The World Bank, which is headquartered in Washington with over 10,000 staff and consultants, is a part of the UN system. As such, it enjoys immunity from US courts. Victims of discrimination can only challenge it before an internal Tribunal that serves the institution as a fig leaf of justice.
In 1997, a former director of the World Bank’s Loan Department explained why he was not recruiting black professionals saying: “Blacks make poor accountants and the department could not hire too many blacks as the department would look like a ghetto.” He suggested blacks should be kept in “the ghetto of the Bank,” in reference to the Bank’s Africa region. In 2005, the Staff Association sent a letter to the Bank’s HR urging its managers “to address seriously the issue of ‘ghettoization.’”
In 2009, a retired senior vice president explained why the World Bank required blacks to go through a special screening process before they could graduate out of the Africa region as follows: "The first thing was to promote them in Africa region. The second hurdle is that having seen them do well in Africa to convince other regions to accept them and to stop putting the screens..."
According to a report by the Government Accountability Project (GAP), “In 2008, only four black Americans held professional positions out of more than 1000 US nationals. This figure represents a significant proportional decline even from the abysmal levels reported [in the Washington Post] thirty years ago.”
An op-ed article Foreign Policy in Focus, by Bea Edwards highlighted "the pattern of racial discrimination at the World Bank and the lack of vindication for complainants at the Tribunal translate into an environment of lawlessness and impunity where breathtakingly racist incidents can still occur." In the last couple of years alone, over a dozen articles appeared in several newspapers and established blogs around the world with titles such as "Walking Apartheid Avenue," "World Bank Puts Black Employees at Back of Bus," "Apartheid a la Bank Mondial," and "Discriminación Racial en el Banco Mundial."
In March 2012, a group of former and current World Bank staff petitioned the World Bank Board of Directors (who serve as representatives of the World Bank’s Board of Governors) to intervene. Having read several documents submitted by the group, a member of the Board of Directors wrote: “Thank you for bringing this very disturbing and saddening matter to our attention. … [However] I am not in a position to provide you with a reasonable feedback… With kind regard and the Almighty's guidance always”
Would the World Bank have tolerated such naked discrimination for so long had the victims been any other group? The answer is made obvious by its sustained actions to end gender discrimination. Racial discrimination continues unabated because the victims are black. Another pertinent question is: "Can the Board of Governors entrust the future of Africa to an institution that discriminates against Africans?"
Apart from infringing the human rights of blacks staff, racism denies Africa the contributions of her learned sons and daughters in the Bank’s policy decisions that determine its destiny. For example, in 2010 Africa accounted for 50 percent of the Bank’s International Development Assistance (IDA) disbursements for poverty alleviation. However, in the same year, people of African origin represented a dismal 2.5 percent of the professional staff in the Development Economics (DEC) vice presidency, where the Bank’s poverty alleviation policies are shaped.
As Dr. Martin Luther King rightly said, "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." Please make your voice heard by joining us in calling the World Bank’s Board of Governors, the US government and the Human Rights Watch to take immediate actions.
Note to the Media: For further information contact Ms. Fatuma Mokaba at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE STANDARD OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
In its preamble, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges “The inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice.”
• Article 1 of the Declaration promulgates “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”
• Article 13 of the Declaration provides in pertinent parts “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration.”
RACIAL DISCRIMNATION AT THE WORLD BANK IS A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM
One does not need to go beyond World Bank’s own studies to establish systemic discrimination. Since 1979, seven World Bank studies have established that racial discrimination in the institution is a main stay of the institution’s culture. In 2003, a Bank commissioned study concluded “compared to equally qualified persons of any other race, being black is associated with a 36.3 percent reduction in the odds of being a manager.” It should be stressed that this is not in comparison with privileged groups but in comparison to “any other group,” including those who are discriminated, for example, South Asians. A follow up study in 2005 by the Staff Association found “The status of racial discrimination in the Bank is very bad.”
In 2009, an op-ed article in Foreign Policy in Focus, by Bea Edwards, Executive Director of Government Accountability Project, highlighted “the pattern of racial discrimination at the World Bank and the lack of vindication for complainants at the Tribunal translate into an environment of lawlessness and impunity where breathtakingly racist incidents can still occur.” The article was triggered by “Niggers go home” graffiti that appeared in the corridors of the Bank’s headquarters in more than one occasion. In March 2012, a member of the World Bank Board of Directors acknowledged that what people of African origin go through in the Bank is “disturbing and saddening.”
VICTIMS OF DISCRIMINATION ARE DENIED DUE PROCESS AND LEGAL REMEDY
The fact that the Bank’s internal justice system is a fig leaf of justice has been established by several reports, including by a 1999 study commissioned by the US Congress and conducted by the US Government Accountability Office.
In 2010, a study published in International Organizations Law Review, concluded "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that international employment tribunals are anything more than a fig leaf of justice… internally controlled fictions of due process to defuse complaints.” In the same year, the Chair of World Bank Staff Association wrote "Several Aspects of the Bank's Internal Justice System are broken."
REQUEST TO HONORABLE DIGNITARIES
I THE UNDERSIGNED note that this petition raises two very fundamental human rights questions. Are people of African origin protected against racial discrimination by the UN Declaration of Human Rights and by the US Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land on US soil? Are people of African origin entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law? If the answers to both questions are “Yes” as they should be, the petition should be favorably considered without any condition. The World Bank should never be treated as “too big to be taken accountable.”
I, THEREFORE, humbly and respectfully call upon you to uphold the civil and human rights of victims of racial discrimination by:
• Establishing immediately an external commission to review – and make its report public - all 26 racial discrimination cases the Tribunal dismissed over the last 13 years and take corrective actions to redress grave injustice inflicted upon those who have suffered discrimination and been denied due process;
• Granting those who have pending discrimination cases an alternative judicial process outside of the Bank’s Tribunal system;