Swedwatch calls for human rights inclusion in development finance summit

ARTICLE | 23 October 2020

When the first ever global summit of all public development banks (PBDs) takes place in Paris in November there will be a marked absence of community or other civil society voices, despite many well-documented human rights and environmental impacts of projects financed by PBDs. Swedwatch, alongside two hundred other organisations, is calling for a re-think.

The Finance in Common Summit hosted by the French Development Agency on 9 to 12 November will discuss how PDBs — or state-funded national and multilateral financial institutions — can contribute to short-term responses to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as “sustainable recovery measures that will have a long-term impact”.

Despite the stated intention of the summit organizers to plan for building back better after the pandemic, the role of civil society and community-led development is regrettably missing. Human rights are not mentioned at all in the programme. In a letter addressed to the organizers, Swedwatch, together with over 200 organizations around the world, calls for the principles of human rights-based and community-led development to be included and prioritized in the summit discussions along with input from those who are negatively affected by PDB projects.

“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,” the signatories of the letter stated.

Numerous well-researched reports have highlighted the harm to people and the environment from projects financed by development finance institutions carried out without proper community consultation. Furthermore, the pandemic, and the measures taken to curb it, have made it harder for civil society to organize and voice concerns. Civic space has been severely restricted in many countries by emergency measures allowing authorities to not only restrict and closely monitor peoples’ movement but also silence critical voices. This makes the meaningful involvement of civil society representatives in this summit all the more necessary.

While finance for pandemic mitigation measures and development projects is urgently needed, the potential risks from projects implemented without community consultation have increased significantly due to shrinking civic space. Human rights and the role of civil society and community-led development must be placed at the centre of any efforts to mobilize resources for a resilient post-pandemic recovery.

Some 400 PDBs account for about US$ 2 trillion of investment annually. The World Bank alone is supporting more than 100 countries with up to US$160 billion in financing in response to the health, economic and social shocks caused by the pandemic.