Event discusses possibilities for the protection of human rights

On November 12, 2015, Conectas staged, in partnership with Rebrip (Brazil Network for the Integration of Peoples), Ibase (Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation and the Lula Institute, a debate on the New Development Bank and the possibilities for the protection of human rights.

Caio Borges, a lawyer from the Business and Human Rights project of Conectas, opened the panel by posing questions about the New Bank, which is scheduled to start making its first loans early in 2016: “Does the BRICS Bank institutionalize a real change in the global economic and financial order? Will it really be geared towards sustainable development? How to ensure that financing by the NDB not only prevents violations, but also promotes human rights? Borges said there is an imbalance of power and that the current global economic governance does not reflect the economic emergence of the BRICS, but he also questioned the mechanisms that emerging countries have to guarantee the protection of human rights in the loans made by their own institutions.

In light of the analysis on the “new development model” adopted by some BRICS countries, Iderley Colombini Neto, of Rebrip and Ibase, looked back at the history and context of the emergence of the national development banks of the BRICS, emphasizing the timing of their socio-environmental safeguards policies. Colombini Neto noted that the national development banks of the BRICS only started to develop their socio-environmental policies more recently, in the 2000s. He also pointed out that none of the block’s development banks meet high standards on socio-environmental and human rights issues, a concern that is clear in the investments by the national banks in projects abroad.

Paulina Garzón, a researcher for the China-Latin America Sustainable Investments Initiative of the American University (United States), presented a comparison between the governance and the policies of the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank on the one hand and the NDB and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) on the other. Garzón stressed that the more recent model of the latter two banks does yet not contain freedom of information policies, nor does it have programs or policies for emergency assistance. She made another comparison, this time between the AIIB and the NDB, identifying the differences concerning the choice of projects to be financed and the decision-making power of the members of the two banks. The comparisons highlighted the quality of the AIIB’s safeguards policy that, in her opinion, represents an improvement over the policies of other multilateral banks.

Presenting a perspective focused on the potential consequences for investments resulting from the power shift that has occurred with the rise of China, Marcos Lopes, a consultant at the FAO-UN and an Africa council member at the Lula Institute, pointed out that “only 0.3% of the world’s GDP is invested in social protection and the eradication of hunger and poverty, while 32% is invested in infrastructure”. According to Lopes, there is some uncertainty in the NDB concerning the meaning of sustainable development and how this concept will effectively influence the new bank’s investment decisions.

The last presentation was given by Michelle Ratton, a professor at the FGV Law School in São Paulo (FGV Direito SP), who made some observations on the significance of the NDB in institutional terms. According to Ratton, given that the bank is the first formal and institutional commitment of the five countries, it will be an institution that could facilitate monitoring by civil society. However, she also pointed out that for there to be an effective and comprehensive social control of the bank, there are other obstacles to be overcome, such as the high level of technicality, which makes it inaccessible for the majority of the population.

The different analyses presented by the panel members represent an important landmark in the dialogue by civil society on the NDB and its role in the protection and promotion of human rights. This event was important given the fact that during the passage of the agreement establishing the NDB through the Brazilian Congress, no debates were held with society on the creation of the new bank.

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