are still words, not actions, read a press release issued on Tuesday by Jeanie Derillo-Santos, Communications and programme Coordinator, NGO Forum on ADB.

The AGM is an annual gathering participated by over 3,000 participants, including finance and development ministers, central bank governors, private sector and civil society partners, representatives of academia.

The meeting, which discusses key decisions and issues, is an opportunity for civil society engagement with the Bank’s especially on human rights violations, gender mainstreaming, discrepancies on environmental and social safeguards implementation, and lack of public disclosure, read the press release. Below is the remaining part of the press release as it was issued: 

Compensation for displaced Cambodians

During the event, members of the NGO Forum for ADB demanded quick action on a pending compliance on safeguards policies relating to resettlement issues on the Cambodian Railway Rehabilitation Project. Sim Pov a complainant from the derailed project brought a bottle of dirty water from the resettlement site and said “After 6 years their resettlement site in Battambang still has no access to clean water” he then asked President Nakao a probing question “What if your family have to drink this water?” pertaining to the bottled water he carried with him from the site. Around 4000 families were displaced suffered loss of livelihood and were forced to live in unlivable resettlement sites.

President Nakao admitted that the problems surrounding the Cambodian Railway Rehabilitation Project have been an “issue for quite a while”, the case was filed in 2012 and issues had not been fully settled with complaints until today.

“The independent complaints review panel have already studied it and have made recommendations,” Nakao said.  He also emphasized that ADB “is working together with the government of Cambodia with the focus on the problem of unjust compensations” but was careful to mention of any deadlines. He also said that there are still grievances particularly in the city of Phnom Penh and they are trying to address it as well.

Unjust energy development

Ratan Bandhari, a Nepalese environmental advocate also urged the Bank not to invest in Upper Karnali Hydroelectric Project on grounds of potential damage to environmental impacts on downstream aquamarine ecosystem and indigenous peoples rights. He also said the power is not meant for Nepal but for India’s needs.

Nakao admitted that he is not familiar with the project but said that Nepal is a hydro resource rich country and the way Nepal could earn foreign income is by selling electricity like what Laos and Thailand are doing.  He also explained that “using this income, it will bring large benefits to the people, I am not saying that we just rely on selling energy but it can be a source for better education, health system and form new industries”.

In the end, Nakao said “I am not denying the idea of using hydro resources in Nepal for development, but regarding the impacts we should carefully look at it, and we should compensate financially and those who resettlement should be passed on appropriately”.

Due diligence on safeguards

Rayyan Hassan, Executive Director of the NGO Forum on ADB criticized the Bank for lack of due diligence in the implementation of safeguards policies to which the President said, “Safeguards should be looked at by the safeguard specialist and should not rely on an external consultant.  They (the specialist should go to the project site more frequently)”.

With the rise of the newly established China-led bank, civil and social movements have raised concerns about possible dilutions in safeguard policies that could pose tremendous environmental and social risks. “Multilateral development banks could weaken the standards that we have fought for in the past so they can offer cheaper rates that are more attractive to borrowers and investors,” Hassan said.

CSOs asserted there should be no dilutions of safeguards in stand alone and co-financing projects.

Nakao stated that ADB and AIIB would not do anything like that citing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) he signed early that day. The two banks will continue to pay attention to the social and environmental impact of their joint projects.

This view was also reinforced by the Dutch Alternative Executive Director Jan Willem van den Wall Bake when he sat down as ADB’s representation in the third NGO Forum on ADB hosted CSO panel entitled “Infrastructure- Driven Growth Model of Multilateral Development Banks.  In response to Mae Buenaventura’s statement he said that ” I do believe that safeguards are crucial and in co-financing, our own safeguards would be, in our part, will be guiding”.

Nakao also said, ADB helped AIIB prepare their policies and “if ADB will find co-financing with AIIB difficult then they will not do it.”

Bent on infrastructure development

The NGO Forum on ADB also criticized the huge amount of investments being poured into infrastructure development and its impacts on critical ecosystems, displacements of indigenous communities and global commitments to limit the temperature at 2 degrees Celsius.

The Bank president emphasized that there is a huge need for infrastructure in Asia, “for power, transportation, and water, and other climate change-related issues, disaster risk reductions, we needed more money and if we can do things together in an appropriate way I think it would help the lives of the people”

Labor rights as weakest link

CSOs have also pressed the Bank to make core labor standards integrated on all levels of the operation.  Mr. Hassan in his statement to President Nakao emphasized that “the core operations management charter 3 and the social protection strategy does not cover it” pertaining to ADB practices labor standards.  He strongly suggested that core labor standards should be included and deserves a deeper look in terms on integration.

President Nakao simply said that it is an integral part of ADB’s work.

The ADB released a handbook for integrating core labor standards but this has not been binding and voluntary as its stands. Claude Akpokavie of the International Labor Organization has reiterated, “These are basic human rights and are not something that we implement when we want to”. Mr. Akpokavie also gave emphasis that these rights are recognized world wide and then also discussed Mr. Souparna Lahiri’s, discussion points regarding the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work which are Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labor, the effective abolition of child labor and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Germany, an influential ADB shareholder committed in different forums that they will press the G20 the implementation of the CLS. Angela Merkel, Germany’s prime minister together with Federal Minister Müller, as she mentioned committed in “watching international supply chains, such as the chain from the cotton plants to the t-shirts sold in the world’s rich industrialized countries”.  She also shared one good news that is “in the future all ADB projects are to be oriented to the agreed ILO standards on supply chains. Here the ADB is setting a good example and making these standards better known. We must continue along this path”.

CSO’s released a statement saying 15 years of ADB’s non-compliance is enough.

Of the intentions listed, none has moved towards policy action or implementation. 

ADB and AIIB have already announced their joint projects particularly the 64-kilometre-long stretch of the M4 highway that will connect Shorkot to Khanewal in Pakistan's Punjab province.

There is no news regarding the Upper Karnali project if they will be financing it or not.  And definitely, nothing is happening with the affected communities in Cambodian Railway Rehabilitation Project.

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