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A call for the resignation of World Bank President Jim Yong Kim

Dr. Kim has taken an uncompromising stance protecting violators of human rights and denying their victims aess to justice, even in the most egregious cases involving those who are battling cancer and depression. Dr. Kim has only one honourable thing to do: Resign. If he fails, the Bank’s Board of Governors should force him out.

The World Bank is a very powerful agency. Its power comes from two sources. Its immunity from lawsuits and its visa office that can give and take away US G4 visa to an expatriate staff and his/her family in the snap of a finger.

An African staff, who was simultaneously battling racial discrimination and breast cancer that ultimately took her life, was advised by her close friends to leave her job at the World Bank to avoid stress and focus her energy on beating the cancer. Her answer was that "The Bank will cancel my G4 visa. I cannot uproot my children from their school and friends."

Voluminous scientific research has linked racial discrimination to various ailments including cancer, including at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and the National Health Institute in the US, and Royal Free and University College Medical Schools in the UK.

In April 2015, Dr. E. Faye Williams, Chair, National Congress for Black Women, wrote to the World Bank Board of Governors about the "sustained racial discrimination against Black women and the impact it has on their health."

She noted that numerous women had complained to the DC Civil Rights Coalition about the stressful environment that people of African origin work under. She further revealed that "two of the women who testified before the Coalition alleged that they were fighting breast cancer caused by chronic stress they endured over a long period of time."

On December 4, 2015, the NY Black Star News published the story of Dr. Kim's former personal assistant, Marline Alexis, who had a racial discrimination case against the president. She, too, was fighting racism while battling cancer that claimed her life. Her lawyer, Stephen C. Schott, stated that "There was a question as to whether the stress was a contributing factor in her illness."


I.1. The link between long-term racial discrimination and cancer

World Bank president Dr. Jim Yong Kim is not only a Harvard-trained physician, but he was also a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). He is acutely aware of the large body of research that HSPH has produced linking racial discrimination to high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, cancer, and death.

In a memo addressed to "the community of HSPH", Dr. Julio Frenk , the Dean of HSPH, summarized the issue succinctly: "Simply stated, racism is a public health problem that contributes to higher levels of stress, greater exposure to risk factors, and ultimately to excess levels of disease, disability and death."

I.2. Racial discrimination in the World Bank is endemic

In 1979, the Africa Study Group report acknowledged that "Allegations of racial discrimination at the Bank Group have been documented since 1971."

In 1998, the Team for Racial Equality that was created by former president Wolfensohn noted that, "The findings of three previous World Bank studies (1979, 1992, and 1997) send a clear message - race based discrimination is present in our institution. The problem is serious indeed." The report revealed "cultural prejudice among some managers, who rated Africans as inferior" and reiterated the findings of the three earlier studies that the Bank segregated Blacks in the Africa region.

Since then numerous World Bank and Staff Association studies have reiterated the same findings in 2003, 2005, 2007 2009 and 2015. On a sliding scale of 1 to 6 (ranked most racist to most racially inclusive), the 2015 report found the Bank "hovering between 2 and 3." Institutions in stage 1 are considered outright racist. Institutions tittering between stages 2 and 3 "see racial and cultural differences as deficit," according to the report. The report further reaffirmed what has been affirmed time and again: "Some staff referred to their assignment as [a] kind of apartheid."

I.3. Victims of racial discrimination are denied access to justice

Because of the Bank's immunity from lawsuits, the only legal venue available to victims of racial discrimination is the World Bank Administrative Tribunal. The Tribunal's batting record on racial discrimination challenges is 100 percent "summary dismissal."

In 1998, the Bank’s internal Grievance Process Review Committee and the World Bank Team for Racial Equality independently concluded that the Bank's internal justice system is neither independent nor impartial. Each recommended using external arbitration for racial discrimination disputes. Their findings and recommendations were echoed by a 1999 US government report.

A 2003 World Bank report noted that "Racial bias or prejudice has been experienced at work during the last two years by 21% of the respondents." This, the report noted, "may be an underreported occurrence, as only a small percentage of those who have had such experience say they have sought help."

