A new report from the Coalition for Human Rights in Development and the Defenders in Development Campaign reveals the alarming impact ill-planned investments in infrastructure, energy, and other development activities are having on the safety and wellbeing of human rights defenders around the world.

The EU Development Days taking place in Brussels these days come with the strong message “Building a world which leaves no one behind”. But will EU development finance work in line with this slogan, or will it still fund projects without full control on their impact on the most vulnerable people?

One of the cases featuring in this report is the Mombasa-Mariakani Road Project in Kenya. This major road project is financed by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and other public lenders including the German KfW, the African Development Bank and the European Union via its African Infrastructure Trust Fund. The project has been under Counter Balance’s partners radar due to its human rights abuses.

The story of a threat

Jomvu community, a settlement on the outskirts of Mombasa, Kenya. It’s been over 2 years now since the day when three members of the community were summoned to appear before the Deputy County Commissioner (DCC). The community members had previously filed complaints with the Complaints Mechanism of the EIB, one of the investors in the Mombasa-Mariakani Road Project, over the inadequate compensation they received for the property lost in May 2015 due to a forced eviction to make way for the road expansion. The DCC was serving both as a government functionary and as the chairman of the grievance redress mechanism committee set by the company in charge of the project. The community members testified that when they arrived at his office, the Commissioner told them that he had learned of their complaints and that if they ever again communicated with the project lenders he would denounce them as liars and might leave them out of any future compensation.

Something thus went wrong with how the EIB handled the complaints, as the complainants’ identities were disclosed, exposing them to the risk of retaliation by the project promoter.

Talking with the Jomvu residents in May 2019, just after the mediation process facilitated by the EIB, they were not reassured. According to them, things haven’t changed much and the company and local authorities’ approach with the dwellers impacted by the project is still concerning. While the latest EIB mediation covered more than 300 complaints by impacted Mombasa suburbs dwellers, it is foreseen that this much-needed road will impact around 1000 people in total. Questions arise whether the bank will be able to manage so many complaints. On the ground, more and more people claimed to have submitted a complaint or to be planning to do so.

Uncalculated Risks contains 25 case studies of this type, highlighting the grave dangers faced by those who advocate for their communities and the environment in the context of development activities and the role of public development banks in exacerbating or mitigating those risks. Development banks have a wide range of tools, resources and leverage to ensure their investments respect human rights and involve meaningful participation of affected communities. Yet, too often development financiers turn a blind eye to human rights risks – and end up fueling abuses by governments, companies, and other actors.

The EIB is supporting several large-scale infrastructure projects in Kenya. It holds a local office in the capital Nairobi and cooperates with the EU delegation in the country. Making sure that the EIB’s standards and guidelines to avoid human rights abuses are respected is part of this office’s duties. Yet, having already conducted two mediation processes in Kenya linked to resettlement of local communities, it appears that from the EIB’s perspective the impacts of its projects on local communities are treated as an unavoidable side story, which in the best case scenario can simply be contained to the minimum. But this model of development – far from “leaving no one behind” – advances at the expenses of the communities and their defenders, who end up paying the highest price for questioning it.

Uncalculated Risks: Threats and attacks against human rights defenders and the role of development banks is available for download at: www.rightsindevelopment.org/uncalculatedrisks

Aleksandra Antonowicz Cyglicka

Aleksandra Antonowicz-Cyglicka