A recurrent challenge in outreach events conducted by independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) is the uneven level of prior information participants have about IAMs. While some participants are very familiar with IAMs having submitted a complaint to a mechanism, other participants are not aware of their existence and work.
These challenges were evident when on the 3rd and the 10th of September 2020, five accountability mechanisms joined forces in organizing an accountability and redress outreach webinar for Brazil. The five IAMs were MICI (IADB); IRM (GCF); CAO (IFC); the Inspection Panel from the World Bank; and SECU (UNDP). The partnering civil society organizations and academia from Brazil were AIDA; CONECTAS Direitos Humanos; International Rivers; Observatorio das Migracoes en SAO PAULO; Inesc; ISA (Instituto Socioambiental) and International Accountability Project.
The webinar aimed to equip representatives of Brazilian CSOs with practical information and hands-on experience in filing complaints and provided participants with an understanding of complaint handling processes so that they can support people potentially affected. Its structure was split in two days. On day one, IAMs jointly presented on their functions and mandates while CSOs presented their experiences engaging with the mechanisms. In day two Brazilian academics presented on the analysis of socio-environmental trends and the international development presence in Brazil, and IAMs presented on more specialized topics of accountability.
Forty-eight participants from ten Brazilian states attended the event. Most of them were NGO representatives or academics, with some community leaders also participating. The IRM’s presentation focused on self-initiated investigations – a feature not all other IAMs have. The presentation explained the first IRM Latin-Americans case, in Peru. Overall, participants and organizers felt that the webinar was successful in informing Brazilian civil society about the IAMs and listening to their perspectives and concerns.
Nevertheless, online technology seemed to limit the participation of community groups who generally live in areas with low internet bandwidth and use their smartphones to connect. Some community leaders claimed that their unfamiliarity with online protocols made it more difficult for them to participate actively in the plenary and in the chat discussions. Some participants criticized some steps taken in an investigation currently conducted by an IAM, while others complained about unmet expectations and continued social and human rights problems experienced by complainants.
Having these conflictual discussions reflect deep-seated and structural social, environmental, and human rights problems experienced by the complainants, and it is important that they are discussed. However, the online technology and format of these virtual events – much shorter in time than face-to-face events – does not seem to work very well with the contentious political debate as the relatively limited time curtails the discussion, potentially exacerbating disagreements.
The second session of the webinar was focused more explicitly on the institutional limits and operational difficulties experienced by the IAMs. This allowed the discussion to be reframed around the need to strengthen the role of the IAMs, and to better manage the expectations complainants have about the level of remediation and redress they can achieve. Despite some of the challenges faced, there was a consensus that the webinar represented 'good practice' in terms of IAMs - CSOs collaboration. IAMs can improve their approach and incorporate lessons from this experience in future outreach events.