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World Bank Group’s Evolution Process must prioritize Civic Space and Participation



We welcome:

  • the current opportunities to offer comments on the Development Committee report on the Evolution Roadmap;
  • growing recognition by several States that the World Bank Group (WBG) – and the multilateral financial system at large – need broad reform and revamping; and
  • commitments by the new WBG President, Mr. Ajay Banga, to: “forge new partnerships with civil society”.

We welcome statements in the text of the Roadmap that recognize the importance of: “greater social inclusion and citizen and beneficiary engagement”, “improving gender equality”, creating “opportunities for youth”, “inclusion of marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and ethnic and racial minorities”, “consideration of the particular needs of people facing compound risks of exclusion” and inclusion of “citizens and beneficiaries” from “fragile countries”.

However, environments that stifle safe and robust engagement make meaningful inclusion unattainable. Restrictions on the enabling environment for civic engagement threaten the WBG’s development impact and disproportionately silence the marginalized and vulnerable.

This statement, drafted with extensive consultation and collaboration, provides recommendations for how the Roadmap and WBG’s overall Evolution Process should address civic space and participation.

Recommendation A: The Evolution Roadmap must acknowledge the importance of civic space and participation to foster inclusive development.

1. The Roadmap must acknowledge the global crisis of shrinking civic space, as has been established by credible sources:

  • According to the Civicus Monitor tracking civic space, as of 2022, only 3.2% of the world’s population lives in countries rated as having “open” civic space.
  • According to the Democracy Report by the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute at the University of Gothenburg, says “72% of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – live in autocracies by 2022.”
  • According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, only 14.4% of countries are full democracies, 35.3% are authoritarian regimes, and in between 50.3% are flawed democracies or hybrid regimes.

2. The Roadmap should recognize that shrinking civic space threatens the revised WBG goals to foster “sustainable, resilient, and inclusive development” and requires direct WBG action.

3. The Roadmap should incorporate commitments to protect civic space, similar to statements that States – including several WBG shareholders – have made. See, for example:

  • In 2023, 70 governments and authorities endorsed the Summit of Democracy Declaration, committing to protect human rights, civic space (including media freedom), and the rule of law; and
  • In the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement, several states across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas committed to protect and foster open and pluralistic civic spaces.

Recommendation B: The Roadmap should recognize that defenders’ participation and their protection are crucial for a just transition.

4. The Roadmap should make clear that communities are the experts of their own development pathways and priorities, and community-led development models are essential for a just transition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that we must shift development pathways towards sustainability, with attention to equity and broad and meaningful participation to build social trust and deepen and widen support for transformative changes. Open civic space is critical to ensure trust and participation. The WBG’s top-down development model and failures to address civic space compromise the stated priority to combat climate change. The absence of civic space and community-led development in the Roadmap calls into question whether the WBG fully recognizes the fundamental relationship between just transitions and participatory development.

5. The Roadmap should acknowledge the critical role of environmental and human rights defenders, especially activists advocating for climate justice and just energy transitions. The Roadmap must also recognize that environmental and human rights defenders are one of the most at-risk groups of activists working today, too often as a result of development bank-supported activities in the renewable energy and transition minerals sectors.

6. The Roadmap should commit to taking all necessary measures that ensure protection of defenders – both individuals and the communities/collectives they are a part of – in investment contexts. Reprisal risk assessments and subsequent action plans and remedies must be developed with full participation and consent of affected defenders and must be situated in the specific realities the defenders face. The plans should also include pathways
to address the impacts defenders might face, directly or indirectly, from WBG supported activities about which they are raising concerns.

Recommendation C: The Roadmap should advance transparent, accountable and participatory development supported by a rights based framework.


On paper the WBG recognizes the importance of citizen engagement “in making public institutions more transparent, accountable, and effective, and contributing innovative solutions to development challenges.” It touts support for transparency, accountability and participation in protocols and policies including: The Environmental and Social Framework, performance standards, a citizen engagement mainstreaming commitment, an access to information policy, a statement on zero tolerance for reprisals and accountability and grievance redress processes.

