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World Bank Tribunal rules a Black man has no rights to his identity

October 22, 2015

By Frank Watkins*   imagesThe Ethiopian was a widely praised deputy global manager of a high-profile international program at the World Bank. His problem started when he applied to become the global manager of the program. Despite his stellar performance, the Bank “advised” him not to apply because “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power” and would not accept him. The last time a Black man was stripped of his inalienable rights to his identity in the US was during the institution of slavery. In 2015, the World Bank Administrative Tribunal took its jurisprudence back to the dark ages, ruling that a Black complainant of Ethiopian origin, who accused the World Bank of violating his rights to his identity – professional and personal – has no basis for legal protection from defamation. During the same session, the Tribunal ruled that an Argentinean citizen has inviolable rights to his identity, and found the Bank liable for failing to honor and protect his rights against defamation. The judgment emphasized that the Tribunal takes defamation claims very seriously, especially when “the Bank’s actions and inactions caused professional and personal harm to its staff or former staff.” No explanation was given why the same judicial principles did not apply to the Ethiopian. As documented by the Bank’s Senior Advisor for Racial Equality, “the injustice [the Ethiopian] was subjected to is profoundly beyond the pale.” The Government Accountability Project (GAP), America’s premier civil liberty organization, noted: “Two attorneys familiar with the Bank’s personnel practices who could not speak publicly, told GAP unequivocally that [the Ethiopian’s] case was the worst case of racial discrimination they had ever seen.” Unprecedentedly, the US Treasury was compelled by the raw racism to intervene. The case was the subject of two open letters penned by Reverend Jesse Jackson addressed to Pope Francis and President Obama. Because the Bank is immune from US laws, victims of discrimination are confined to an internal Administrative Tribunal. Since its inauguration in 1980, the Tribunal has rejected all racial discrimination claims filed by Black claimants. This, in an institution whose own report revealed that institutional racism in the World Bank has been established “with varying degrees of empirical rigor in 16 Word Bank diversity studies”. The Ethiopian’s 2015 case involved an appeal to review the Tribunal’s earlier judgments on his racial discrimination claims. The appeal was based on two specific legal grounds. The first was confined to one issue, which the Tribunal addressed scantly at best. The second part was the primary part of the appeal. It focused on over 100 pieces of documented material evidence that the Tribunal systematically suppressed to deny him due process in his pursuit of justice to honor and restore his professional identity and personal reputation. To avoid addressing the evidence and the corresponding legal justifications for the appeal, the Tribunal summarized the second part of the appeal without a single word, using ellipsis dots (“…”). It categorically ignored the evidence and the legal argument in the introductory and analysis sections of its judgment and summarily rejected it, stating that there was “no factual or legal basis” to uphold it. Such a judiciary would have been laughable had it not involved human rights violations and over $100,000 in legal expenses to the victim. The Ethiopian was a widely praised deputy global manager of a high-profile international program. His legal problem started when he applied to become the global manager of the program. Despite his stellar performance recorded years on end, the Bank “advised” him not to apply because “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power” and would not accept him. After he refused to heed the “advice”, the Bank proposed what it characterized as “a win-win arrangement”. It officially charged the Ethiopian to manage the global program, but kept him behind the shadow of a Caucasian short-term consultant that the World Bank had hired to front as the program’s global manager. World Bank rules do not allow consultants to perform managerial functions. Nonetheless, the Caucasian consultant was designated as the official global manager of the program allegedly to avoid “a very embarrassing” situation. Two World Bank officials stated on the record that had the Bank designated the Ethiopian as global manager, it would have run the risk of losing the program to another international agency. The Ethiopian refused to submit to such a dehumanizing arrangement that the Bank’s own Peer Review Panel found “no business reason” to justify. Determined to enforce its racist policy, the Bank falsified his managerial record, deleted his title from its website, and replaced his stellar managerial record with irreversibly damaging defamatory remarks. Having obliterated his professional identity, the Bank declared him unfit for any managerial position. Adding insult to injury, it posted the defamatory remarks on its website and fired him. The Bank never refuted the Ethiopian’s allegations of degrading his identity. Its explanation was that in retrospect his 16-year official personnel record “was overinflated and it had the unintended consequence of feeding into his megalomaniacal view of his performance and the resultant sense of entitlement to the Global Manager position.” He needed to be cut down to size. To top it all, the Bank refused to confirm his managerial record to potential employers. As the Tribunal has established in several rulings, the Bank has obligation to release personnel information in response to inquiries if there is misleading and damaging information in the public domain. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was apprised of the gross injustice through numerous pleas, among others by the US Treasury and the Congressional Black Caucus. US Senator Barbara Mikulski wrote a letters to President Kim, requesting for “an official and dated copy of [the Ethiopian] full HR record showing his responsibilities and accomplishments.” Ignoring all voices of justice, the President instructed his General Counsel to file a motion to dismiss the Ethiopian’s 2015 pending appeal before the Tribunal. The General Counsel informed the Tribunal that the Bank will not confirm his managerial roles because “it is not in the business of painting a hagiographic image” of him. The primary issues in contention were: Whether the Ethiopian has legal rights to his professional identity? If so, are his rights legally protected from defamation? The Tribunal ruled there is “no legal basis” for either. This is inexplicable in light of its judgment in the aforementioned Argentinean’s case. The Tribunal’s judicial double-standard was further reflected in its rulings on the Ethiopian’s and the Argentinean’s independent claims of emotional and psychological harm that each suffered because of the Bank’s violation of his identity. In the Argentinean’s case the Tribunal noted “that he suffered emotional distress is evident from the email messages he sent to various staff of the World Bank seeking assistance in this matter.” In contrast, the Ethiopian filed two written statements from World Bank officials and five medical certificates supporting his claims. Nonetheless, the Tribunal ruled that he has “no factual or legal basis” to sustain his allegations. The systemic miscarriage of justice can be distilled as follows. In 2010, the Tribunal allowed the Bank to falsify the Ethiopian’s personnel record to disqualify him from becoming global manager. In 2015, it found itself in a judicial conundrum. On the one hand, acknowledging the Ethiopian’s rights to his identity – professional and personal – would entail revisiting and possibly reversing its earlier judgments on his racial discrimination cases. On the other hand, violating his rights to his identity would be difficult to explain, much less to justify. The Tribunal settled for judicial chicanery, using ellipsis dots in lieu of legal analysis, avoiding the challenge of explaining the inexplicable. The Ethiopian’s appeal was rejected in a judicial vacuum outside of the confines of due process of law. The Bank’s answer, as articulated by its Chief Counsel, is that “Allegations of due process violations by the Tribunal are not cognizable under the statue of the Tribunal.” Therefore, violations of due process, and by implication the judicial double standard for Black and non-Black claimants, cannot be legally contested. President Kim is the first World Bank President to use such a legal defense. *Culled from Pambazuka. Frank Watkins is Public Policy Director, Rainbow Push Coalition, an American non-profit organization founded by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. to pursue social justice, civil rights and political activism.The views are those of the Author]]>

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