This report argues that human rights are an integral part of effective and sustainable development, and thus should be explicitly considered in all World Bank Group (WBG) investment decisions. We examine the WBG’s integration of human rights standards into its operations—highlighting accomplishments, shortcomings, and barriers—and suggest ways forward. The international human rights framework has a complex and often politicized history. Human rights have traditionally been seen as duties held by a government with respect to each citizen in its jurisdiction.
Defining the role of other actors — whether private or intergovernmental—has proved more controversial. Human rights are also difficult to quantify, and thus difficult to manage. While many countries recognize a human right to clean water, for example, the question of how much clean water per day is essential for individual human dignity remains unresolved. Furthermore, the implementation of human rights remains a challenge.
The UN and numerous human rights organizations are working to clarify roles and responsibilities, help guide implementation and resolve key questions such as: which rights are universal? Do human rights refl ect cultural biases of western countries? How does the human rights framework help manage trade-offs when resources are scarce?
Given the complexity of human rights, we recognize the challenges of defining the appropriate role of the WBG. The WBG is owned by more than 180 countries with diverse traditions, has a culture of quantifying the costs and benefits of its investments at the level of national economies rather than individuals, and aspires to be respectful of the boundaries between its role and the role of governments.
We therefore do not advocate that the WBG should shift its identity from a development to a human rights institution. We argue instead that as a development institution, the goals and values that human rights represent are already at the core of the WBG’s mission, and that the explicit and systematic integration of human rights into WBG operations could improve its effectiveness by enhancing the WBG’s ability to manage risks and improve development outcomes. We hope this report will encourage staff and executive directors to begin examining how the WBG can incorporate human rights approaches beyond niche programs into mainstream activities.