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Change in reprisal risks under government responses to Covid-19

To: President Jin Liqun Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank B9 Financial Street Xicheng District Beijing 10033 People’s Republic of China

CC: Joachim Von Amsberg, Vice President, Michaela Bergman, Principal Social Development Specialist,

Stephen Lintner, Senior Environmental and Social Adviser, Hamid Sharif, Director General, CEIU,

Via electronic mail

Subject: Change in reprisal risks under government responses to Covid-19

Dear President Jin Liqun,

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced global actors to respond nimbly to rapidly changing conditions. We are aware of efforts the AIIB has made to support developing economies in this moment of crisis.

It is critical that these efforts pay particular attention to and accommodate the individuals most vulnerable to abuses associated with development finance. To date we have not seen any statements clarifying how the AIIB is adapting its approach to risks of reprisals.

The current context requires, however, concrete precautionary measures as we have seen increased reprisal risks, including:

  • Defenders in lockdown being easier to find and target by authorities, security forces and other potential violators;

  • Arbitrary arrest and detention of Defenders under pretext of violation of lockdown rules

  • Increased stigmatisation of marginalised groups as contributing to the spread of Covid-19 (i.e., LGBT, Roma people, HIV-positive people, etc.) Suspended courts resulting in limited legal recourse (e.g. in cases of arbitrary detentions), and closed-door hearings resulting in loss of transparency around the legal system;

  • Limited movement of people resulting in the inability for civil society organisations or international organisations (including EU delegations) to meet and offer support to defenders and communities at risk;

  • Measures taken by authorities to limit freedom of expression and of assembly impacting the capacity of defenders to hold authorities and companies to account, and mobilise;

  • Increased militarisation to enforce the response measures - resulting in shrinking space for public participation and disproportionate and abusive measures used against more vulnerable members of communities (including defenders);

  • Pressure from certain sectors that are considered essential during the epidemic to decrease safeguards in the name of ensuring they are able to operate without hindrance;

  • Hacking of digital communications;

  • Pressure to streamline approval of loans (and potentially streamline and weaken the application of safeguards);

  • Self-censorship by activists concerned about the security of their electronic communications;

  • Daily struggle for survival of defenders, as they lose their livelihoods, hindering their ability to raise their voices.

In consequence we would like to know how you are taking these new challenges into account.

Any adaptation of approaches towards human rights defenders (HRD) should, at a minimum, involve assessment and ongoing monitoring of the implications of the current situation in terms of reprisal risks and reprisals and propose measures to mitigate those risks (in line with our recommendations).

Specifically, the AIIB should:

  1. Reach out using secure channels to groups at higher risk of reprisals (more vulnerable impacted communities or more vulnerable members of those communities)

  2. Evaluate the availability of secure channels in contexts where investments are underway, including, potentially, engaging with social media firms to understand any “backdoor” access governments may have to activists’ accounts

  3. Ensure information on investments is reaching impacted groups, allowing them the opportunity to engage with the bank in a safe way

  4. Screen for abuses taking place around the sectors financed (eg. targeting of bloggers/journalists reporting on health sector response to Covid-19, when financing health sector)

  5. Actively monitor and send out, as part of any message to clients/promoters about the Covid- 19 situation, a reminder that your bank will not tolerate reprisals, especially given the potentially increased reprisal risk

  6. Clarify to all borrowers that the use of assistance funds and other finance spent in the COVID-19 response shall not be used to intimidatingly surveil communities.

As members of the Defenders in Development Campaign we look forward to your response and would welcome an opportunity to discuss this topic with you in the near future.

Yours sincerely,

Kate Geary

Co-Director, Recourse

Rayyan Hassan Director, NGO Forum on ADB


Download the letter here.


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