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There is no question whether the Bank's institutionalized, widespread and sustained racial discrimination and systemic denial of due process against an entire group of people is a crime. Whether it is a crime against a group of people or a crime against humanity may be debatable in theory. But in practice, the difference is indistinguishable to the victims.

I am a white man of 73 years of age, born and raised in the thick of Jim Crow era where state and local laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.

As a civil rights advocate since my high-school years, I have seen racism in all its complexities and simplicities, as well as in its raw cruelties and refined subtleties. To hear firsthand the harrowing discrimination that black employees endure in the World Bank in 2015 is to be transported back in time to the 1950s.

Taken on face value, linking the Bank's admitted "widespread and systemic race-based discrimination" to a crime against humanity may come across as a reckless hyperbole, if not downright sophomoric hysteria. However, if we relax our preconceived thought patterns, we start to see the strength of our skepticism grow weaker.

What does Jim Crow, a crime against humanity committed in the first half of the 20th century, have in common with the 21st century World Bank? Much more than meets the eye if we manage to see beyond their differences in degrees (measured by the Richter scale of injustice) and focus on their similarities in intrinsic principles.

Jim Crow had two distinct DNA markers. First, the architects of Jim Crow believed that the black race is inferior to the white race. Second, they regarded the nation's laws and courts as instruments of control to silence racial dissent rather than as purveyors of justice.

The two DNA Jim Crow markers were undergirded by an enduring legal legacy that "a black man has no rights a white man is bound to respect" that was established in the landmark US Supreme Court Dred Scott 1857 decision.


Traditionally, crime against humanity was defined as "acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, including murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, etc."

More recently, the Rome-based International Criminal Court added apartheid (a distant twin of Jim Crow) to the category of crime against humanity. In this context, crime against humanity is defined as an act "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

There have also been attempts by the UN International Law Commission to include "institutionalized discrimination" as a broad and generic variation of apartheid under the rubric of crimes against humanity to the extent that it involves systematic, widespread and sustained acts of race-based injustice, even if such acts are not legally sanctioned as was the case with apartheid.


A 1992 World Bank report "revealed cultural prejudices among some managers, who rated Africans as inferior.” A 2003 report echoed the same sentiment, taking note that "There is a deep-seated attitude that Blacks are not bright or competent and therefore they should not expect to work on the front lines of the Bank's business…” The report noted that similar findings had been documented "with varying degrees of empirical rigor, in 16 earlier Bank Group diversity studies."

One of these studies stated unequivocally that "the findings of several World Bank studies send a clear message: race-based discrimination is present in our institution. The discrimination, especially against black Africans and other staff of African origin, translates into a denial of opportunity and inequitable treatment on the basis of the color of their skin."

More specifically, the Bank's acts of racism, according to the institution's own reports, include "ghettoization" (segregation) of blacks in the Africa region; restriction of blacks "to lower profile assignments"; "disproportionate confinement of Blacks in the secretarial grades, though they are qualified for the professional ranks of the Bank”; and "lower salaries entirely attributable to race.”

The latest 2015 World Bank diversity report presented a systemic gradation of institutional racism, using a six-stage taxonomy running the gamut from an outright racist institution in the mold of apartheid to an anti-racist multi-cultural one. Institutions that are classified in stages 1 and 2 are seen as racist because they "see racial and cultural difference as deficits..."

Though institutions in stage 3 present themselves as "non-racist and open to everyone," in reality they are "not open to those who question the status quo... and lack accountability to discriminated groups." In stage 3 racial and cultural differences are tolerated provided those relegated to second-class status refrain themselves from challenging the status quo.

It is in stage 4 that institutions "develop an intentional identity as an 'anti-racist' institution and begin to develop accountability to [their] racial and ethnic constituents." Stage 6 represents a fully integrated racial and cultural mosaic.

The 2015 report found the Bank "hovering between 2 and 3." The organization's own reports reveal that the issue of institutional racism has been officially raised as far back as 1971 and nearly half a century later the institution is wobbling between stages 2 and 3, below the minimum anti-racist threshold (stage 4).