Yet, these fall short of international human rights law and standards and thus limit ensuring robust civic engagement and participation in WBG-supported activities. There also has been inadequate reflection on how a disproportionate focus on private sector-led approaches to development contributes to reprisals and ineffective development. These gaps do not only risk human rights violations in extreme cases. They also prevent the WBG from fully knowing the real effects of day-to-day operations on local communities or understanding the longer term, cumulative social development and human rights impacts of overarching policies and programs.

7. To advance human rights based and participatory development, the WBG should develop and adopt a strong, intersectional human rights-based framework in close consultation with communities, social movements, unions, defenders, Indigenous Peoples and civil society organizations. At the very least, the framework must comply with applicable local, national and international human rights law. The framework will require the WBG to develop new policies and adapt existing policies and practices, including:

  • Require human rights due diligence (HRDD) on the direct and indirect impacts of WBG supported projects and policies on peoples and communities, which incorporates reprisal risk assessments. The HRDD must be conducted before investment decisions are made, and in close consultation with directly affected defenders and communities, creating opportunities for them to contribute in a safe and reprisal sensitive manner.
  • Prioritize civic space conditions in country partnership and investment decisions by institutionalizing assessments that determine the risks and challenges to civic engagement and include appropriate redress. HRDD must
    also respond to risks related to clients, contexts, and countries where participation may not be possible due to contested or closed civic space, authoritarianism, criminalization, retaliation, power imbalances or a general environment of fear to speak up.
  • Build institutional capacity, expertise and protocols to distinguish between different contexts in which people can and cannot participate. The WBG must require governments and state-owned agencies to comply with their duties
    and responsibilities to preserve defenders’ rights, protect them from attacks and threats, and create and maintain an environment in which the right to defend human rights is upheld. The WBG must have frameworks for using its leverage over business partners so that they respect human rights, remedy violations, and support defenders to exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. The WBG must also better address inaction, impunity and/or illegal actions by state authorities when they protect investors rather than those impacted by the investments.
  • Consultatively develop human rights-based development indicators to meaningfully evaluate overall development impact, especially for social and environmental impacts. Additionally, the WBG must incorporate a civic space metric and indicator in the WBG Corporate Scorecard.
  • Link staff incentives within the WBG to meaningful measures of development impact. These should include environmental and social impacts assessed with the participation of directly affected populations, especially Indigenous Peoples and local communities where projects and activities are sited – rather than the quantity of funds disbursed.
  • Improve transparency and information disclosure policies and practices to proactively make key information public, ensuring it is accessible and can be promptly updated.
  • Expand capacity to conduct work and provide information in all languages spoken where the WBG operates. There are several examples of multilateral organizations – like the United Nations and the European Investment Bank – that support participation in multiple languages, so it is unconscionable that information disclosure and participatory processes associated with WBG activities are primarily in English. Even in this consultation process,
    documents and consultations were initially only available in English.
  • Provide more resources and capacity building to WBG’s environmental and social departments and build capacity across the bank on issues relating to transparency, accountability, participation and human rights.

8. The Roadmap should ensure the independence and effectiveness of WBG’s independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) and grievance redress processes:

  • Expand the mandate of WBG IAMs to independently look at the environmental and social impacts of all WBG activities, including development policy loans. Empower IAMs to make binding recommendations with the participation of directly affected communities.
  • Ensure management and staff respect processes and findings of WBGIAMs. The WBG must also work with its accountability mechanisms to address client, country or context specific barriers that may hinder communities from accessing the complaints mechanisms, especially on issues related to civic space and reprisals.

9. The Roadmap should agree to a human rights based remedy framework, such that communities negatively impacted by WBG projects – including where WBG’s IAMs have found non-compliance with WBG policies and standards – can shape and receive remedy.

Remedy should also be provided to legacy projects where communities have been harmed.

10. The Roadmap should recognize the value of an external, independent evaluation of how the WBG’s projects, policies, practices and underlying top-down development model — with its focus on advancing economic growth and the role of the private sector in development – have impacted and continue to impact human rights and civic space.
This evaluation would need to be conducted with extensive participation of grassroots communities, defenders and others, including those who are critical of WBG activities, and should also make recommendations to redress past harms and options for moving forward.

