(March 2, 2015) – The World Bank has whitewashed damning evidence of widespread human rights abuses in connection with its flagship program in Ethiopia, Inclusive Development International said today. The evidence, obtained during the course of an internal investigation, appears to have been shelved in order to exonerate the bank and one of [its] biggest clients of responsibility for mass forcible population transfers that occurred between 2010-2013. To set the record straight, Inclusive Development International today is releasing leaked transcripts of interviews conducted by the World Bank’s Inspection Panel during its investigation mission in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.
The transcribed audio files describe a campaign of intimidation and violence to force farmers to move from their fertile ancestral land to centralized villages, where land was unsuitable for agriculture. Those interviewed during private meetings with the Panel in Gambella described shooting, beating, sexual assault and arrests of local farmers who opposed the move and civil servants who refused to participate in the campaign. They also told the Inspection Panel that they believed World Bank funds were being used to pay for the forced relocations. Yet in its 80-page Investigation Report, the Inspection Panel devotes only one bland sentence to these harrowing testimonies.
The investigation followed a complaint submitted to the Inspection Panel in 2012 by Anuak Indigenous people from Ethiopia’s Gambella region, who are now refugees living in camps in Kenya and South Sudan. The complaint alleges that 2 billion USD in discretionary funding provided by the World Bank under the Promoting Basic Services (PBS) project directly and substantially contributed to the forced population transfers. Under PBS, World Bank and other donor funds are transferred directly into the Ethiopian Treasury accounts to be used at the discretion of regional and local governments to improve access to basic services. In 2010, the Gambella Regional Government decided that the way it would deliver these services was by relocating 70% of the “scattered” rural population into centralized villages. Up to 4 million people in Gambella and other regions of Ethiopia were designated for relocation between 2010-2013. A legal and policy analysis accompanying the complaint, prepared by Inclusive Development International, presents evidence that the World Bank’s failure to track its funds and apply its safeguard policies to the PBS project implicated the bank in the forced relocations in Gambella and the systematic human rights abuses that accompanied them.
The Inspection Panel unilaterally decided not to investigate the alleged involvement of the bank project in the forced relocations, providing no sound basis for its decision. Instead it limited the scope of its investigation to the more palatable aspects of the complaint, leaving aside the central issue at hand. The Panel then refused to return to the refugee camps during its investigation to interview the complainants, among whom were former Ethiopian civil servants tasked with implementing the villagization program.
“The World Bank’s refusal to investigate and act upon evidence of bank complicity in widespread human rights abuses in Ethiopia is a travesty of justice,” said David Pred, Managing Director at Inclusive Development International. “The Panel made a mockery of due process by suppressing the evidence they obtained about villagization during their investigation, despite the great personal risk that people took to deliver their testimony to the World Bank,” Pred added.
The Panel nonetheless made a number of important findings. It found that:
“The Panel’s findings indicate that the Bank has poured billions of dollars into a black hole in Ethiopia since 2006, never being able to assure itself how PBS funds have been used on the ground,” said Inclusive Development International in a letter to the bank’s Board of Executive Directors. “It does not require a leap of faith to assume that some of these funds – which constitute the “major source of funding for [local governments]” according to World Bank documents – were diverted to finance the colossal undertaking of resettling around four million people, as the Villagization Program set out to do.”
Notwithstanding these findings, the Inspection Panel reached the dubious conclusion that the Bank could not be held responsible for relocations and harms suffered by the Anuak. It ignored the central contention in the complaint that the way the Ethiopian government used its wide discretion to deliver basic services under PBS was through villagization of Indigenous Peoples.
“The logical conclusion from the Inspection Panel’s findings is that the Bank’s willful violation of its ‘do no harm’ policies contributed to the gross human rights abuses and suffering that the Anuak experienced,” said Pred. “Unfortunately, the Inspection Panel decided to ignore evidence and distort logic in order to absolve the World Bank of responsibility.”
The Panel’s conclusion paved the way for a self-congratulatory response from the World Bank, which largely dismisses the Panel’s findings that it breached its policies and emphasizes instead that it was found not to be responsible for any harm. The Bank’s response also dismisses the appeal of the Anuak complainants to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on January 31st for livelihood rehabilitation and development assistance through a program that is based on meaningful consultation and participation of the Indigenous Peoples of Gambella.
“Rather than reforming PBS to address the Panel’s findings of policy violations, the World Bank Board approved an Action Plan that maintains the bank’s unaccountable budget support for the Ethiopian regime,” said Pred.
“When it comes to Ethiopia, President Kim has exposed the emptiness of his rhetoric about fighting discrimination and protecting vulnerable groups,” said Pred. “Kim has squandered this opportunity to put in place meaningful measures to ensure that World Bank resources are used to benefit and not to abuse Ethiopia’s marginalized populations.”
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