World Bank Endorses Ethnocide

World Bank Endorses Ethnocide – Brief Article

`I don’t know if we have a future because without our land we can only be slaves to the settlers … If all you people who own tire world will not help us, the tribal people, then we are bound for destruction.’

These words, from a Philippines Aroman Manobo tribesman, head a bulletin issued in October last year by Survival International, calling for major changes to the UN and World Bank’s indigenous peoples and resettlement policies.

Since its foundation, the World Bank has been involved in projects resulting in the displacement of millions of people. In the words of its own 1990 operational directive (OD 4.30). the consequences are far-reaching: `Production systems are dismantled, productive assets and income sources are lost; people are relocated to environments where their productive skills may be less applicable; community structures are weakened; kin groups are dispersed; cultural identity, traditional authority and the potential for mutual help are diminished.’

The Bank’s Involuntary Resettlement Policy (OP/BP 4.12) outlines standards for client nations and companies in their treatment of indigenous peoples displaced by Bank-assisted schemes and NGOs have for years called for a tightening of both its terms and implementation.

In 1996, changes, presented as simple `clarification’ of existing policy, were begun, accompanied by a two-year period of public consultation in line with the Bank’s stated aim of improved transparency. NGOs, community organisations and academics united in calling for improved standards.

Consultation ended in 1999 and a year’s silence from the Bank followed, ended only by the release in March of a definitive final draft which lowers existing standards .Amazingly, they permit forcible relocation of indigenous peoples even when, in the words of the policy, it results in `significant adverse effects’ on their `cultural survival’.

According to the Forest Peoples Programme, the redrafted policy contravenes a number of international human rights conventions and, whilst mentioning indigenous peoples and rights to land, offers little or no guarantee of their legal protection leaving the field open for World Bank borrowers to use loopholes in the policy to disregard indigenous rights altogether.

The suspicion is that those redrafting the policy were influenced by borrower governments to weaken policy requirements. Reported complaints by some borrowers that implementing existing policy is too expensive and time-consuming seems to have led to the reclassification of once-tough mandatory requirements as optional extras.

The draft needs only the approval of the Bank’s executive directors to become policy. It is no longer open to public consultation, but can be viewed `for information only’ at: nsf/81f3f0192ec0edee852567eb0062fb33/e cce741f851ed3ca852567ed004c9be8? Open Document. Just try.

The Bank considers that the policy is not subject to further changes, so the only way prevent the redrawn policy from becoming official is to write directly to James Wofensohn, and to do so now.

See Evicted! The World Bank and Forced Resettlement in The Ecologist, Vol 24 No 6 (available from The Ecologist offices) and visit for more information.


A small selection of World Bank projects:

Since 1977, the World Bank has provided loans to coal mines, power plants and transmission lines in Singrauli, India, that have transformed the area, once rich and biodiverse, into an industrial wasteland. 300,000 people have been displaced, often more than once, to make way for a dam, power plants, ash dykes, coal mines and associated industrial development.

Uganda’s Forest Rehabilitation Project involved the eviction of 130,000 people from areas intended for a biological corridor between two national parks. Years after the project ended, displaced people remain in resettlement villages without basic services and increasing rates of infant mortality and infectious disease.

India’s notorious Narmada Dams scheme, meanwhile, still threatens to flood the homes of 200,000 people, including 60,000 indigenous peoples. The resettlement programme denied the rights of those without individual land titles. The World Bank was forced to withdraw its support in 1993 following a major popular mobilisation and an independent review which found that the Bank had seriously violated its involuntary resettlement and environmental assessment policies.


Write to James Wolfensohn, President, The World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433. Tell him that the Bank’s policy contravenes human rights, breaks his previous promises and should not be implemented. If you can, fax your letter to his direct line on +1 202 522 1677 and +1 202 522 3433.

Send emails to Joanne Salop at and Ian Johnson at

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