11. The WBG must allow communities and civil society to hold it accountable for human rights impacts using legal processes in national and international courts.

Recommendation D: Ensure that changes to the WBG’s operational model and financial capacity provide robust, dedicated resources to participation and civic engagement,

12. As it seeks to dramatically increase the quantity of the financing it mobilizes, governs and disburses under the Evolution Roadmap, the WBG must ensure it allocates the necessary budget for all of the above recommendations.

  • Expanded budgetary allocations must reflect the reality that the current funding for environmental and social safeguard compliance is already not commensurate with the environmental and social risks of the bank’s activities.
  • With any substantial increases to the volume of WBG financing and more emphasis on leveraging private sector investment must come increased resource allocation to transparency, accountability and participation.
  • Reforms to the operational and financial model must consider how to provide civil society organizations from the Global South with substantial, dedicated funding mechanisms that could be administered by civil society or jointly with the WBG.

In conclusion, the quality of WBG spending and operations is as important as the quantity of funding made available, which requires that citizens and civil society be more systematically brought into decision-making and implementation across the WBG.

For years now, social movements, Indigenous Peoples, communities in the Global South, and civil society organizations have been providing concrete policy recommendations (as above) and systemic solutions to address concerns about:

  • the top-down development model advanced by the WBG which prioritizes economic growth and private profit; and
  • the role of the WBG in the interconnected crises of inequality, food-insecurity, climatechange and closing civic space.

However, the WBG’s projects and policy recommendations, under the watch of its shareholders who are human-rights duty bearers, have continued to cause or contribute to human rights violations related to forced evictions, rising debt burden, environmental degradation, increased carbon emissions, and reprisals against those who speak up. These harms are caused (at least, in part) by the WBG’s failure to ensure meaningful participation for directly affected people and the inability (and unwillingness) to address civic space dynamics in the countries where it operates and as a result of the clients with whom it partners.

The WBG Evolution Roadmap process could be a unique opportunity to more systematically understand, promote, and protect enabling environments for civic engagement using a human rights lens. Following the recommendations in this statement would enable the WBG to move towards realizing the new vision of achieving development that
is “sustainable, resilient, and inclusive”. These are critical first steps necessary for any meaningful institutional reform to take place in good faith. Given the leadership role of the WBG in the multilateral financial architecture, the roadmap could also positively influence others in the multilateral development finance system to address issues related to human rights and civic space.


AbibiNsroma Foundation (ANF), Ghana

Accountability Counsel, Global

Accountability Lab, Global

Accountability Research Center, USA

ACTC Développement communication, Mauritanie

ACT Alliance, Global

Aid/Watch, Australia

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Philippines

Appui aux Initiatives Communautaire de Conservation de l’Environnement et de Développement Durable (AICED), République Démocratique du Congo

Arab Watch Coalition (AWC), USA

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Regional (Asia)

Association LaSiesta pour la protection de l’environnement, Morocco

Bank Information Center, USA

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), MENA region

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), International

Centre de Défense des Droits de l’Homme et Démocratie, République Démocratique du Congo

Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), India

Centre for Women & children Solidarity Network (CWcSN), India

Centro de estudios e Investigación sobre Mujeres, Spain

Coalition for Human Rights in Development, Global

Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy, Liberia

Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ), Nepal

Conectas Direitos Humanos, Brazil

Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs du Sénégal (CNTS), Senegal

Conseil Regional des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de développement, République Démocratique du Congo

Council for People’s Development and Governance, Philippines

Debt justice Norway, Norway

Defenders in Development Campaign, Global

Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Perú

Enda Lead Afrique Francophone, Senegal

Foundation For Environmental Rights,Advocacy & Development (FENRAD), Nigeria

Friends with Environment in Development, Uganda

Fundación CAUCE: Cultura ambiental – Causa Ecologista, Argentina

Fundación Humedales/ Wetlands International LAC, Argentina

Fundeps, Argentina

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Global

Green Advocates International, Liberia

Green Development Advocates (GDA), Cameroon

Instituto Maíra, Brasil

International Accountability Project, Global

International Rivers – Brazil, Brazil

International Rivers, United States of America

Mongolian CSOs Network on the SDGs, Mongolia

Narasha Community Development Group, Kenya

Natural Resource Women Platform, Liberia

NGO Forum on ADB, Asia Regional

NomoGaia, USA

Observatoire d’Etudes et d’Appui à la Responsabilité Sociale et Environnementale, OEARSE en sigle, République Démocratique du Congo

Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan

ONG Sustentarse, Chile

Oxfam, Global

Pakaid, Pakistan

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Pakistan

Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad, Suiza

Protection International Mesoamérica, Centroamérica

Protection International, Belgium / Global

Recourse, Netherlands

Réseau de Développement et de Communication des Femmes Maliennes / Musonet, Mali

The Reality of Aid Network, Global (based in the Philippines)

Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC), Uganda

Uma Gota No Oceano, Brazil

urgewald, Germany

Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, India

Witness Radio, Uganda.



Upholding Women’s Land Rights in the implementation of development projects will accelerate progress.



Witness Radio – Uganda Statement: On the International Women’s Day, 2024.

Upholding Women’s Land Rights in the implementation of development projects will accelerate progress.

Wakiso, Uganda. 08th/03/2024. As the world commemorates International Women’s Day 2024 under the theme “Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress” it is imperative to underscore the critical importance of safeguarding women’s human and land rights.

In Uganda, where women play a pivotal role in agricultural production and rely heavily on the land for their livelihoods, the issue of land rights emerges as a central battleground in the fight for gender equality and women empowerment.

Women in Uganda face systematic barriers when it comes to land ownership and control despite their significant contribution to agricultural productivity.

Customary norms and cultural practices often favor male inheritance and land ownership perpetrating a cycle of discrimination and marginalization against women.

This disparity leaves women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, particularly in the context of land grabbing and eviction.

Tragically, women who assert their rights to land frequently encounter severe threats and human rights violations/abuses.

Witness Radio has documented numerous cases of violence against women smallholder farmers and women rights defenders (WHRDs), including gang rape and physical assault perpetrated by economically powerful and politically connected individuals and institutions with vested interests in land grabbing.

These egregious acts not only violate women’s rights but also perpetrate a culture of impunity and injustice.

The failure to investigate and prosecute violence against women smallholder farmers and WHRDs further exacerbates the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, leading to more human rights abuses.

Additionally, the aftermath of land evictions often leaves women and their families vulnerable with men sometimes abandoning their responsibilities and leaving women to bear the burden alone.

At the heart of the 2024 theme lies a recognition of the pivotal role women play in driving societal progress. Investing in women encompasses various aspects, including education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and legal rights. However, securing women’s access to and control over land is equally crucial as it intersects with multiple dimensions of their lives.

When women have secure land rights, they are empowered economically and socially. Land ownership enables women to participate meaningfully in economic activities, access financial resources, and contribute to households and community well-being.

Moreover, it enhances women’s agency and autonomy, enabling them to make choices that positively impact their lives and families.

Additionally, access to land is closely linked to food security and healthcare. Secure land rights enable women to engage in sustainable farming practices, improve agricultural productivity, and ensure adequate nutrition for their families.

Furthermore, land ownership can serve as a pathway to accessing health care, thereby promoting women’s overall well-being.

However, the current legal framework governing land rights in Uganda falls short of adequately protecting women’s land rights. Biased laws and customary practices perpetrate gender disparities leaving women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Amending land rights is a critical step towards addressing issues affecting women about land rights and promoting gender equality.

In conclusion, protecting women’s land rights is not only a matter of social justice but also a strategic investment in accelerating progress towards gender equality and healthier lives. As we commemorate International Women’s Day 2024, let us reaffirm our community to ensure that women everywhere have equal rights to access, own, and control land resources. By prioritizing women’s land rights, we can unlock the full potential of women and girls as agents of change and drive transformative progress toward a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

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Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.


Download the statement:

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Witness Radio Condemns Violent Gunfire Incidents during State Land Minister’s Visit.



By Witness Radio Team.

Date: August 29, 2023.