In 2005, a Staff Association report revealed that, in just five years, over 450 racial discrimination claims were filed to the office of the Senior Advisor for Racial Equality. The Association's July/August 2005 Newsletter revealed that the majority of the staff "will never use" the internal justice system for racial discrimination claims.

In 2009, an extensive report by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) documented: "It appears that staff members of black African heritage who allege racial discrimination are unlikely to receive the compensation or vindication they seek before the Tribunal. In contrast, complainants of other races who allege racial discrimination or Applicants claiming reverse discrimination have better prospects for compensation awards."

In 2010, the Staff Association Chair speaking for the Association's Executive Committee wrote to an aggrieved staff: "The [Staff Association] Executive Committee met and deliberated at length, taking into account the significant supporting documentation you had kindly shared with us... The case shows that a number of aspects of the Bank's internal justice system are broken."

In 2015, the DC Civil Rights Coalition wrote a letter to Dr. Kim noting that "there is overwhelming evidence that the Tribunal willfully and systematically suppresses material evidence" and "uses different judicial standards for Black and non-Black complainants."

In January 2016, the 2015 Staff Association Update on the Internal Justice Services (IJS) noted: "It is common to hear from staff that “Our IJS is broken.” Many staff report to us that they have had difficulty getting a resolution, that the playing field is not level, or that merely entering the IJS gets individuals branded as trouble-makers or, worse, subject to retaliation. As a result, manny staff don’t want to enter the IJS in the first place."


Since Dr. Kim joined the Bank, he has used his ethnic minority status and close relationship with President Obama and the Clintonsas a shield to fend off his critics. One thing is clear - the problem has gotten worse on his watch.

II.1. The Kim Administration's overt race-based double standard

Soon after Dr Kim took the helm of the Bank, he forced three powerful white women to leave the Bank. Two (a British Managing Director and an Italian VP) were dismissed and the third (an American senior VP) was forced to retire. Each woman received significant financial compensation through mediation. One got a five-year lump-sum salary plus relocation grant and severance payment, totaling nearly $2 million.

By comparison, an African man was threatened with termination and automatic cancelation of his G4 visa and forced to mediate for $25,000 lump sum plus paid administrative leave for 10 months. The Bank automatically gives two months of paid administrative leave. His 8 months of additional administrative leave and the $25,000 lump sum do not even add up to a one-year average salary of his GF pay grade. Adding insult to injury, he was unjustly denied severance payment that he had vested and was entitled to. It should be noted that the above mentioned white ladies were given their severance payments.

II.2. Unjust directive issued from Dr. Kim's front office

The racial injustice under Dr. Kim is perpetrated by the very people that he has put in charge of addressing the problem, namely his former chief of staff, Yvonne Tsikata (who was promoted to VP in January), and his HR vice president, Sean McGgrath.

This is evident in an ongoing racial discrimination case that has become the rallying cry of Justice for Blacks (a group consisting of current and past World Bank employees) and the DC Civil Rights Coalition (a coalition including five of America's prominent civil rights groups).

An Ethiopian, Yonas Biru, was wrongfully terminated after he filed a racial discrimination claim. The Bank denied him a six-digit severance payment that he has vested and was entitled to after his termination, citing Staff Rule 11.04. The Rule stipulates that, "A staff member separated for reasons of unsatisfactory performance is not entitled to severance payments."

The Tribunal found that his termination was "unlawful , capricious, and an abuse of discretion" and instructed the Bank to remove all references to "unsatisfactory performance" from his personnel files. Nonetheless, it ruled that he should not be reinstated because "he had criticized his managers."

The Bank in turn refused to pay him his severance payment, even after its claim of "poor performance" was rejected by the Tribunal.

When Biru wrote to Dr. Kim, Tsikata intervened and sent an email to the HR vice president, requesting him to send the aggrieved staff "a final email" that the Bank "will not be responding further on this [issue]."

Within minutes Tsikata realized that she had inadvertently copied the aggrieved staff. She sent Biru an email to "recall" her email in a futile attempt to officially withdraw the damaging evidence that linked the denial of his rightful severance payment to Dr. Kim's front office.

