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Global Summit of Development Banks Fails to Learn from Destructive Past

Development banks have repeatedly looked the other way and been complicit in the human rights violations of corporations and governments they work with. They support activities where armed forces push forward large infrastructure and extractives projects on traditional lands without the participation and consent of Indigenous Peoples.
Siddharth Akali is an international lawyer who has been trained by local communities, Indigenous governments and peoples in Canada, India and Nepal. He works as director of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, a global coalition of social movements, civil society organizations, and grassroots groups working together to ensure that development is community-led and that it respects, protects, and fulfills human rights.

Indigenous men and women of Nuñoa in Puno, Peru, spin and weave garments based on the fiber of the alpacas. Credit: SGP-GEF-UNDP Peru/Enrique Castro-Mendívil

MANILA, Nov 13 2020 (IPS) - This week, 450 public development banks from around the world met for the Finance in Common Summit at the Paris Peace Forum. They gathered to discuss how they can direct their combined investments of over USD 2 trillion – 10% of total investments in the world – “to support the transformation or the global economy” and “build new forms of prosperity that take care of people and the planet.”

However, the summit has done little to fundamentally transform development so it is bottom up, focussing again on government officials, bankers, think tanks, and academics over the real experts at the frontlines, who are living, breathing, and drinking the impacts of these banks policies and practices that have their stolen lands and polluted their ecosystems.

Grassroots communities and human rights defenders directly affected by these banks’ activities did not have a seat at the summit table, or the chance to speak and be heard in the webinar room.

And after ongoing advocacy by hundreds of civil society groups from around the world, and several United Nations special procedures, the final declaration of the summit contains only reference to community-led development and human rights. There are no concrete actionable commitments beyond business as usual dressed in the language of motherhood and apple pie.

The Finance in Common Summit was the first global meeting of the vast family of institutions that intersect between finance and public policy, and was one of the largest international governance and finance gatherings in 2020 since the spread of the pandemic.

The organizers of the summit are heralding public development banks as a “visible hand” that can help mobilize and direct the finance we need for the future we want. Unfortunately, these institutions do not have a great track record, with significant documentation of their projects excluding directly affected communities and doing more harm.

Development banks have repeatedly supported fossil fuel projects that have contributed to climate change, polluted ecosystems causing lung diseases and made people more vulnerable to the worst effects of Covid-19.

They have also engaged in greenwashing, supporting fossil free projects that take traditionally held lands without the consent of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, destroying the biodiverse ecosystems they have protected for generations.

These institutions have also repeatedly looked the other way and been complicit in the human rights violations of corporations and governments they work with. They support activities where armed forces push forward large infrastructure and extractives projects on traditional lands without the participation and consent of Indigenous Peoples.

They indiscriminately fund states where there is corporate capture of institutions, and police and courts violently punish those who speak truth to power rather than those who murder social justice leaders.

For instance, despite warning from local communities in Colombia several development financiers provided support for the construction of the Hidroituango dam, which has had a catastrophic impact for the people and the environment, including forced displacement of hundreds of families, loss of livelihoods, floods, landslides, and mass fish kill.

In the past 11 years, six members of the grassroots organization Movimiento Ríos Vivos and more than 30 other community members have been killed for raising their concerns about the project.

Development banks have also supported privatization of essential services, prioritizing growth and corporate profits over protections for workers and communities. And now, in the middle of a pandemic, many people are left without access to healthcare, shelter, livelihoods, food, sanitary products and medicines, even as stock markets rise.

However, in the name of crowding in private investments, development banks are continuing to pump out billions of dollars to bail out corporations during the pandemic, with few safeguards to ensure the money reaches the people who need it the most.

Indeed, public development banks have contributed to a world where the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa. They have done little to challenge systems through which caregiving falls disproportionately on women, focusing instead on farcical women’s empowerment efforts.

They have also failed to confront their role in advancing racism and colonialism, or contributing to increased surveillance and securitization, and inhibiting world peace.

A better world is possible, even as we reel under the shocks of intersecting crises of the pandemic, climate change and rising inequality, violence and militarization. And a better world can benefit from the right kind of public development finance.

But public banks, governments, and businesses need to make changes if we want to move away from a world of self-inflicted existential threats. The response to the current crises of our times cannot be to simply push out more money without consideration for the long-term environmental and social impacts of these funds on local communities and workers.

And who better to assess the long term impacts of these investments than communities and workers themselves?

The very idea of international development finance has to be reshaped under the leadership of communities who have repeatedly called for the lens of collective responsibility and reparations. The existing models of debt and financial aid, focused on states and corporations, only serve to replicate colonial power imbalances, and support the prevailing top-down paradigm.

Instead, people who are the purported beneficiaries of development finance have to be the key decision-makers.

To make future iterations of the Finance in Common summit impactful, the first thing the organizers have to do is to recognize communities are the experts of their own development.

Community-led development and human rights must be front and center on the summit agenda. Indigenous Peoples, grassroots communities and social movements must be invited to share their vision of development.

If governments and their public banks are serious about transformation, and leaving behind old patterns of crises, human rights in common have to come before finance in common.


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