Reprisals against Critics of World Bank Group Projects
In recent years, a growing number of governments have embarked on broad and sometimes brutal campaigns to shut down the space for independent groups. Some governments have responded with ire to criticisms of government-supported development projects, condemning those who speak out as “anti-development” or traitors to the national interests.
“Don’t be too strong in your advocacy, otherwise you may end up in prison,” an official allegedly told a community member from Khanat Tom village, in Ta Lao commune, Cambodia, who had filed a complaint before the CAO. “I was afraid, but felt I had to continue, because I was doing the right thing.”
– Community member, Cambodia
“The World Bank should at least have someone come and visit me to show their support. It should do what it can to pressure the Cambodian government to release me, as it is because of the World Bank project I ended up in jail.”
– Yorm Bopha, a Boeung Kak lake community activist who was convicted on trumped up charges after protesting the detention of 15 of her fellow community members, speaking from jail. Bopha served more than a year behind bars.
“I feel like [I am] living in a fire. I am being burned alive. But what can I do? I do not fear. I will do what I [am] supposed to do.”
– An Inspection Panel interpreter days before he was arrested, just two weeks after the Panel concluded its process. The interpreter remains behind bars without charge.
“That night when my son resisted, [the contractor] held my son by his neck and threatened that, ‘If you speak too much, I will beat you up….’ Every day [company representatives] threaten us that we should leave otherwise they will beat us up.… I am scared. I live alone.… I worry about my safety.”
– Radha, a community member who stands to be displaced to make way for a hydropower project financed by the World Bank in northern India.
“[Company] officials have threatened to kill us. We are suffering a life of horror.… We request you to immediately suspend funding of the project and save our lives.”
– Letter from local community members affected by a World Bank-financed project in northern India to the World Bank country director, January 7, 2015.
“There is still the stigma. We don’t go out as strong any more. We are very cautious about what we say. We don’t say anything controversial in a meeting any more. It affects how we do our things.”
– A staff member of the Uganda Land Alliance, an independent group whose employees faced threats and harassment and that faced de-registration following its research and outspoken criticism of an IFC-financed project.
“Those who delay industrial projects are enemies and I don’t want them. I am going to open war on them.”
– Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, two days after breaking ground on the World Bank-financed Bujagali dam project. Human Rights Watch found that reprisals take place in a broader climate that demonizes critics as “anti-development.”
“I’ve not known the World Bank to do anything to make us safe.”
– Ngat Sophat, a Boeung Kak Lake community member, Cambodia.
“Free speech is the cornerstone of transparency and accountability. Where World Bank projects are being implemented, citizens must have a voice.… The World Bank should have done more to protect the security of people speaking out against this project. It’s us who facilitate the voice of the people. I’m not aware of them [the World Bank] doing anything [about the reprisals against critics of this project].… This makes me believe they think free speech is not an issue for them.”
– Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, a human rights defender and journalist who covered forced evictions in Uganda linked to an IFC-financed project.