Witness Radio, an advocate for land and environmental justice in Uganda, vehemently condemns the shocking and reprehensible act of gunfire that transpired during the visit of State Land Minister Sam Mayanja to the disputed land in Hoima district. The incident, which occurred on the evening of August 24, 2023, serves as grim evidence of the prevailing impunity surrounding land disputes in the country.

The events of that fateful evening in Rwabunyonyi village have laid bare the deeply unsettling reality of a land crisis that has engulfed the lives of countless innocent citizens. The State Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development, tasked with upholding the principles of justice and legality, was subjected to a perilous situation by a barrage of gunfire emanating from security personnel associated with Pyramid Private Security. These armed guards, aligned with the interests of businessman Fred Mugamba, unleashed a torrent of bullets into the air in a brazen attempt to deter the Minister from carrying out his official duties.

The backdrop to this horrific incident can be traced back to a series of harrowing events that commenced in 2022, causing upheaval in the Rwobunyonyi and Kirindasojo areas of the Buraru sub-county in Hoima district. A land dispute, centered around 810-hectare parcel of land, has ignited a firestorm of displacement and anguish, displacing more than 2000 residents and plunging them into a state of distress. The chief orchestrator of these violent evictions, businessman Fred Mugamba, has heartlessly disrupted the lives and livelihoods of these innocent families who claim ownership of land, that has been a home to many since the 1940s.

Throughout this agonizing saga, the affected communities have borne the brunt of a relentless campaign of intimidation and violence, orchestrated by casual laborers and armed security guards in the service of Mr. Mugamba. Tragically, the situation escalated to a point where two lives were lost. Furthermore, those brave enough to raise their voices against this land grab were met with unjust arrests, perpetuating an atmosphere of fear and tension.

In a bid to stem the escalating turmoil, the State Lands Minister, guided by a sense of responsibility to restore peace, intervened in this crisis. Accompanied by Deputy Resident District Commissioner Mr. Michael Kyakashari and District Police Commander (DPC) Jackson Bogere, the Minister embarked on a mission to engage both the affected residents and the purported landowner, Mr. Mugamba. However, the hunt for peace was thwarted by the menacing presence of private security guards, who callously obstructed the Minister’s path and resorted to gunfire, causing panic and chaos.

Witness Radio’s records have documented a disheartening pattern of eviction cases, where private security entities have consistently perpetrated violence against vulnerable communities. These entities have acted with impunity, leaving the marginalized with no means of defense except vacating their own land.

In the face of escalating violent evictions, a directive was issued in March 2023 by the Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development, Honorable Judith Nabakooba Nalule. This directive explicitly forbade armed groups from participating in evictions, emphasizing the government’s capacity to conduct lawful evictions through its security agencies. Regrettably, the distressing surge of violent evictions has displayed a blatant disregard for this directive, persisting at an alarming rate.

While a handful of suspects have been apprehended in connection to the Minister’s shooting incident, and charges of threatening violence have been imposed against them, these actions must set a precedent. The police must intensify efforts to enforce the recent ministerial order, presidential orders aimed at curbing the menace of armed thugs, and security guards committing unlawful evictions under the directives of land grabbers.

Witness Radio is deeply concerned with the distressing surge in unlawful land evictions, often executed with the complicity of government forces, armed individuals, and private security guards.

This concerning trend continues unabated, inflicting severe harm upon local communities. The incident involving gunfire during the Minister’s presence serves as a stark reminder of the undue influence wielded by land grabbers, who exploit their power to destabilize communities.

It is glaringly evident that these orchestrated land evictions are the handiwork of influential interests that openly defy legal mandates and employ violent means to advance their agendas. Such actions not only infringe upon the fundamental rights of citizens but also pose a dire threat to the security and stability of the communities affected.

In light of these deeply distressing developments, we urgently beseech the President of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Tibuhaburwa, to take decisive and resolute action. We implore him to rein in the actions of individuals associated with land grabbers and to ensure the unwavering protection of citizens’ rights.

Accountability must prevail for those responsible for these heinous acts, and robust measures must be instituted to prevent further harm to vulnerable communities. Witness Radio stands steadily committed to the pursuit of justice and the safeguarding of the land and environmental rights of all Ugandans.


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