NEWS: The Global Fund & human rights – Lessons from the health sector

HR -Protect Human Rights in all climate actionsAs the financial and market mechanisms established under the UNFCCC struggle to implement policies aimed at the protection and promotion of human rights, these institutions might benefit from learning how other global financial mechanisms are dealing with this issue, such as the Global Fund’s new Human Rights Complaints Procedure.

Established in 2002, the Global Fund (officially “Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria”) is a public/private partnership aimed at leveraging resources to combat the three epidemics. During the first decade of its operation, the Global Fund has channeled over USD 22.9 billion to projects implemented in over 150 countries. Financing provided to the global fund originates primarily from public sources but private donors also contribute to a limited extent.

As a global financing mechanism that funds country-driven projects, the Global Fund is facing the following dilemma: Since its creation, it has claimed to support human-rights-centered approaches. However, host country ownership – one of the Fund’s three core principles – limits its ability to ensure that these approaches are effectively implemented throughout all the projects in which it is involved.

As a response, the Global Fund adopted in 2012 a strategic objective related to the protection and promotion of human rights. The Global Fund is currently implementing this strategic objective through three main approaches:

  1. Integrating human rights considerations throughout its grant cycle;
  2. Investing in programs that address human rights-related barriers to access;
  3. Ensuring that funding excludes programs infringing human rights.

Additionally, the Fund included five minimum human rights standards in its Grant Agreement, including non-discriminatory access to services, respect of informed consent and confidentiality, and the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments.

Last month, the Global Fund launched a new human rights complaints procedure that enables individuals and organizations to report allegations of breach of the human rights standards included in the grant agreement. Complaints can now be filled directly with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is an independent body within the Global Fund’s structure mandated to oversee all processes and projects related to, or supported by, the Fund. Originally, the OIG was tasked to address issues of fraud, corruption and mishandling of funds. The new procedure established a couple of weeks ago adds compliance with the five human rights standards to the scope of this oversight.

The OIG’s response to any complaints it receives as well as, to some extent, by the resources made available for follow-up will determine whether the complaint procedure significantly contributes to the promotion of human rights. In any case, the new procedure offers the opportunity to increase the accountability of the various actors involved in its processes as well as to shed light on specific issues arising in the operation of the projects funded by the Global Fund. Additionally, the Global Fund has been proactively promoting the new procedure, demonstrating its interest in ensuring that impacted individuals make use of this new tool.

While the activities of the Global Fund are not directly related to climate change, it is somewhat reminiscent of the finance and market mechanisms established under the UNFCCC. Those face similar challenges with the promotion of environmental and social standards in the context of a strong emphasis on host-country ownership. The approaches put in place by the Global Fund could thus provide useful learning opportunities for the climate regime with regards to the operationalization of human rights standards or safeguards.