World Bank denies blame for violent Ethiopian evictions

Gorom refugee camp in South SudanThe World Bank has denied responsibility for the violent evictions of an indigenous group by a major client, the Ethiopian government, and declined to press for compensation for families that have been forced from their homes.

Inclusive Development International, a U.S.-based human rights group, denounced the bank’s decision not to seek compensation for the Anuak, an indigenous community in western Ethiopia, and charged that the bank has “whitewashed damning evidence of widespread human rights violations” in order to sidestep blame. 

The bank rejected the allegation that it had suppressed evidence and said that it has maintained consistently that it would not seek to verify Anuak refugees' accounts of abuses by government authorities. It said it "adheres to the highest ethical standards when conducting its investigations."

The case centers on a health and education initiative in Ethiopia that was supported by $2 billion in World Bank funding over the last decade. Anuak refugees said that World Bank money from the health and education project was used to fund mass evictions in which soldiers beat, raped and killed Anuak who refused to move. 

An investigation by an internal bank watchdog unit found that the bank had violated its rules by failing to acknowledge the “operational link” between its funding and mass relocations and take action to protect the Anuak. The World Bank Inspection Panel’s report, first disclosed by ICIJ in January, found, however, that the bank was not responsible for any evictions or human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian authorities.

In a newly released statement, the bank’s management has responded to the investigation and given little ground, stating that the results cleared it of responsibility for harm suffered by the Anuak. The bank insists that its funding was “not linked” to mass relocations, and has declined to call on Ethiopia to compensate the displaced Anuak community. The bank proposed an action plan that called for greater oversight of the bank’s operations in Ethiopia, and mentioned the possibility of expanding an agriculture project to provide support to the Anuak in the Ethiopian state of Gambella.

Map of the region.“Our institution’s core principles include to do no harm to the poor,” World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim said in a statement. “While the Inspection Panel found that the Bank was not responsible for any harm, it did point out areas where we could have done more to help the Anuak people.”

The Inspection 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. Its report notes that it “came across information” about such abuses but it does not describe them in detail. 

David Pred, the director of Inclusive Development International, said the panel’s decision not to publish these findings amounted to suppression of crucial evidence.  Pred released transcripts of Inspection Panel interviews in which Anuak described killings, rapes and arbitrary arrests carried out during the mass relocation program. 

“There was one Anuak man among [military] Special Forces who rejected the order to go force farmers to move to the new location by force,” an Anuak, whose name is not given, told the Inspection Panel. “And we heard a shot, a highland [federal] policeman shot this man… to death right there.”

The panel said in a statement that it had not been aware of the transcripts when it released its report, but issued a correction as soon as it received them.  “These corrections do not alter the Panel's findings or conclusions,” the panel said.

The panel’s findings in Ethiopia are its second major decision in recent months in which the panel found that the bank had violated its rules during a project associated with mass evictions, but said the bank was not directly responsible for people losing their homes. In 2014, the panel found that the bank had failed to follow its rules for protecting indigenous peoples in funding a conservation program in Kenya that members of the Sengwer people say was used as tool for pushing them out of their ancestral forests, but concluded that the bank was not at fault for the evictions.

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