Repeating the script from the last summit, the leaders of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) meeting in Fortaleza failed to make any concrete commitments to the protection of human rights.
The final declaration of the summit, published late this afternoon, announced that the leaders of the five countries have signed the Agreement establishing the New Development Bank (NDB), the world’s latest multilateral financial institution. They also signed the Treaty for the establishment of the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), a type of International Monetary Fund (IMF) with a more restrictive scope. The creation of both had been announced at the Durban Summit, in 2013, but only now do they have legal validity.
Shortly after the announcement of the creation of the bank, Conectas and another 8 organizations called on the leaders to incorporate five minimum points into the operating strategies and policies of the NDB before the multilateral bank makes its first loan (see the letter). The organizations expressed concern over the priority given to the financing of infrastructure projects and the reproduction of human rights violating models used by other international financial institutions. The organizations that signed the letter recommended to the Brazilian government that those responsible for the NDB establish socio-environmental and human rights-respecting policies and guidelines, ensure that free, prior and informed consultation is conducted before investing in projects that impact the lives of indigenous and tribal peoples, and adopt solid transparency and access to information policies.
In Fortaleza, Conectas described the outcome of the summit as “disappointing” in terms of human rights. According to Laura Waisbich, adviser to the Foreign Policy program at Conectas, “it is disappointing that the only concrete measures taken were in the economic field, namely the creation of the bank. The Fortaleza Declaration mentions various human rights crises around the world, but limits itself to words, not action. We are talking about five leading countries that could do a lot more than just express concern.”
“We should also remember that, together, the BRICS account for more than 40% of the world’s population. And these people face severe rights violations and the curtailment of their freedoms on a daily basis. The privileged relationship between the countries of the block should be used to press for improvements in human rights. It cannot be claimed that, in diplomacy, good relations depend on making concessions. Human rights are not negotiable,” added Waisbich.
Read below the full interview with Laura Waisbich and Caio Borges, representatives of Conectas who attended the summit in Fortaleza:
1. What was the outcome of the summit? Has any progress been made since Durban?
Laura Waisbich – The results in the financial and economic field are far more concrete compared to the outcome for social and human rights issues. The Fortaleza Declaration mentions various human rights crises around the world, but limits itself to words, not action. The adopted text is extensive and indicates an openness to embrace contemporary issues. But there is a growing sensation that when the topic is sensitive, such as human rights, a more generic language predominates. The case of Syria is a good example, since little progress has been made since last year’s declaration, in Durban. It’s not enough only to request safe humanitarian access, it’s necessary to engage with the parties in the conflict so the aid can get where it’s needed. What’s more, the humanitarian donations to the Syrian war victims made by the BRICS are very small compared to the size of their economies. Conectas and other organizations from Brazil, India and South Africa explicitly asked the negotiators in Fortaleza for a commitment to increasing the humanitarian donations of the five countries to be included in the declaration, which did not occur. We are talking about five leading countries that could do a lot more than just express concern over serious human rights crises.
2. The creation of a new multilateral bank is one of the primary objectives of the block. Why has it been the target of criticism?
Caio Borges – The creation of the New Development Bank (NDB) is important because it is the block’s first practical initiative. Although there are already five major multilateral development banks currently in operation and several national development banks, there is still a shortage of sources of financing for long-term projects in developing countries. The concerns of organizations like Conectas involve the priorities of the recently-created NDB. Based on the track record of the national development banks from the BRICS countries, there is a risk that the new bank will become another tool for supporting development models that favor economic performance metrics and indicators over mechanisms that promote fundamental rights and cooperation between people to overcome social injustices. If this forecast turns out to be accurate, the NDB, instead of representing an innovative solution, will end up repeating the same errors that other multilateral banks have made in the past.
3. What can the bank do to avoid reproducing the violations seen in other development financing institutions?
Caio Borges – The policies and processes of the NDB should always focus on people, not economic growth. First, the new bank should have clear guidelines for respecting socio-environmental and human rights protection standards when issuing credit. Second, the NDB should determine whether the affected communities have been properly consulted about the projects. The NDB should also have a solid transparency and access to information policy. On this point, the Agreement establishing the NDB was positive in that it stated that the bank must be transparent in its activities and that rules will be drafted on access to information. Moreover, the concerns of the communities with the projects need to be effectively converted into measures to mitigate impacts or even to review decisions. Therefore, dialogue and participation forums need to be set up for the affected communities, as well as interested civil society organizations and other actors directly or indirectly affected by the bank’s activities. Finally, the NDB should create a grievance and conflict resolution mechanism that can issue recommendations for altering projects that damage the environment or the violate human rights.
4. The BRICS summits are always closed, almost impenetrable for civil society. Was anything different in Fortaleza?
Laura Waisbich – The policy of isolation was still in effect. While the meeting between the heads of state progressed, a number of different social organizations and movements gathered in other venues. We want to be heard in advance as well, when the agenda is being set. This is also one of the demands of a group of NGOs from the BRICS countries. However, it is worth mentioning that compared to the last summit, there was a significant increase in the participation of Brazilian civil society. Obviously, the fact that it took place here helped. But from the activities in which Conectas participated in Fortaleza, it was clear that more groups are growing increasingly concerned with the direction being taken by the block. For example, the creation of a bank that does not prioritize human rights will have an enormous impact on people’s lives. This increased social monitoring of Brazilian foreign policy is extremely positive. In a democratic country, foreign policy should be a public policy.