Paying heed to Tsikata's request, an HR lead officer sent Biru an email to tell him that he would never get his severance payment and the Bank would not be responding further to him on this issue.

II.3. Dr. Kim would not meet with American national civil rights leaders

Civil rights leaders, led by Reverend Jesse Jackson, wrote to Dr. Kim requesting a meeting to discuss a 29-page proposal that the DC Civil Rights Coalition had sent him to address the endemic racial problem.

Tsikata called Reverend Jesse Jackson's office to inform him that President Kim would be happy to meet with him and other national civil rights leaders, but insisted that they needed to drop Biru's case from their agenda. Reverend Jackson's officers told her that they were not prepared to do that and the meeting never happened.

It should be noted that Dr. Kim has met with LGBT and gender equality advocates without any precondition.

In a letter to the Bank's Board of Governors, Dr. Williams, a member of the civil rights coalition, criticized the Bank's continued refusal to discuss Biru's case with civil rights leaders. She noted that it is a deliberate attempt to avoid addressing the root cause of the Bank's endemic racism - lack of accountability even in the most egregious cases.

II.4. The cover up is worse than the crime

In a brazen attempt to cover up the seriousness of the problem and to undermine the need for urgent and fundamental reforms, the HR complex tampered with the 2015 World Bank diversity report. This led to the withdrawal of the name of the independent expert from the report. This is unprecedented in the Bank's history.

Three independent reports have been prepared over the last three years all commissioned by the Kim administration. The diversity report is the only one without the name of the independent author. Even though the sanitized report is sufficient to prove the presence of systemic racism, one wonders how bad the unvarnished report must have been.

Moreover, Juliana Oyegun, the bank's former director of diversity, who had served four presidents, including Dr. Kim, revealed that the diversity data that has been produced by HR "is fudged now for obfuscation whereas in the past it had been scrubbed for transparency, accuracy, depth and rigor. Now it is toyed with and massaged for optics. So sad…”

The most serious cover-up is the Bank's attempt to bribe civil rights leaders to drop Biru's case from the civil rights coalition's agenda. There is documented evidence that the Bank promised the president of the DC branch of one of the civil rights organizations financial rewards if he succeeded in removing Biru's name from the civil rights coalitions agenda.

II.5. The Bank' reforms are mere "show and tell" exercises

Grammar school children are often encouraged to bring their best toys to the classroom to show them to the class and tell their stories. Since 1979, the Bank's reforms have been mere "show and tell."

Since 1979, the Bank has created over a dozen committees, working groups, and external advisory boards, all as part of the "show and tell" strategy to show its often advertised, but never exercised commitment to change. Three of them were established by Dr. Kim in 2015: External Advisory Board; The President's Council for Diversity; and Diversity and Inclusion Advocates.

Dr. Kim has also made it a habit to promote Africans to senior management positions weeks before the Board of Governors meet in Washington as part of his administration's "show and tell" progress report, while vehemently rejecting all calls for access to justice.


The very independent study that Dr. Kim commissioned has identified "blatant and virulent" cases of racism and found the Bank "lacking of accountability to discriminated groups." It noted that institutions such as the World Bank are all about "symbolic changes" and went on to conclude that the Bank would not make "substantive progress in eliminating subtle as well as overt expression of racism unless more systemic changes are made."

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Article 7 stipulates all individuals are entitled to equal protection before the law, while Article 8 declares that everyone has the right to an effective remedy for acts violating fundamental rights."

Dr. Kim has taken an uncompromising stance protecting violators of human rights and denying their victims access to justice, even in the most egregious cases and even to those who are battling cancer and depression.

His administration has compared an African staff to animal in official report, told another African his personnel record was too good to be true for an African and disenfranchised him of his hard-earned lifelong professional identity, and successfully defended its breathtakingly unjust actions before its handmaiden Tribunal.

Dr. Kim has one honorable action to take: Resign. Should he refuse to do so, the Board of Governors have moral and institutional obligations to force his resignation.

* The author of this article requested that his name be withheld.



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