As the global economy expands, pressure on indigenous lands to yield up minerals, oil and gas is intensifying, posing a major threat on them, their lands, territories and the resources that they depend on. The World Bank has been an instrument of such process, supporting mining projects that have been even condemned by the United Nations.
World Bank Group interventions in the extractive industries sector have negatively impacted indigenous peoples in manifold ways. It has routinely advised countries to rewrite national mining codes to facilitate large-scale mining by foreign companies. It has weakened the legal protections previously enjoyed by indigenous peoples. It has directly supported mines, oil and gas ventures without adequate assessment of the social and environmental consequences and without taking heed of the lack of good governance and institutional or regulatory capacity in project areas or countries. Its policies make little mention of human rights.
In the case of the indigenous forest-dwelling Bagyeli, they have suffered the impact of the World Bank sponsored Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline Project. The project has been carried out even when the Bagyeli and supporting NGOs had clearly demonstrated the risks and even though World Bank’s Board members admitted that the Bank’s safeguard policy on indigenous peoples has not been properly applied. “They promised us jobs. They took everything from us. They took our land. They took our forest. They took our water”, says Sama Bailie of South West Cameroon (see WRM Bulletins Nº 72, 66, 45, 41, 35, 14 and 2).
Now, an official evaluation of the impacts of World Bank financing for extractive industries --the Extractive Industries Review (EIR)-- calls on the Bank to immediately stop financing coal projects and to phase out support for oil projects by 2008. It urges the Bank to require prior informed consent of communities that would be affected by oil and mining projects and human rights protections. And it says the Bank should reject financing for environmentally destructive practices such as dumping effluents into rivers and oceans. The final report, recently issued in December, was strongly critical of the record of the extractive industries in development, human rights, and environmental terms (the full report is available on http://www.eireview.org ).
The EIR recommends that adoption of and demonstrated compliance with human rights principles should be a prerequisite for companies seeking World Bank Group support for extractive industries, a requirement that would certainly pose a problem for many companies --like Shell, Anglo-American, ChevronTexaco, and ExxonMobil-- which face judicial investigations for their role in human rights abuses.
As Keith Slack of Oxfam America has put it: "The EIR has put forward some strong recommendations to try to address the problems, but the responsibility now shifts to the Bank. We'll all be looking to James Wolfensohn and his staff now to implement these changes".
Meanwhile, communities and peoples at large continue with their resistance against the global forces that encroach on their lives to deprive them of their lands and livelihoods, their health and food, their past and future.
Article based on information from: “Good News: Recommendations for World Bank Policy Changes”, “World Bank Official Review Advises: Respect Human Rights, Pull Out of Coal and Oil Financing”, from Paula Palmer, Global Response, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org , http://www.globalresponse.org ; sent by Amazon Alliance, e-mail: email@example.com ; http://www.amazonalliance.org