Internal Panel indicts World Bank in the Congo

Internal Panel indicts World Bank in the Congo

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October 12, 2007

An internal investigative panel has just prepared ‘a stinging indictment’ of the World Bank’s conduct in connection to the large-scale industrial logging campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo; revealing that the Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log the rainforests; misled Congo’s government about the value of the forests; repeatedly broke their own rules and regulations to ensure the plan went ahead; and most damningly, threatened the lives of millions of Indigenous People and subsistence farmers who depend on the forests for survival.

The report is the result of a two-year internal investigation that began in December 2005, after a coalition of 12 indigenous groups in Congo–with the support of the Rainforest Foundation and Friends of the Earth–appealed for the World Bank to reconsider its decision to open up the forests. The request was followed by a massive online campaign which prompted tens of thousands of emails to be sent out in support.

At one point, the panel actually traveled deep into the Congo forests to take evidence from the indigenous communities. Upon arriving, the panel was told how “we are being made poor in every aspect … the [logging] company prevents us from going into the forests.” Another said that the company had bought the land so that people could no longer live in the forests. “Roads are going ever deeper into the forests, opening it up. We are increasingly deprived of our foods and drugs…””

As it turns out, the Bank simply ignored the existence of Congo’s indigenous People, while just barely acknowledging the tens of millions of subsistence farmers that depend on the forests for survival.

On top of that, the report reveals “the Bank failed to follow its own established policies designed to protect human rights, environmental safety, and natural habitats. The staff of the Bank reduced the levels of environmental assessments that would be required, then failed to even carry out those assessments.”

As yet, the World Bank has made no official response, but they’re expected to review it in the next couple weeks.

It is hoped they’ll make good with it… “The bank need[s] to find ways of helping [the Indigenous People] uphold their rights, rather than helping logging companies to destroy them,” says Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation. And “the World Bank must [also] change drastically its forest policies. Industrial logging is not contributing to poverty reduction, while its expansion undermines future financial benefits for environmental services”, says a campaigner for Greenpeace International.

In truth, the World Bank needs to do alot more than that. Especially since the heart of problem ihere s not simply a matter of policy. It is also about the very nature and purpose of the Bank itself: It’s role in international society, its list of priorities, as well as its mandate. The very nature and purpose of the Bank is what has to change.

If that doesn’t happen, then the Bank will simply continue as it always has; which means all we can expect to see come from this report is a temporary reprieve. Maybe they’ll pull the reigns of exploitation back a bit, but then the bank will fall back into it’s old pattern as if nothing happened.

As a side note, we should be careful not to forget about the corporations active in the Congo too. They are after all, the ones on the ground.

Currently, there is an ongoing campaign in the Congo to ensure the passage of a that will guard against the discrimination, exploitation and violence endured by indigenous peoples. This is the first law of its kind in Africa, and the Rainforest foundation is urging people to sign this petition urging Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso to support the legislation.

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