NEW YORK — The World Bank’s decision to block a $90 million loan to Uganda last February in response to a sweeping anti-homosexuality law has helped slow passage of anti-LGBT laws in other countries, implied President Jim Yong Kim during an interview with BuzzFeed News.
“Everyone knows now that I will do this and so everyone is watching very carefully,” said Kim during a visit to BuzzFeed News’s New York headquarters. Kim also confirmed that the loan, which was “delayed” last February, is officially dead and that “the Ugandans have withdrawn their request” for the funding.
Kim reflected on the loan while discussing a proposal for updated “safeguards” for human rights and the environment that are being drafted to guide the Bank’s lending. A first draft was unveiled last spring, and the Bank is working on revising them after an extensive comment period. Many LGBT rights supporters praised Kim’s stand against homophobia in blocking the Uganda loan — the first time a Bank leader had said homophobia was counter to Bank principles — human rights advocates have criticized the safeguard proposal as lacking teeth, not consistently enforceable, and primarily designed to avoid embarrassment for the bank rather than actually protecting vulnerable populations.
“Look, I was part of the 50 Years is Enough movement in the early 1990s that led to the implementation of the [first] safeguards — I’m not going to go backwards now,” Kim said. “We have to do an assessment of how much [new safeguards are] going to cost and we have to find the money to support that.”
Kim proposed safeguards include evaluating the impact on LGBT people, the first Bank policy to identify them as a vulnerable minority. Kim said that there was unanimous support from the Bank’s board that anti-LGBT discrimination was unacceptable during a discussion of his decision to block the loan to Uganda last year, even from countries that have their own laws against homosexuality.
“I said that we have to all agree that discrimination is something we cannot tolerate. And everyone around the table agreed; I think with different levels of enthusiasm depending on the country, but everyone agreed,” Kim said.
Unlike most individual nations that adjusted aid to Uganda, Kim said, the bank was the only donor to take a stand and “really stopped the flow of money." Even members of the Bank's Board of Directors from countries considering laws similar to Uganda's privately told him they would make sure the same scenario would not play out at home, Kim said.
“There were representatives of certain African countries … — I can’t tell you who they were but they came up to me afterwards — and said, we just want you to know that we’re not going to let this happen in our country,” he said.
China also backed the view that anti-LGBT discrimination should not be tolerated, Kim said. China’s growing role in international development has caused concern for some human rights advocates, who worry it will not monitor recipients’ records as closely as the historic development giants — the US and Europe — have traditionally done.
“The Chinese perspective was that they agreed that discrimination against this particular group was something we should not tolerate,” Kim said. “They agreed with the approach we took.”
Kim also said he would continue to expect loan recipients not to discriminate against LGBT people, even though the safeguards have not been finalized.
“Even before it’s been enacted as a safeguard, I’m going forward in assuming that that’s our policy,” Kim said.
Kim’s comments come just as the Bank has opened a misconduct investigation against one of the loudest critics of the safeguards and Kim’s financial stewardship, outgoing president of the Bank’s LGBT employee association, Fabrice Houdart. The Bank alleges Houdart leaked the draft safeguards last year, which Houdart denied through his lawyers who contend the investigation may be retaliation for his outspokenness.
Kim declined to comment on “internal HR issues,” but said the Bank has a “zero tolerance policy for retaliation. He also said he was fully committed to making the safeguards meaningful, including providing adequate funding for staff to enforce them.