Subject: AidWatch: Letter to World Bank

From: Tim <>


Mr Klaus Rohland 
The World Bank 
89 York Street, Level 8 
GPO Box 1612 Sydney, NSW 2000 
TEL: (61-2) 9299-2500 FAX: (61-2) 9299-2551 

Dear Mr Rohland

The World Bank, Human Rights and the East Timor Trust Fund

I am writing to pursue some matters raised in your talk at the Sydney Peace Foundation seminar on 'human rights and development', at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney on 9 May.

I am a researcher from Aidwatch, a community group which monitors development assistance. One of our activities is helping East Timorese NGOs understand and engage with aid agencies, including the World Bank. We are currently preparing some educational materials for these groups, in Indonesian and English.

At the SPF seminar I raised a question concerning the World Bank's support for human rights, in particular self-determination, and your vetoing of some proposals under the agricultural rehabilitation project, in particular the proposed public grain silo. I would appreciate some clarification from you on these two issues, if you don't mind.

1. The World Bank's vetoing of the use of TFET money for public facilities At the seminar you explained World Bank reasons for vetoing the public grain silo. To paraphrase, you said that because of the modest budget of East Timor, it could not afford the maintenance costs of a grain silo -- the World Bank was responsible to the donor countries and its shareholders for seeing the Trust Fund money was effectively used, and the Bank had decided this was not an effective use.

However you did not address the main point of my question, which was: how was this 'vetoing' of funds, given for the people of East Timor by the donor countries, consistent with the human right of self-determination of a people (Article One of both the Covenants of the International Bill of Rights)?

Could you respond to this question concerning self-determination?

I have noted, more generally, that in World Bank reports on programs in East Timor Bank officials have expressed the view that all "revenue raising activities" should be in private hands. This is apparently because the World Bank, for all its talk of public participation and community empowerment, believes that private profit, market-driven mechanisms are the preferable means of economic development.

However, if the people of East Timor through their representatives choose to use the donated Trust Funds to establish a public facility, and decide to raise taxes to maintain it, how is it that the World Bank feels it has the right to block such a political choice?

Further, if the people of East Timor were to decide against the privatisation of facilities, such as the agricultural service centres or the microfinance scheme, on whatever basis, would the World Bank attempt to intervene? What is the World Bank's position on these issues, and will this position be any different after the coming elections?

2. The World Bank's position on human rights In your talk at the SPF seminar you said that while the World Bank generally supported human rights, it had difficulties with some aspects of human rights because your Articles (presumably Article IV: 10) prohibited it from engaging in 'political' activities.

However it is not clear to me how the World Bank will decide which human rights issues are or are not 'political'. For example, is not the decision whether to have a public or a privatised grain silo an intensely political issue?

Again, to paraphrase your response, you presented the World Bank as having a "division of labour" which was distinct from the UN bodies which supervised human rights. Continuing with these economic terms you said that human rights was not the "comparative advantage" of the World Bank. The Bank was trying to demonstrate the connections between Bank programs and human rights through "rigorous econometric modelling", but this had not yet succeeded. You also made the point, which I agree is quite valid, that the Bretton Woods institutions were set up before the International Bill of Rights.

Further to these comments, and because we feel this is a very important issue, Aidwatch would like some clarification of the World Bank's position on these additional matters:

1. Do you accept that the distinction between 'political' human rights and decisions concerning economic development, is rather artificial? Surely democratically constituted peoples around the world have development choices? And does not the process of deciding this distinction pose dilemmas for an agency such as the World Bank, which attempts to portray many of its functions as "technical"?

2. Given the very high level of ratification of the international Bill of Rights (including by most members of the IBRD) will the World Bank seek a revision of its articles, to "have regard to" human rights obligations in its economic planning? We understand that "a member, a Governor or the Executive Directors" can propose such an amendment (Article VIII).

We would greatly appreciate your responses to these issues

Yours sincerely

Dr Tim Anderson 
Researcher for Aidwatch

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