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the World Bank on Tuesday to pay heed to human rights in its development work, accusing the lender of hiding behind outdated statutes to skirt its responsibilities.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 Alston, 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 World Bank strongly rejected the charges.
“This report fundamentally misrepresents the World Bank’s position on human rights, and we are disappointed that Professor Alston is using his voluntary role as Special Rapporteur to present a distorted picture of our work,” World Bank spokesman David Theis told Reuters in an email.
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.
Alston’s report, however, 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.
Theis said human rights were central to the bank’s work.
“Human rights principles are essential for sustainable development and are consistently applied in our work to end poverty and boost shared prosperity. For decades the World Bank has argued that human rights and development are mutually reinforcing,” he added.
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; Additional reporting by Krista Hughes in Washington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Alan Crosby