July 14, 2016

Safe Space for Participatory Development

 Dear President Adesina,

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of participation, good governance, and accountability for development. As both human rights and development experts have noted, respect for human rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association is crucial for achieving participatory, sustainable, and accountable development.

Unfortunately, in many Country Regional Members of the AFDB, these rights are under attack, from violent crackdowns on protests and criminalization of speech, to arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders, as well as restrictions on civil society organizations (CSOs). A recent report by Global Witness identified 2015 as the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, with 185 killings across 16 countries.[1] . CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance has tracked serious threats to core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in 109 countries in 2015 alone. Notably, 41 of 54 countries are on this list.[2]This environment of violence, intimidation, and closing civil society space renders meaningful public participation in development virtually impossible. It also significantly increases the risk that AfDB financed activities will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations.

This issue was brought to the fore recently by Berta Cacéres murder, a renowned indigenous land rights and environmental defender in Honduras who was killed because of opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, a project financed by the Dutch, Finnish, and Central American banks.

Today, over 150 civil society organizations from around the world launched the attached statement on the “Responsibility of International Financial Institutions to ensure Meaningful and Effective Participation” The statement lays out seven concrete ways the AfDB and other development finance institutions can support an enabling environment for public participation and ensure that their activities do not cause or contribute to human rights violations. A live version of the statement together with case studies and supplemental information is available at http://www.rightsindevelopment.org/HRD.

We believe that the AfDB has a responsibility to ensure that the activities it finances respect human rights and that there are spaces for people to participate in the development of AfDB-financed activities and hold the AfDB to account without risking their security.

We know that the challenges of closing civil society space and threats to human rights defenders may be new to the AfDB. However, are these challenges are growing more acute day by day, we urge you to devote the necessary resources to grapple with them in a serious and effective manner.

We are eager to work with you and to bring the technical expertise of human rights institutions, human rights defender organizations, and other relevant experts to assist you in understanding these issues and identifying effective means to address them.

We therefore request the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience.

Please contact Mr Aly Sagne for more information or for scheduling purposes.

For more information, visit: http://rightsindevelopment.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/IFIsEnablingEnvironmentJointStatementFINAL-forsign-on.French-cleanvetted9.pdf

[1] On Dangerous Ground, Global Witness, June 20, 2016, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/reports/dangerous-ground/

[2] Civil Society Watch Report 2016, CIVICUS, http://www.civicus.org/index.php/en/media-centre-129/reports-and-publications/2449-core-civil-society-rights-violated-in-109-countries-civil-society-watch-report