As many writers have noted, the Bank's evil of racism resides at the heart of its immunity from lawsuits. An important question is: Is the Bank's internal justice system on whose apex sits the World Bank Administrative Tribunal a part and parcel of the intrinsically racist institutional fabric and DNA architecture?

One thing is for certain. The Tribunal has summarily dismissed all racial discrimination claims that it had reviewed. This is inexplicable, considering the fact that the institution's numerous reports have been acknowledging since 1979 that race-based discrimination in the Bank Group is "systemic", "bank-wide" and "serious."

In 2009, the Government Accountability Project reported that, "Although the number of cases reviewed was not large enough to draw general conclusions, 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 have better prospects for compensation awards."

In 2015, after an extensive review of the Tribunal's judgments, including numerous judgments that the Tribunal rendered between 2009 and 2015, the DC Civil Rights Coalition labeled the Tribunal's jurisprudence as "racist," stressing its use of "different judicial standards for Black and non-Black complainants."

To read some of the Tribunal's most recent miscarriages of justice is to realize that its jurisprudence bears more than a flashing resemblance to those of Jim Crow and apartheid courts of yester-century.


In a recent racial discrimination case, the Bank's Office of Ethics and Business Conduct (EBC) official report characterized an African staff's manner of expression as "a little bit like a little bear is going to say something.” The Bank claimed that other staff members felt “unsafe in his presence."

The staff member's American lawyer, who seems to be well aware of the racist characterization of Blacks during slavery as "half child and half animal" and "a beast to be feared and guarded" protested the Bank's dehumanizing characterization of a human being as an animal. He passionately argued that “EBC’s proffered description of [his client] as a deep-voiced ‘little bear’ was clearly intended to invoke the image of an angry, howling, rampaging animal.”

The characterization of people of African origin as animal is not confined to racist elements in the American dark past. In 2014, a Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, depicted President Obama and First Lady Michele Obama as apes. The image was supposedly depicted as seen in the eyes of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, where President Obama had been a subject of a large poster as a monkey with a subtitle "Banana-Obama."

The African's attorney went on to say that, "The Bank has a long history of complaints alleging anti-African discrimination, and this case would be an example par excellence of such wrongs. Before working further injustice, the Bank would be well-advised to consider at last the broader implication of its acts."

The African's claims before the Tribunal focused on two areas. First, the "retention of overtly racist" characterization of him as an animal, despite his "vigorous protest" to remove it from the Bank's official report. Second, his termination following his protest.

In CW v. IFC (Decision No 516, November 2015) the Tribunal ruled that the characterization of the African's "manner of expression" as an animal has no “racially inflammatory effect." To the contrary, the judgment accused the African and his counsel of "mischaracterization" of the statement as "racial animus".

The judgment summarily dismissed the claim entirely, allowing the dehumanizing depictions to stand. The Tribunal also felt "constrained to observe that the tone and confrontational nature of some of the Applicant’s pleadings are not in conformity with the standards expected of those appearing before the Tribunal."

On its part, the Bank stated that the African could have avoided termination “if [he] had spent a little bit more time and energy listening to his manager and co-workers, and a little bit less energy preparing his case with his attorney."


This is a case that this author has written about in three previous pieces. The most recent piece was titled "World Bank Tribunal rules an African has no rights to his identity" that was based on the Tribunal's judgment of the case in May 2015. This is an update based on the Tribunal's rejection of a follow-up appeal in November 2015.

Before discussing the case, it is important to note that since 1979 the Bank has issued over a dozen "statements of commitment", promising to hold management accountable towards meeting its all too often declared public pronouncements of "zero tolerance for racial discrimination."

Given the Bank’s acknowledgment of an entrenched culture of racism and management's repeated declarations of statements of commitment, one would think management would be vigilant to avoid incidents of racial discrimination or be quick to address them when and where they surface. To the contrary, the Bank’s and the Tribunal's actions show a de facto institutional policy to protect perpetrators of racism by any means necessary.

