By Sasha Chavkin
Internal watchdog finds link between World Bank financing and Ethiopian government’s mass resettlement of indigenous group
The World Bank repeatedly violated its own rules while funding a development initiative in Ethiopia that has been dogged by complaints that it sponsored forced evictions of thousands of indigenous people, according to a leaked report by a watchdog panel at the bank.
The report, which was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, examines a health and education initiative that was buoyed by nearly $2 billion in World Bank funding over the last decade. Members of the indigenous Anuak people in Ethiopia’s Gambella province charged that Ethiopian authorities used some of the bank’s money to support a massive forced relocation program and that soldiers beat, raped and killed Anuak who refused to abandon their homes. The bank continued funding the health and education initiative for years after the allegations emerged.
The report by the World Bank’s internal Inspection Panel found that there was an “operational link” between the World Bank-funded program and the Ethiopian government’s relocation push, which was known as “villagization.” By failing to acknowledge this link and take action to protect affected communities, the bank violated its own policies on project appraisal, risk assessment, financial analysis and protection of indigenous peoples, the panel’s report concludes.
“The bank has enabled the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of indigenous people from their ancestral lands,” said David Pred, director of Inclusive Development International, a nonprofit that filed the complaint on behalf of 26 Anuak refugees.
The bank declined to answer ICIJ’s questions about the report.
“As is standard procedure, World Bank staff cannot comment on the results of the Inspection Panel’s investigation until the Executive Board of the World Bank Group has had the opportunity to review the Panel’s report over the coming weeks,” Phil Hay, the bank’s spokesman for Africa, said in a written response.
In previous responses to the complaint, bank management said there was no evidence of widespread abuses or evictions and that the Anuak “have not been, nor will they be, directly and adversely affected by a failure of the Bank to implement its policies and procedures.”
Because the panel’s report has not yet been published, some of the language may be revised before a final version is released, but its basic conclusions are not expected to change.
The report stops short of finding the bank responsible for the most serious abuses. The panel did not attempt to verify the widely reported allegations of forced evictions and human rights violations, finding that the question was beyond the scope of its investigation. The bank did not violate its policy on forced resettlement, the report says, because the relocations were conducted by the Ethiopian government and were not a “necessary” part of the health and education program.
Since 2006, the World Bank and other foreign donors have bankrolled the Promoting Basic Services (PBS) program, which provides grants to local and regional governments for services such as health, education and clean water. The PBS program was designed to avoid funneling aid dollars directly to Ethiopia’s federal government, which had violently cracked down on its opposition after disputed 2005 elections.