In an April speech addressing the issue of environmental and human rights abuses and displacements resulting from large dam projects, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim stated “[y]ou cannot do the kind of work we are trying to do and not have some of these incidents happen”.
Over 300 civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals responded with a letter to Bank President Kim in mid-May, rejecting his statement and calling for an apology. They criticised Kim’s statements regarding the situation in Honduras and the recent killing of Berta Caceres, an indigenous rights leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) (see Observer Spring 2016). The World Bank published a “fact sheet” to “set the record straight” regarding Kim’s intervention, however five of the CSO signatories responded in a public letter that his statement is “subject to different interpretations” and noted that several other issues raised in the letter were not addressed.
In a separate late-May letter to Kim, Honduran social movements and indigenous peoples organisations, including COPINH, argued that his statements “justify serious violations and demonstrate a fundamental contradiction with the World Bank mandate: … it is not possible to do the work you are mandated to do when crimes like this happen.” They called on the Bank to “suspend financing to Honduras”, arguing that; “While the government of Honduras every day commits injustices … the World Bank continues to finance investments that lead to the militarization of the country, destruction the environment, disenfranchisement, displacement, violence, poverty and death in the most vulnerable communities.’
In a May blog on Business & Human Rights Resource Centre Natalie Bridgeman Fields and Siddharth Mohansingh Akali, from Accountability Counsel noted that “Rights abuses are often a choice to contravene the Bank’s own environmental and social safeguard policies and accountability frameworks. President Kim’s statements appear to condone this false choice between rights and development”.