Are We There Yet?: Grievance Mechanisms of DFIs Meet with Civil Society in Paris to Discuss the Grievance System

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How can the rights of communities be protected in the face of global development? The answer is complex, but one part of it involves the grievance mechanisms development finance institutions (DFIs). Over 20 years ago, the World Bank created the first of these mechanisms, called the Inspection Panel, in order to provide a venue for communities impacted by Bank funded projects to assert their rights. Today , most of the major DFIs have a grievance mechanism, which are often called independent accountability mechanisms or IAMs.
The IAMs first started meeting annually as a network in 2003, and for the last three years, the meetings have included a day where civil society participates. These meetings provide a space for sharing of information and experiences, and for civil society to advocate for improvements and raise issues related to the IAMs’ operations. This year, the meeting was held in Paris on 9 December 2015 on the sidelines of the UN climate conference. The agenda included three main issues. The first panel discussed the status of grievance mechanisms for emerging financing mechanisms to combat global warming, such as the Green Climate Fund. The second panel addressed the launch of a report by Human Rights Watch on reprisals against those who criticize World Bank projects. The last panel provided an opportunity to discuss a new report that several organizations, including Natural Justice, worked on to analyze the effectiveness of IAMs and their associated DFIs from a human rights perspective. This report will be launched in January 2016, and it will mark a new phase of advocacy around and collaboration with IAMs and DFIs to improve the system as a whole.

Representatives of the IAMs congratulated civil society on the report, noting that it was an effort that needed to be undertaken. They recognized the importance of transparency and learning lessons in the accountability process. While they raised some questions around how data in the report was interpreted, overall they agreed with the report’s conclusions.

Although there are many critical aspects to meetings such as these, one of the most important is that they take place at all. If you spend enough time in international development conferences, you will often hear lip service paid to the need for civil society keep states and institutions in check, to articulate responsibilities, and to call attention to transgressions. At the same time, civil society is often marginalized, whether directly persecuted in certain countries or by more general efforts to limit participation. However, the meetings with the IAMs do provide an important opportunity to share information, discuss ways of collaborating, and call for overall improvements in the system. In light of the  ambitious infrastructure and other development projects planned in the coming decades, and the increasingly complex methods for financing these projects, the collaboration between the IAMs and civil society will be critical for ensuring that communities’ human rights are truly integrated into sustainable development.

13 December 2015

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