Luis has been chosen to represent his community in negotiations with the government and a foreign company that is planning to build a big energy project on their land. On the way home from a recent meeting, he suspected that he was being followed and received messages on social media threatening to make him disappear if he continues to object to the project.
Juanita works all day taking care of the house and the kids. She has been planning to get a check-up at the local health center in the evening, but the route is dark and she fears being attacked. On the other side of town, a project is financing the electrification of the local administrative building. Juanita asks the mayor to use the opportunity to install streetlights on the route to the health center so that she can access its services safely.
Clara left her home country to find work on a big project site across the border. She was promised work as a maid at a hotel where workers are being accommodated and was told she could pay off the cost of the journey with her first paycheck. Instead, she found herself in a nearby brothel, trafficked into prostitution.
Mario is an indigenous farmer who works the community’s fields using traditional techniques passed down from his ancestors. A few days ago, a businessman from the capital came and said that he owns the title to the community’s land and wants to sell it to an agribusiness company. Shortly after, police and armed men chased Mario off his land, destroyed his crops and instructed him to never come back.
What do Luis, Juanita, Clara, and Mario have in common? Their human rights have been infringed on.
Human rights are universal and inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. They range from the most fundamental —the right to life— to those that make life worth living, such as the right to food, education, work, health, and liberty.
Governments are the duty bearers of human rights. They must respect our rights and avoid putting limits on the enjoyment of our freedoms. They also have the obligation to protect us from those who want to abuse our human rights. And they have the obligation to fulfill human rights —to provide basic conditions for any person to achieve their potential and live with dignity.
Human rights and the IDB
Human rights are intrinsic to the IDB’s mission of improving lives and bringing sustainable development to our region. While the stories we mentioned in the introduction are hypothetical, they could easily reflect realities we may encounter during the design and implementation of our projects.
Bearing this in mind, the IDB has adopted a new Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF) that elevates respect for human rights to the core of environmental and social risk management in IDB projects. IDB borrowers must respect human rights, avoid infringement on the human rights of others and address risks and impacts on human rights in IDB projects.
This commitment to human rights is reflected in the ESPF’s Environmental and Social Performance Standards (ESPS), as they are all related directly or indirectly to the protection of human rights. The standards are closely aligned with international human rights law and acknowledge and build upon existing rights, such as the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the rights of workers.
Through this innovative policy framework, we can now assess human rights risks in the context of all IDB projects. Wherever we identify these risks, we support our borrowers in carrying out their due diligence to identify ways to avoid infringing the rights of our project beneficiaries, affected groups and workers. The IDB is committed to helping borrowers protect people from abuse, enable the fulfillment of their rights, and remedy harm caused.
Respect, protect and fulfill human rights
Let’s look back at the hypothetical stories of Luis, Juanita, Clara, and Mario and how their situations should be addressed:
The IDB has a zero-tolerance policy towards reprisals and takes any credible allegations seriously. Luis must feel safe and comfortable speaking for his community as is guaranteed by his freedom of expression. The borrower could change the location of public consultations or provide access to alternative platforms that protect the identity of participants. Luis’ data should be kept confidential and, if he agrees, threats to his life could be investigated by local police.
When Juanita voices her suggestion during the public consultations for the electrification of the administrative building, the IDB could support the borrower in incorporating this suggestion into its project design, expanding distribution lines and streetlights to the health center and making sure that women can access health services safely, enjoying their right to health.
Human trafficking is a grave violation of many rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and security; the right to freedom of movement; and the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. We must immediately remove Clara from this abusive situation and work with her, local authorities, civil society organizations and other stakeholders to remedy her case.
Mario has been forcefully evicted, violating, among others, his rights to adequate housing, food, water, and cultural life. The IDB respects the land rights of Indigenous Peoples, even when they are not formalized. Projects that may affect Indigenous Peoples and their lands negatively must obtain their free, prior and informed consent. Hence, Mario must be allowed back on his land and be compensated for any harm done.
The IDB’s new ESPF provides a range of flexible tools to support borrowers as they navigate the risks and impacts of their operations. This week we celebrate Human Rights Day by promoting the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights, which are fundamental elements of our mission to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This blog post is part of a series about the IDB‘s new Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF). You may also want to read:
The IDB’s new Environmental and Social Policy Framework in a nutshell
Navigating through the unavoidable: responsible management of involuntary resettlement
A cautionary tale: the importance of project-level grievance mechanisms
Protecting all life on Earth: sustainable management of biodiversity in projects
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