U.N. rapporteur criticizes World Bank's rights record

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 29, 2015 12:21 PM

ZURICH (Reuters) - A United Nations investigator urged the World Bank on Tuesday to pay heed to human rights in its development work, accusing the lender of hiding behind outdated statutes to skirt its responsibilities.

"For most purposes, the World Bank is currently a human rights-free zone. In its operational policies, in particular, it treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations," said Philip Alson, the U.N.

special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

The veteran independent U.N. expert made the comments in a report to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly next month.

The articles of agreement for the Washington-based World Bank, formed in 1944, include a provision that the bank and its officers "shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member" and takes only economic factors into consideration.

But Alson's report said "the anachronistic and inconsistent interpretation" of this article was the biggest single obstacle to better integrating human rights into its work.

"These articles were written more than 70 years ago, when there was no international catalog of human rights, no specific treaty obligations upon states, and not a single international institution addressing these issues," he said.

World Bank officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the report. On its website, the bank says:

"There has been growing recognition of the need for the bank to address human rights in a more explicit fashion. There have been significant advances in the bank's thinking on this issue and an increasing understanding of the connection between human rights and development on several levels."

(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mark Trevelyan)