21 September, 2019

Meetings on Indigenous Peoples and the Safeguards Review

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On July 22-24, 2013, the Bank Information Center hosted indigenous peoples (IP) advocate Vicky Tauli-Corpuz for high-level meetings with staff from the US House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the US Department of Treasury, the World Bank safeguards consultation team, and several World Bank Executive Director’s offices (namely the US, four EU offices, New Zealand, Malaysia, and the Philippines) in Washington, DC. Vicky is the Executive Director of Tebtebba, an indigenous peoples’ institution based in the Philippines, and the former Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2005-2009), and her institution has been actively involved in the World Bank’s ongoing safeguard policy review process. 


During her meetings in DC, Vicky used the indigenous peoples rights perspective as the entry point for broader discussions on the planned structure and scope of the new safeguard policies, focusing primarily on the demand to (i) maintain a stand-alone policy on indigenous peoples within the safeguards or at the very least keep IPs separate from other vulnerable and marginalized groups; (ii) ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples such as Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) are not watered down in the new policies; (iii) broaden the scope of the safeguards review to cover Development Policy Loans (DPLs) and other lending instruments as they relate to indigenous peoples, especially in regards to natural resource management; and (iv) include indigenous peoples more actively in Bank processes, especially in accountability mechanisms and monitoring and evaluation activities. 

During Vicky’s visit to Washington, the Safeguards Review team gave a technical briefing to the World Bank Board of Directors that covered the results of the consultations held during Phase I of the review process as well as the skeleton of the proposed integrated safeguards framework. During the meeting with the safeguards team, which occurred the day after the technical briefing, Bank staff explained how the proposed skeleton would allow safeguard principles to be incorporated at the strategic, project, and knowledge and capacity building level. They envision a single sustainability policy to replace all the current Operational Policies, but that would not preclude them from having separate chapters within that policy on indigenous peoples. They also stated their intention to keep indigenous peoples separate from other vulnerable groups. What remains unclear is the Bank’s responsibility under the Risk Management Procedures and how the World Bank’s corporate change strategy will impact the safeguards review. 

The Executive Directors (EDs) that Vicky met with were generally positive about the direction of the safeguards review in expanding away from a strict project-only focus, though most of them acknowledged that the devil will be in the details in terms of content and implementation. Most of them were positive about incorporating the emerging issues (such as disability, child rights, climate change, and land tenure) into the new safeguards and the Bank’s operations more broadly, though whether these issues will result in stand-alone policies or chapters is still unclear. They were also open to the lessons learned during the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) safeguards review process from 2009, such as the application of the safeguards to all Bank operations and ways in which the ADB is helping countries prepare their own safeguards systems. 

There are still disagreements on the inclusion of human rights language in the safeguard policies, especially around the adoption of FPIC. The US office in particular remains non-committal or continues to question the explicit inclusion of human rights framework in the safeguards, though the staff from the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission has stated their willingness to elevate these issues to the House and State Department. There will also likely be a fight on issues of collective land ownership and individual land tenure, which is expected to be discussed outside the indigenous peoples debate. There is also some pushback on the issue of expanding the scope of the policy review to cover DPLs, though the US office asked for case studies on how DPLs impact indigenous peoples to support their push to include them, as they are currently seeking allies on the Board on this issue.

What became most apparent during these meetings is that the BRICS and the developing member countries (DMCs) have an overriding agenda to push for the adoption of country systems and flexibility. The New Zealand, Malaysian, and Phillipines offices in particular were the most vocal about this issue, though they are open to discussing the qualifications/criteria/requirements before borrower country systems are fully adopted. These criteria could include equivalency and capacity assessment, institutional capacity building, policy strengthening, selectivity of policies, appropriate fiduciary measures, adequate Bank staffing during project implementation, and inter-agency coordination capacity improvement at the sub-national levels. The definition of the minimum standards that will apply will be the main question in this discussion. This trend to push for a country systems approach, which was corroborated by a brief discussion Jelson Garcia had with the Indian ED, stems from the view that the Bank will have to evaluate whether or not its safeguards serves as its leverage for borrowing countries given the diverse sources of development financing now. The impact this will have on rights of indigenous peoples will be dependent on the outcomes of these discussions on minimum standards in the application of country systems, and one we should watch carefully. 


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