Dr. E. Faye Williams

The President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, is expected to speak at Howard University on October 1. The powerful international bank is one of the most racist institutions in the US, hiding behind the veil of its immunity from US laws. Victims of discrimination are confined to an internal Tribunal that rejects every complaint filed by Black complainants.

A simple Google search will confirm the breathtaking racial injustice, producing several pages of articles with shocking titles that seem to describe another era or a faraway place. Reverend Jesse Jackson’s column in the Chicago Sun Times entitled “Apartheid Avenue two Blocks from the White House” is one example. “World Bank puts Blacks at the Back of Bus” is another. “All Rise: The World Bank Jim Crow Tribunal is in Session” is yet another. For those who prefer French or Spanish there are “Apartheid a la Banque Mondiale” and “Discriminación racial en el Banco Mundial” to start with.

President Kim’s decision to reject repeated meeting requests by the Civil Rights Coalition (that has been established to end institutionalized racism in the World Bank) but reach out instead to Howard University for a forum reflects a desire to set the agenda on his own terms. It may even be a sinister attempt to divide the Black community and preempt the Coalition’s campaign for racial justice. Nonetheless, the planned speech must be welcomed as a teaching moment. Its organizers should allow adequate time for Q&A and invite the media.

The following are requests of the Coalition that President Kim should be challenged to address.

Request 1: Establish Administrative Accountability for egregious outstanding cases. The Civil Rights Coalition is rallying behind Yonas Biru’s 2010 and 2014 cases. Biru, an Ethiopian citizen, who came to the US with $12 and worked midnight shifts to finance his PhD, was employed by the World Bank for 17 years. His last position was Deputy Global Manager of a high profile international program in the Development Economics (DEC) vice presidential unit. DEC is considered to be the ivory tower of the World Bank where Blacks account for only 2.4 percent of the professional cohort.

Biru’s performance was consistently rated as “outstanding/best practice”. Nonetheless, he was advised by the World Bank that he could not be promoted to a Global Manager position because “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power.” When he filed complaints with the Tribunal, the World Bank deleted his Deputy Global Manager record to diminish his professional standing. Subsequently, the Human Resources (HR) complex rejected his application, claiming that he did not have managerial experience to be considered for a Global Manager position. Adding insult to injury, the World Bank terminated him in retaliation.

The World Bank was not alone in reacting strongly against Biru’s decision to take his case to the Tribunal. The first question Biru was asked by one of the judges at the Tribunal hearing was: “What was it being designated Global Manager that is so magical to have led you to this stage where you think it was a loss to the rest of the world?” Biru’s lawyer intervened: “Can I ask a clarifying question?” The Judge shot back: “No, you cannot ask me questions!”

The Tribunal saw nothing wrong with the World Bank’s breach of Biru’s official personnel record. It “summarily dismissed” his racial discrimination allegations, upholding the World Bank’s criminal actions as “a legitimate business practice”. Meanwhile, it found Biru’s termination “unlawful, capricious and a violation of due process,” but still ruled that he should not be reinstated because “he has criticized his managers”.

Regarding Biru’s request that his personnel record and professional identity be restored so that he can be gainfully employed in other international organizations where his global management experience is highly sought, the aforementioned judge advised him to forget his deleted past and build a new professional identity. The judge wrote: “Let bygones be bygones…. You need to pull yourself together and try once again to rebuild your life and career.”

After four years of pressure from the US Government, President Kim’s administration sent Biru an email indicating that his deleted managerial record “will be scanned into staff files.” Currently, the World Bank has two materially different personnel records on Biru.

Internally, his managerial track record is restored, acknowledging his “multiple roles in the Bank’s global management, managing one of the most critical programs that the Bank has ever managed.” Externally, the Bank still maintains that he had no managerial record. Correcting the defamatory public record would require informing the Tribunal and retracting the institutional perjury upon which the Tribunal’s pubic judgment rested.

President Kim has refused to address this injustice, ignoring appeals from the US Government, the Congressional Black Caucus, Senator Barbara Mikulski, representatives of over 500 faith-based organizations, the Government Accountability Project, and a petition by 1500 people.

Request 2: Establish a high-level independent commission to investigate allegations of systemic racism, particularly allegations of judicial racism. The request is not to second-guess the Tribunal’s past judgments no matter how manifestly unjust. It is to investigate well-founded allegations of systemic suppression of material evidence; flagrant violations of the Tribunal’s Rules and Articles; willful use of irrefutably proven false assertions in its judgment; and engaging in systemic deception to obstruct justice. The World Bank’s recent attempt to attribute the Tribunal’s transgressions to lack of investigative resources to support its adjudicative process represents a desperate attempt at deception.

President Kim’s position that he can address the problem internally without involving an external commission was proven futile by his own HR complex. The complex was mandated to oversee the work of a consultant that was hired to review the World Bank’s racial diversity profile and come up with recommendations where needed. The Civil Rights Coalition was tipped off early on that the HR complex was providing the consultant false data. This was confirmed recently by President Kim’s former Director of Diversity who stated that “The data is fudged now for obfuscation.”

Request 3: Allow complainants of racial discrimination access to external arbitration. In 1998, a World Bank Committee documented: “Many black staff are reluctant to file grievances of racial discrimination through the existing mechanisms. Therefore, it is recommended that the World Bank establish a different mechanism for resolving specific allegations of racial discrimination.”

In 2010, the US Treasury wrote: “We are continuing to explore the possibility of pressing the World Bank to look harder at external arbitration….” In 2012 and 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law two Consolidated Appropriations Acts requiring that World Bank staff have access to external arbitration.

President Kim rejected all calls for external arbitration, presumably fearing that allowing access to an independent adjudicative process could open a floodgate of lawsuits. This is seen as costly, considering President Kim’s obsession to cut $400 million from the World Bank’s budget in three years.

Request 4: Addressing the systemic exclusion of African Americans from professional and managerial positions. This is the only request that President Kim has agreed to address. But he is not ready to provide new hires access to justice should they face discrimination.

To grasp the essence of this frame of mind one needs to understand Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team. Sterling spoke of his Black players condescendingly in a secretly taped telephone conversation with his girlfriend: “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses.” The concept of human dignity and rights need not apply to Blacks as long as they are given employment opportunities.