World Bank Discusses “Do Good” Approach for Indigenous Peoples

The World Bank held two critical meetings in Manila, Philippines, last month as part of its safeguard policies review process and its overall engagement with indigenous peoples. Center Senior Attorney Leonardo Crippa was invited to participate in the meetings as an expert on indigenous rights.

On March 21st, the meeting addressed the question of free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples. This is one of the “emerging issues” the Bank identified for the first phase of the safeguard review process. The next day was devoted to discussion on a dedicated indigenous peoples consultation plan and an on-going dialogue between the Bank and indigenous peoples.

Safeguard policies are a series of measures meant to prevent Bank-funded projects from harming communities and the environment. Typically, discussions on safeguard policies have been limited to addressing measures that fall within the Bank’s “do no harm” approach. However, the discussions in Manila went beyond the usual dialogue on safeguards and engagement with indigenous peoples. As a key point of departure, experts and the Bank’s Senior Staff agreed on the need for alleviating the poverty afflicting numerous indigenous communities in the developing world. Then the Bank’s Indigenous Peoples Policy provided the framework for an important, broader discussion: whether the Bank should move beyond “do no harm” to embrace a “do good” approach in the Indigenous Peoples Policy.

While the Bank’s safeguard policies review is still in the early stages, there is hope that genuine efforts will be made to help indigenous communities fully exercise their rights to development and self-government within all stages of the development process. This is the time for the Bank to address indigenous peoples both as development partners and as owners of the lands and natural resources being targeted by states’ for proposed development projects. Working properly through the indigenous governing institutions and assisting states’ efforts toward realizing and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples is the right thing for the Bank to do. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be used as a guide in developing future policies.