“The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development.”
Human rights ensures that everyone is “entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.” That promise, however, was realized only by a few elite and powerful sector, leaving many Asians progressively poorer, vulnerable and disempowered in the last few decades.
Asia remains home to two-thirds of the world’s ‘extreme’ poor living on less than US$1.90 a day magnified by deepening inequalities in the areas of income, wealth, health, education, and disability, gender and ethnicity. Magnifying the burdens of Asia’s poor are the increasing vulnerabilities to climate change. The neoliberal paradigm of looking at economic growth without looking at the social and environmental implications of those actions was such a great failure that IFIs had to admit at some point that neoliberalism fuels inequality.
It is also does not give great hope for Asians that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is replete with targets to allow private capital through neoliberal economy to operate with greater roles in agriculture, trade, water, energy and other services. The comprises made to make the language of inequality, labor, sustainable consumption, justice and climate change appear in the texts is not without threats to people and the planet.
The proposed ADB Strategy 2030 uses SDG language without hiding its intents to be selective on goals that offer business opportunities, to absolve its agency from human rights obligations, to investment more on the private sector. Meanwhile, the newly-established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank conceived right after SDGs and the CoP21, quickly rolled out a number of mega infrastructure projects with high risks to ecosystems, the climate, resettlements and fiscal health. IFIs are not making any major shifts despite new global commitments but does develop sophisticated financial instruments and modalities to support the same paradigm of neoliberalism.
These sacrilegious acts against humanity’s new ideals happen in the context of a dramatic transformation and configuration of power as seen in growth outputs, trade and finance. The rise of Asia, of China, is shifting the global economic center of gravity away from Europe and the United States. Emerging IFIs such as the New Development Bank of BRICS countries the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have initially increased the tensions – but in seeing that complementation can yield better profits – IFIs have quickly adapted to combine technical and financial resources to close the infrastructure investment gap which is close to US$8 trillion until 2020. What we momentarily see as tensions transform easily into unity against.
Asia’s disadvantaged poor.
The infrastructure investment are not about schools, public hospitals, water and electricity services for last mile communities. These are infrastructure projects to make TNCs thrive: huge energy projects, mega-roads, ports, airports necessary to make global supply chains move with efficiency to take raw and semi-processed materials from different parts in resource-rich Asia and sell its finished goods and services to global destinations. Infrastructure investment assumes that a neoliberal economy stimulates production and trading that will provide jobs and income opportunities as a distributed benefit of globalization. The distribution has taken place – the wealth created by the vast number of workers and farmers are owned by a a few capitalist elites in certain Asian countries. Worse, the remaining wealth of indigenous peoples and communities are forcedly taken away for infrastructure development. Infrastructure-related projects, according to the ADB’s Accountability Mechanism accounts for most of the complaints they have received in the past years.
The IFIs direction to invest more with private capital for developmental needs and on the other hand, governments’ enthusiasm to absorb more sectoral and infrastructure loans to fast-track their growth targets is a double-edged sword translating to greater control of private capital on social services, key economic sectors and natural resources.
To ensure that loans are expeditiously disbursed at least cost to IFIs, borrowers and private capital, safeguards are further diluted even in its limited ability to protect human rights. In the case of ADB, it is doing more than just dilution. By being bent on full reliance to country safeguard systems regardless if these countries have governments that are despotic or corrupt, have weak national laws or immature judicial systems – ADB is absolving itself from its human rights obligations, especially amid shrinking space for CSOs. Whereas IFIs would have direct culpabilities on economic, social and cultural rights, its role in denying political and civil rights are becoming more evident due to disappearances, employment of paramilitary in project management, and lack of public disclosure and means of redress.
In 2014, just before the SDGs and CoP 21 were finalized, CSOs gathered to reclaim the idea of safeguards away from the praxis of international financial institutions (IFI) Policies and bring them back to the people. The Asian Peoples Safeguards meeting provided the initial platform for this coalition of CSOs to define the core elements of a People’s Safeguards:
Individual and collective rights
Do No Harm
Peoples Sovereignty and Self-Determination
State Obligations including. Extra-Territorial Obligations (ETOs)
Integrity of ecosytems and environment and the principle of commons
Security of peoples and communities
People empowerment people’s participation
Inclusion, non-discrimination and equity
Transparency, accountability and freedom from corruption
Respect and recognition of international conventions
Financing in the service of peoples rights, people-centered development, resilient and sustainable welfare system
The current play to systematically deprive Asia’s disadvantaged poor gives a critical basis to revisit and advance the Asian Peoples Safeguards.
Unveil ADB’s Privilege of Immunity
As CSOs strengthen national and grassroots organizations to instruct governments and IFIs on the kind of economic and development it seeks in its own contexts, it is also essential to break the privilege of immunity that allowed IFIs to act with impunity and it is high time to set an example with one of the most influential Banks in the region as a message that for poverty-reduction and sustainable development to be achieved, equality in justice is a critical goal for humanity.
As ADB enters its 50th year of operations in Asia it carries with it the privilege of immunity accorded by international laws to ADB as an international organization in the UN Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies and Vienna Convention. This same privilege is also claimed by ADB in its own charter and its headquarters agreements with borrowing government protecting the Bank from suits by governments or by any of its agencies or instrumentalities, nor by any entity or person seeking claims outside of ADB’s internal grievance mechanisms effectively freeing its agency from full accountability.
This privilege bestowed to ADB and other IFIs in the implementation of its policies, programs and projects that have brought mass poverty, unemployment, and loss of livelihood, social unrest, and human rights violations. The KJDRP water drainage project in Bangladesh, Nam Theun 2 Dam project in Laos, Marcopper Mining in the Philippines, Tata Mundra Coal Plant in India, Sustainable Urban Development Investment Program in Armenia and the Railway Rehabilitation Project in Cambodia among others -- all suffered from ADB’s interventions that were replete with risks to marginalized and vulnerable peoples, the economies and the environment and yet the Bank is treading the same path in greater levels.
The ADB’s Accountability Mechanism are mostly ornamental and exist for operational efficiency rather than indict perpetrators of human rights violations. Safeguards are developed from community struggles yet materialization of the promises to real protection on the ground remains glaringly absent and in some cases negligible at most. Thus, lifting ADB’s privilege of immunity as a campaign is a critical call any CSO working on poverty-reduction, sustainable development and human rights must take up for the next years to come but it will have to be undertaken with a certain degree of progressive interventions. This campaign may be a driver for IFIs to make their internal grievance mechanisms and safeguards policies relevant for affected-communities.
Greater Collaboration is Desired at all Levels
At the local and national advocacy for a peoples’ safeguards and fully accountable development finance will be instructive for States on which laws must be strengthened or passed for the promotion of human rights, what kind of economy is desired, and how people demands to be engaged in development processes -- instead of letting IFIs shape national laws through concessions and technical assistance.
But the benefits cannot be achieved if Asian civil and social movements are divided and under capacitated to craft their collective aspirations effectively raised by and for themselves. The process is long and challenging but the empowering benefits will be desirable. Northern CSOs partners in amplifying the voices of Southern groups to decisionmakers in their own countries, need to take this into account to ensure that advocacy on Asian issues are effective and empowering for Asian CSOs.