The Asian Development Bank and the Role of Human Rights in the Pursuit of Just and Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific Region: An Advocacy Role for Australia?

The Asian Development Bank (‘ADB’) is an important institutional financer of development in the Asia-Pacific region: its primary mission is reducing poverty in the region by promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth. ADB-financed activities have the potential to advance the enjoyment of human rights, but may also be open to the accusation that they sometimes facilitate violations of those rights by national governments.

This article examines the ADB’s approach to the explicit incorporation of international human rights norms into its policies and procedures, noting its general reluctance to embrace such norms. It argues that ADB member states, including Australia, are under international human rights treaty obligations to ensure that their participation in the activities of and their dealings with the ADB do not involve the violation of their human rights treaty obligations. The article discusses the reasons why, nonetheless, there is relatively little interest among ADB members or staff in the explicit incorporation of human rights standards in their work. It puts forward suggestions for further research, including a detailed and systematic review of ADB’s record and the potential that explicit use of human rights framework might have for improving the effectiveness of the ADB’s development work.

Finally, the article argues that, as the ADB is an important development partner for Australia, and one in which Australian influence is significant and to which Australia’s contributions are likely to increase in coming years, there is a strong case for Australia doing more now to encourage the explicit integration of human rights standards into the work of the ADB.

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