For Human Rights Beyond Borders

Human Rights have been locked up behind domestic bars to prevent their universal application to globalization and its much needed regulation. Extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) unlock human rights.

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Is the Asian Development Bank at 50 ripe for ETOs?

The 50th annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was opened on May 6, 2017, in Yokohama, Japan by its President Takehiko Nakao. In the week May of May 1, people in over 140 locations spread over 21 states in India, protested against the policies and projects of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) highlighting the negative impacts of ADB’s lending practices in hydropower projects, smart cities, industrial corridors, projects in the coastal areas, agriculture and infrastructure projects. People reiterated their determination to fight against such projects.

Medha Patkar, senior activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan, said “These protests are a reawakening of the masses who have been at the receiving end of ill-conceived policies and projects and will further strengthen the struggles demanding transparency and accountability from these IFIs.”

Transparency and accountability were also key demands of the civil society groups who had come to Japan for the ADB@50. On the first day of the Asian Development Bank’s 50th annual meeting, an activist handed President Takehiko Nakao a pair of gifts. The first was a photo book, entitled “A Visual Testimony of Asian Development Bank’s 50 Years of Destruction,” the second a financing trend analysis: “Missing the mark ADB@50.” At the start of the four-day conference there was an official meeting between civil society organizations and ADB’s top management, where CSOs placed their demands to “Stop loaning to authoritarian regimes”, “Commit to fight corruption”, “Defend workers’ rights” and “Stop the immunity of ADB”.

Takehiko Nakao stressed the key role of NGOs, calling them “very important partners.” “For many aspects of ADB work, your engagement is so important,” he said. Many CSOs were not satisfied by this type of talk – talk that is not unusual for IFIs. Can such statements be taken to be made in good faith? Perhaps there are people in the ADB’s management who appreciate CSOs as watchdogs for their projects. This, however, is not the point.

The people whose livelihoods and environment are destroyed (“affected”) by ADB projects have human rights that must be respected beyond borders. And the States governing the ADB have extraterritorial obligations to ensure compliance of ADB practices with human rights. This implies opposing potentially harmful projects. The 2011 Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights underline that States involved in human rights violations beyond their borders must also provide legal remedies. Hence people should be able to sue governments for their failure to prevent potentially harmful projects by IFIs over which they hold influence.

In addition to the obligations of member States of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), the ADB and other IFIs also have direct human rights obligations under general international law and international agreements to which they are parties. Moreover there are good grounds to hold that the ADB – as an international governmental organization – also has obligations under international human rights law.

Human rights have to be justiciable also in cases involving multilateral development banks. Decades of nice words by responsible management persons and of struggle by victims have proved that practices by IFIs (and their member States) need to be subject to review before courts. With investments beyond borders – such reviews must also go beyond borders.

More information on States' ETOs in the context of IFIs can be found here