Lowenstein Clinic Releases Report on World Bank Inspection Panel

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School has released a paper raising concerns about procedural changes at the World Bank’s Inspection Panel. As the independent accountability mechanism housed within the Bank, the Panel provides an avenue for affected communities to raise their concerns about harm suffered as a result of Bank projects. The report, Deferring Accountability: Delays at the World Bank Inspection Panel, examines changes that the Panel has made to its complaint mechanism during the last decade and a half. In several cases, the Panel has introduced delays in the registration and investigation of complaints, both on an ad hoc basis and through revisions to its Operating Procedures in 2014.

The report focuses on controversy surrounding the construction of a Bank-funded electric transmission line in rural Nepal. In 2013 community members from Sindhuli, a remote village in the path of the line, submitted a complaint to the Panel to raise their concerns about the transmission line. The complaint alleged that Nepalese officials had failed to comply with Bank requirements to consult with affected communities on the project’s design and to provide adequate information about compensation for land or the health impacts of the line. The complaint also alleged that opponents to the transmission line had faced violence and intimidation from local authorities. Instead of proceeding to the merits, the Panel decided to delay investigation of the complaint in order to give local Bank Management time to respond to community concerns. Meanwhile, construction work on the transmission line continued. In a 2015 trip to Sindhuli, the Clinic found that community members had grown increasingly frustrated and disillusioned. In the absence of meaningful attention to the underlying concerns, the Panel’s inaction served to undermined the Panel’s legitimacy and independence in the eyes of the communities it is meant to serve.

The report also examines two other Panel cases, in Nigeria and Uzbekistan, in which different methods of delay were employed. The Clinic found that none of the three methods of delay met their stated purpose—to allow World Bank Management to solve problems at an early stage and lessen the need for Inspection Panel investigation.

Ultimately, the authors conclude: “Each of the forms of delay undermines the Panel’s ability to serve as an effective accountability mechanism. When the Panel chooses to employ delay periods that deviate from the standard timeframe for its complaints procedure, it undermines its legitimacy and fails to act predictably or transparently. The Panel can and should live up to international accountability standards, and to its original promise of holding the Bank accountable for respecting its commitments to safeguard people and environments affected by its projects.”

The report was written in 2015, and has been updated and released now in order to join ongoing discussions about Panel reform. Lowenstein Clinic students Kristine Beckerle ’15, Elizabeth Chan ’15, Anna Diakun ’15, and Andrew Walchuk ’17 researched and authored the report under the supervision of Muneer Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law, and Hope Metcalf, Clinical Lecturer in Law and Executive Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights.
The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic is a legal clinic at Yale Law School that undertakes projects on behalf of human rights organizations and individual victims of human rights abuse. The goals of the Clinic are to provide students with practical experience that reflects the range of activities in which lawyers engage to promote respect for human rights, to help students build the basic knowledge and skills necessary to be effective human rights advocates, and to contribute to efforts to protect human rights through assistance to appropriate organizations and individual clients.