Chicago Journal of International Law


This Essay reflects my experience as an NGO lawyer in pushing for the creation of the World Bank Inspection Panel, supporting project-affected people in bringing their claims, and then defending the Panel against attacks emanating from inside the World Bank. At times this work has seemed far from the realm of public international law, but that is in fact the point of the Panel-it is a substantial departure from traditional public international law. Operationalizing the Panel took the active participation of many different players, but the original vision and conceptualization of the Panel came from outside the World Bank-from critics who were looking for ways to make the Bank accountable to the poor communities it was created to serve. The Panel was thus created to bridge the gap between international institutions and the people they serve. It was the first international institution that allowed citizens to bypass their national governments in lodging formal complaints that addressed how an international institution affected their lives. Citizens, and the lawyers that represented them, were given direct access to an international forum to press rights-based arguments regarding whether the institution had met its responsibilities. The Panel, then, reflects a citizen advocacy model that has no precedent in international law, outside of a few human rights tribunals.