How can the IRM implement its new policy framework and provide more effective recourse to project affected communities?

Following the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) third review of its accountability mechanism, the AfDB’s Board has approved a new policy framework for the Independent Recourse Mechanism (IRM). While the new policy has the potential to strengthen accountability at the institution and access to redress for communities, this outcome is dependent upon the IRM’s effective implementation of the policy. Continued engagement with civil society is key as the IRM operationalizes the new policy and the AfDB moves forward in other policy review processes that also impact protections for project affected communities.

From December 2019 to September 2021, the African Development Bank (AfDB) undertook the third review of its accountability mechanism, now called the Independent Recourse Mechanism (IRM). BIC and our partners actively engaged in the review process, which included two rounds of public consultations on key documents. We commend the AfDB and IRM Unit for their commitment to a collaborative and inclusive review process. The AfDB provided external stakeholders, including civil society organizations (CSOs), ample time to review and prepare feedback on the findings of the third review and the 2015 IRM procedures, as well as integrated several CSO recommendations in the new IRM policy framework

Following the AfDB Board’s approval of the new IRM policy in September 2021, the restructured accountability mechanism has the potential to strengthen accessibility for complainants and provide more equitable redress to African communities harmed by AfDB-financed operations. For example, the IRM is now able to consider complaints alleging human rights abuses, complaints submitted by a single person, and can now register and investigate a complaint with parallel judicial proceedings. The new policy also allows the increased participation of complainants in shaping the outcomes of IRM investigations as they can provide comments on IRM draft compliance review reports and recommendations. Other key improvements include the adoption of a zero-tolerance standard for retaliation against complainants, a responsibility for the IRM to pursue a culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive complaint process, the IRM’s ability to review complaints without Board approval, and an obligation for AfDB Management to make the existence of the IRM known to project affected persons. 

While the new policy framework is a positive step toward a more accountable AfDB, meaningful remedy for affected communities is dependent on the AfDB and IRM Unit’s effective implementation of the policy. During the implementation of the new policy, we urge the IRM Unit to: 

  1. Actively seek CSO input on how to adapt the new procedures to fit different African contexts. To carry out a culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive review process, the IRM needs to define what these principles mean in different contexts of the region. The expertise of CSOs and their direct connections with communities can help shape the IRM process to appropriately aid the complaint process in a culturally and gender sensitive manner. For example, CSOs can give feedback on the IRM’s communication and outreach strategy so that it is adaptable to different contexts, and CSOs can continuously update the IRM on what parts of the strategy work well and which do not during the implementation process. 
  2. Work with the AfDB Board and hold public consultations to develop a remedy fund framework. The AfDB accountability system is incomplete and inadequate without a mechanism in place to systematically facilitate the effective delivery of remedy. Though the new IRM processes may result in remedial action plans or agreements, experience has shown that the lack of readily available resources can be a major impediment to their implementation. The AfDB should develop a remedy fund framework, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles, through a robust, transparent public consultation process that includes a broad range of stakeholders, including affected communities and civil society. Documents detailing the options under consideration should be publicly disclosed, and stakeholders should be given meaningful opportunities to provide comments. 
  3. Include a CSO representative on the External Advisory Group. CSOs have been instrumental in the IRM review process, amplifying the voices of the communities, and can continue to elevate community concerns and feedback as part of the External Advisory Group. This position could also serve as a liaison between the IRM Unit and CSOs, helping to bridge the communication gap between civil society and the AfDB. 

In addition to working to implement the policy in an effective and inclusive manner, the AfDB should also draw lessons from the positive outcomes of the IRM policy review process, and make review processes around other AfDB policies similarly inclusive. Specifically, AfDB should emulate the elements of the IRM consultation plan that contributed to an overall consultative, inclusive, and meaningful process in the ongoing reviews of the Disclosure and Access to Information (DAI) Policy, Climate Action Plan, and the Integrated Safeguards System (ISS). CSOs have shared their demands for a comprehensive consultation process for the upcoming ISS review, and have expressed concerns that the AfDB has not yet released a consultation plan. CSOs have shared similar concerns about the DAI review. A failure to meaningfully engage civil society in these reviews will put the AfDB well behind its peer institutions. A comprehensive and inclusive process is critical for the review of these policies that provide such critical protection to communities and the environment in AfDB-financed projects.