Retaliation: The Bogeyman of Grievance Redress
Recent UN reports show that retaliation against human rights defenders, environmentalists, indigenous activists and those who have grievances regarding development projects, remains and grows as a concern around the world. This has also impacted the work of Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) of international financial institutions, as complainants are increasingly reporting threats or acts of retaliation when they attempt to have their grievances addressed by these mechanisms. This appears to have been significantly worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Civil society organisations are reporting that in many countries around the world, development projects are continuing without meaningful participation, freedom of speech and the work of journalists has been severely clamped down upon and commitments to human rights have been suspended with increased violations and abuses.
These challenges have been brought closer to home in recent cases filed with the IRM. The complainants in these cases requested confidentiality due to concerns regarding retaliation. As part of the IRM’s procedures, we have also conducted our own research and risk assessments which are continuously being monitored and updated, in consultation with the complainants. The Covid-19 lockdown context has enhanced these concerns, as well as produced a number of other challenges in processing these cases, such as restricting our ability to conduct site visits.
In parallel, the IRM has uploaded its brochure on retaliation onto its website and is working on finalising its SOPs. These are currently undergoing internal consultation and will be published shortly. In addition, the IRM is contracting an experienced international organisation to provide training to its staff on managing and responding to threats and acts of retaliation. While recognising the importance of policies and procedures, the IRM firmly believes that its staff should also have the necessary practical skills and training to competently and confidently address these concerns.
Despite these developments, however, it is still essential to note the limitations of what the IRM, and IAMs in general, can achieve. While we strive to support and protect complainants against retaliation, this is also constrained by our own lack of presence in project countries, limited influence over national authorities and restricted resources. It is therefore important that we become part of a global effort to reduce the prevalence and acceptability of retaliation around the world and consistently improve our own approaches, policies and knowledge on how we can do better. The developments outlined here, together with the GCF’s zero tolerance policy on retaliation, are the first steps in the right direction.