The case involved an Ethiopian, Dr. Yonas Biru, who was a supremely qualified and often praised deputy global manager of the international comparison program (ICP). The ICP, the world's largest statistical undertaking, compares economic levels, cost of living, and the purchasing power of currencies in over 180 countries. It is co-sponsored by numerous international agencies and overseen by a global executive board, consisting of high-level officials of international agencies and representatives of the governments.

The problem started when Dr. Biru applied to become the global manager of ICP, based on his outstanding performance record as deputy global manager of the program and the strong backing of an overwhelming majority of the global executive board.

Alleging that "Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power", the Bank rejected his application. When Dr. Biru took the case to the Tribunal, the Bank did the unthinkable.

First, the Bank officially recanted Dr. Biru's official performance record of many years claiming it was "overinflated" and "hagiographic." Having officially recanted his lifelong professional credentials, the Bank contested that he lacked experience and credibility to become the global manager of a high profile international program.

Second, the Bank unilaterally changed the members of the ICP global executive board to get rid of those who were vocally and actively supporting Dr. Biru's candidacy. In their stead the Bank constituted a fraudulent list, containing imposters as board members.

One of the persons, whose name was listed in the fraudulent list as the representative of the Canadian government, wrote a statement stating that he was never a member of the board and was not aware that the Bank was using his name without his knowledge or consent. Similarly, the Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) wrote stating: “I was the sole ADB representative in the ICP Executive Board from the beginning. There is no ambiguity on this." The chief economist went on to state that the person whom the Bank presented as a representative of the ADB had no authority to represent his organization on the ICP Board.

Some of the imposters, who had no firsthand knowledge of Dr. Biru as a professional rejected his candidacy, alleging that he was "not ready to take on the Global Manager position... And [the Board] is concerned that the whole project would be put at risk if he was made the Global Manager."

Over 20 senior officials of international agencies and current and retired World Bank officials wrote testimonials rejecting the Bank's fraudulent claims. Nonetheless, the Tribunal summarily rejected the case, fully exonerating the Bank from all charges.

In a letter to the World Bank Board of Directors, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) documented that, "The Tribunal not only allowed instances of false testimony and written submissions to stand, but rendered them material by basing its judgment on them as if they constituted valid evidence."

Phyllis Muhammad, co-chair of Justice for Blacks, wrote to the US Board of Director to the World Bank stating: "As an African American trained as a lawyer, I heard the echo of words from court cases decided in the Jim Crow era, nullifying the human rights of Black Americans, in the words of the Tribunal’s judgment on Dr. Biru’s case ."

In 2014, Dr. Biru appealed the Tribunal's judgment on several grounds, including: (i) systemic suppression of more than 100 material evidence; (ii) the blatant judicial double standard for black and non-black complainants; and (iii) a letter that Dr. Biru received from one of the Tribunal judges, indicating that he was denied legal redress.

In May 2015, the Tribunal summarized all critical elements of the appeal without a single word, using ellipsis dots ("...") and summarily dismissed the appeal.

Dr. Biru filed another appeal in 2015, claiming that the Tribunal had categorically ignored both the legal grounds and the material evidence upon which his appeal was based. In November 2015, the Tribunal rejected his appeal once again, ruling that, "These claims were raised in his prior applications and were accordingly addressed by the Tribunal."

Unless ellipsis dots are accepted as legal analysis, the Tribunal's claims are outright false and represent a cruel mockery of justice. Dr. Biru has filed his sixth appeal demanding the Tribunal to decode the ellipsis dots and address his appeal.

The Tribunal's systemic miscarriage of justice is neither isolated nor sporadic, but a systemic violation of the due process rights of an entire group of people.

Those of us who are old enough to remember Jim Crow courts that were used both as a source of legitimacy for racial segregation and as instruments of control to silence dissent, see a more than a distant resemblance between the 20th century Jim Crow courts and the 21st century World Bank Tribunal.

There is no question whether the Bank's institutionalized, widespread and sustained acts of racial discrimination and systemic denial of due process against an entire group of people is a crime. Whether it is a crime against an entire group of people or a crime against humanity may be debatable in theory. In practice, however, the difference is indistinguishable to the victims.

* Frank Watkins is the Public Policy Director of Rainbow Push Coalition, founded by Reverend Jesse Jackson.



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