Washington (AFP) - The World Bank remains too passive when client governments and businesses attack critics of its development projects, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Monday.
"The World Bank Group has done little to prevent or dissuade governments from intimidating critics of the projects it funds, or monitor for reprisals," the non-governmental organization said.
The HRW report in particular takes aim at the 188-nation World Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.
"People who have publicly criticized projects financed by the World Bank and IFC have faced threats, harassment, and trumped-up criminal charges in Cambodia, India, Uganda, Uzbekistan and elsewhere," HRW said.
In the report, "At Your Own Risk: Reprisals against Critics of World Bank Group Projects", HRW outlines cases in which it alleges the Washington-based development lender has failed to protect freedom of expression, assembly and association from threats by governments, and company employees and contractors.
In Uganda, it said, staff at Uganda Land Alliance and a journalist who worked to document and stop forced evictions linked to an IFC project received threats, including death threats.
In another case, women protesting a Bank-backed hydropower dam in northern India were threatened by the builders, branded as "prostitutes," and viciously insulted for their caste.
In Cambodia, authorities physically threatened community members from 17 villages who filed a complaint against a World Bank-supported Vietnamese rubber plantation owner alleging violations of their environmental rights and threats to their cultural practices.
Said they were afraid to report the threats to the police they "thought that would only make things worse," the report said.
HRW said the World Bank could "exert pressure" on governments to tolerate divergent views and accept criticism about development projects, "but it has repeatedly avoided difficult conversations with partner governments."
Contacted by AFP, the World Bank said the HRW report's conclusions were flawed.
"When allegations of reprisal are brought to our attention, we work, within the scope of our mandate, with appropriate parties to try to address them," a Bank spokesman said in an email.
In early April, anti-poverty group Oxfam accused the IFC of supporting development projects in numerous countries that involved grave violations of human rights, including deaths, repression, landgrabs and violence.
The World Bank acknowledged in March that internal reviews had found significant flaws in the way it handles the resettlement of people to make way for development projects and pledged to continue reforms to address the issues.
"We must and will do better," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said at the time.