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LGBTI advocate investigated by World Bank: Fabrice Houdart describes his treatment as an ‘ordeal’

LGBTI advocate investigated by World Bank: Fabrice Houdart describes his treatment as an ‘ordeal’

A leading advocate for LGBTI global rights within the World Bank is under investigation for allegedly leaking documents.

But Fabrice Houdart denies wrongdoing and claims he is being targeted by his bosses because he criticised the organization’s president and his senior management team for awarding bonuses at a time of cut-backs in the bank.

Houdart has hired lawyers who specialise in working with whistle-blowers to represent him but currently remains employed and working at the bank.

As well as being the senior country officer for the Middle East and North Africa division of World Bank he was also president of the bank’s LGBT employee group for four years until he stepped down last week.

Under his leadership, the group researched LGBT employees at the bank, leading the HR department to improve policies.

Houdart has also repeatedly highlighted the link between poverty in the world’s most underperforming economies and a lack of LGBTI equality.

He encouraged the bank to look more deeply at the impact its lending policies have on LGBTI people.

He also engaged with numerous NGOs in discussions on poverty and global LGBTI rights.

Last month, World Bank released a short film – overseen by Houdart – exploring links between poverty and LGBTI discrimination.

World Bank operates in 188 countries and specializes in providing loans and technical assistance to emerging economies. It wields huge influence and can lay down specific stipulations before agreeing any loans.

In just one example, the bank denied Uganda a $90million health care loan in 2013, after it passed its controversial law punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The move was welcomed by LGBTI activists.

World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, told Buzzfeed last week that the move – considered bold in the world of international banking – prompted other African countries to think again before considering such anti-gay laws.

But now Houdart is being investigated by World Bank for alleged misconduct: namely leaking sensitive draft documents detailing plans to establish new human rights and environmental ‘safeguards’ for bank loans.

Lawyers working on Houdart’s behalf have denied the allegations.

Questioned by Buzzfeed, Jim Yong Kim said he ‘can’t and won’t comment’ on the investigation, but went on to say: ‘Do we have information that we tell specifically with our staff cannot be shared with others that this is privileged information? Absolutely.

‘We have to investigate it.’

Gay Star Business understands Houdart currently remains in his post and has not been suspended while the investigation is on-going. He has declined to comment, but Beatrice Edwards, Excutive Director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), acting on Houdart’s behalf said: ‘We’re looking into the possibility that the actions taken with respect to him by the bank are discriminatory and retaliatory.’

GAP often represents corporate and governmental whistle-blowers.

According to Edwards the draft documents Houdart is accused of releasing were actually leaked a year ago. She says it could be the only reason he is being investigated now is that he has criticized the bank’s leadership over recent months.

Houdart has taken to Twitter to deny that he was the source of the leak. He also tweeted: ‘Nice to see my ordeal become public’.

Supporters have started a fundraising page to help him meet his legal costs. So far $5,200 has been raised.

The leaked documents, in the view of some people, indicate the World Bank may have been intending to dilute its safeguards around loans.

But Kim has said there will be ‘no dilution’– particularly in regard to LGBT issues. Speaking last week he said any recipients of World Bank loans would be expected not to discriminate against LGBT people.

‘Even before it’s been enacted as a safeguard, I’m going forward in assuming that that’s our policy.’

The review process into the safeguards is expected to be completed by 2016.

Approached by Gay Star Business, a spokesperson for World Bank confirmed that an investigation was taking place but declined to identify the staff members concerned: ‘The World Bank does not comment on ongoing investigations. The World Bank is able to confirm that investigations were initiated in July 2014 into the unauthorized disclosure of several confidential documents.’

(H/T Buzzfeed)