This month marks twelve years for Accountability Counsel! In that time, we have supported communities in over 50 countries, contributed to effective and transparent accountability policies at 66 institutions, and tracked 1,604 community complaints filed to accountability offices. Recent work across our programs is shining light on the ongoing failures of international institutions to prioritize community voices, and proposing solutions that center those same communities, putting them at the helm of the decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods.
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Communities are at the heart of our work. This is as true of our policy work as it is for our cases and research initiatives. Through our casework, we learn directly from communities about which aspects of the complaint process work well and which do not. We see firsthand the ways in which mechanisms are inaccessible, unduly complex, unresponsive to communities’ perspectives, and unable or unwilling to facilitate adequate remedy.
We will continue to advocate for accountability mechanisms – often the only avenues for justice available to communities harmed by investments – to be as effective as possible by recommending better procedures and stronger mandates. Thank you for your support of and commitment to our mission.
Following years of advocacy by our Policy team, in late December 2020, a new federal law passed requiring the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish an accountability mechanism. These mechanisms are a critical component in providing a structure through which communities can access justice and remedy, but the mere existence of these institutions is not enough. These bodies – indeed, any aimed at providing accountability to marginalized communities – need to function in a way that values, elevates, and ultimately respects community perspectives in a meaningful way.
The legal requirement is welcome news for those who want USAID’s projects to be successful and sustainable, as an accountability mechanism not only provides communities impacted by USAID projects an avenue to seek redress but also helps USAID ensure its money meets its mark. Currently, USAID has no independent and effective accountability process available to communities who are negatively impacted by its projects, putting it out of step with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, many multilateral development banks, and national development agencies in France and Japan, all of which have accountability mechanisms. With the requirement now in place, Accountability Counsel will work to ensure that USAID's mechanism meets best practice and prioritizes community voices and needs.
Community members in Nepal meet with EIB mechanism
Despite the myriad challenges of 2020, our extraordinary team has persisted in pursuit of our mission: to amplify the voices of communities facing harm as a result of internationally financed projects and ensure that these communities have the tools to protect their human and environmental rights.
Over a decade ago, when Accountability Counsel was founded, we couldn’t share an annual report about the last mile – the process of supporting communities from the point of vindication of their rights on paper, to vindication in practice so that they achieve a righting of wrongs. There were too few human rights and environmental victories on paper to even begin to explore that process. But today, Accountability Counsel cases have reached that stage in Haiti, India, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea. We can now share both a picture of the collective effort that has produced clear wins for some communities in practice, and a better understanding of the barriers that exist to remedy harm in communities where struggles persist.
We are honored to share our Communities, Policy Advocacy, and Research teams’ work with you in this year’s annual report, with insights from community partners who form the backbone of our practice and are the reason we work to pursue a more just and equitable world.
In July, ImpactAlpha covered Accountability Counsel's effort to make sure that harm from international financial flows is prevented and that there is accountability when it occurs. The United Nations Development Programme introduced an 'Impact Seal' for private equity and bond issuers to certify that their activity furthers the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. While the risk that these standards lead to 'impact washing' remains, our Policy team's efforts ensured that the draft standards are open for public consultation and require grievance mechanism to allow communities to be heard.
In transparency news, the rich information related to community-driven human rights and environmental complaints in our Accountability Console can now be searched! Our Research team launched a new feature that can collect, categorize, and run optical character recognition (OCR) on complaint documents. Thousands of pages of information that people previously had to painstakingly read through to find terms like 'violence' or 'fracking' can now be searched in a matter of seconds.
Our Communities program team is continuing extraordinary work (from home!) to deliver accountability in partnership with communities in Haiti, India, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Kenya, Ukraine, and beyond. Today, remedy is at hand in Haiti, where communities who persisted in demanding accountability are now seeing tangible outcomes from agreements they reached in 2018.
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