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Opinion Opinion

Retaliation: A Threat to Accountability and Redress

SONGDO,
On 2 March 2016, Goldman Prize Winner, Honduran environmentalist and indigenous rights activist, Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home. This came after more than six years of active campaigning against the construction of a hydro-electric dam on the Gualcarque river, an essential resource for the Lenca indigenous people living in the area. During the trial, seven men were found guilty of her murder, including executives of the construction company who had orchestrated her killing.

Image by Open Clipart-Vectors from Pixabay


This is just one example of the many assassinations of environmentalists and human rights activists happening globally. According to a report published by human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, 120 human rights activists from around the world were killed in 2019 due to their work on land, indigenous peoples’ and environmental rights. These figures do not include the countless acts of violence, threats and illegal detentions faced by many more.  It is in this context, of rising acts of retaliation around the world, that the Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has drafted Supporting Operating Procedures (SOPs) on retaliation and is making the draft available for public comment (see more details below).

Retaliation occurs when individuals are harmed, or threatened with harm, for filing a complaint, reporting of wrongdoing or assisting in an investigation of wrongdoing during a project. In order to address this problem, grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) of international financial institutions (IFIs) are developing policies and responses to the growing incidence of retaliation. This includes the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), who has also published a toolkit to help guide GRMs on how to address these risks.

One of the key mandates of GRMs of IFIs is to provide an avenue for redress to individuals and communities negatively affected by funded projects. Since the introduction of GRMs of IFIs more than 25 years ago, they have played an important role in ensuring that development does not infringe on environmental and social safeguards and human rights, and that, when it does, appropriate measures are taken to address this. However, in order to fulfil this function, and provide a legitimate and accessible source of accountability and redress, individuals and communities must be able to access them without fear of retaliation.

Retaliation not only causes harm directly to the individuals affected and their families. Fear of retaliation can also mean that communities do not raise complaints when projects are causing harm, resulting in prolonged and unmitigated damage. It is in acknowledging the seriousness of these threats, and their direct and indirect consequences, that the IRM of the GCF has developed its retaliation procedures. These procedures are a product of several months of work by the IRM, and compliment the GCF’s Policy on the protection of whistleblowers and witnesses. These procedures cover risk identification and prevention and protective measures, while also noting the limitations faced by the IRM in addressing retaliation. 

Through opening up the IRM’s procedures for consultation from a wide range of stakeholders, the IRM hopes they will form part of a robust foundation equipping the IRM with the tools and procedures required to help protect individuals and communities. Therefore, the IRM wishes to invite the public to make submissions on its draft SOPs on retaliation. To do so, please follow the instructions in the official call for public comments.  

Article prepared by Katrina Lehmann-Grube