Wednesday, October 6, 2010

AfD signs letter calling for stronger language in UN Human Rights Commission resolution on water

Alliance for Democracy has joined with other water, environmental and human rights organizations to send the following letter to Sihasak Phuangketkeow, president of the United Nations Human Rights Council, highlighting some concerns about the council's resolution on water and sanitation as human rights.

Following the UN General Assembly resolution adopted this summer that formally recognizes the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution the end of September which recognizes these rights and calls on states to adopt policies that will carry them out. While this is an important step forward, we remain concerned that the resolution recognizes the role of non-state actors, aka private corporations, in providing drinking water and sanitation services. The specific language says: "States, in accordance with their laws, regulations and public policies, may opt to involve non-State actors in the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation services." Our letter and the work of groups like Amnesty International did help get this language changed for the better from the draft resolution. Now we must remain vigilant and active in opposing privatization.

The letter was sent September 21, and you can read it, and see a list of signatories, below:

September 21, 2010

Dear President Phuangketkeow,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations and representatives of social movements, whose collective work is devoted to the universal realization of the human right to water and sanitation, are writing to express our views on a resolution regarding this right currently being considered by the Human Right Council as its Session begins this month in Geneva.

We applaud the members of the Human Rights Council for considering such a resolution. A strong resolution would build upon the work done by the Independent Expert on the Right to Water and Sanitation under Mandate by the Council to clarify and articulate the parameters of the rights to water and sanitation. It would also affirm the precedent set by the UN General Assembly’s resolution [A/RES/64/292] adopted this summer that formally recognized the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right.

However, we are concerned that the current resolution under consideration by the Council contains language that could be inconsistent with some of the recommendations of the Independent Expert, the spirit of the General Assembly resolution, and widely shared views on the scope and nature of these essential rights.

Our first concern is in regards to proposed language in OP 7 of the draft resolution, which currently states that the Human Rights Council ‘recognizes that States are free to opt to involve non-State actors in water and sanitation services provision.’ We believe this language is redundant and lacks accuracy. Language in OP6 of the resolution already acknowledges that States have the primary obligation to uphold the right to water and sanitation, which includes situations where States might delegate service delivery to third parties. OP 7 is inaccurate because, at the outset, States must evaluate whether or not to allow non-State actors in to the water sector on the basis of whether or not such action is consistent with their human rights obligations. If it is not, then States are not ‘free’ to involve non-State actors.

We fear that if OP 7 remains part of this resolution text, its meaning could be misconstrued as encouraging States to seek involvement of non-State actors as a preferential option, when the current understanding of the human rights framework with regard to non-State actors is that human rights law is neutral and does not favor non-State actors over public providers. On the basis of this and our previous points, we urge Member States to strike OP 7 from the text of this resolution.

Our second concern is proposed language in OP 9, which currently states that the Human Rights Council ‘recalls that that non-State service providers have the responsibility to respect human rights obligations,’ and outlines the specific responsibilities of non-State actors with regards to their human rights obligations. These obligations are important to recognize, but once again, States have the primary responsibility to ensure non-State actors meet these obligations. We recommend that OP 9 be rephrased to clearly communicate that States shall guard against violations of the human right to water and sanitation by non-State actors, and shall take steps to hold such actors accountable for any violations or shortfalls that may occur.

Lastly, we urge Member States to include language in this resolution that recognizes the unique and essential nature of the right to water and sanitation. We are concerned that language in earlier drafts of this resolution has identified these rights as merely components of other rights, or contingent upon recognition of other rights. At a minimum, this resolution should recognize that the right to safe and clean water and sanitation is derived from the right to life recognized in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the right to an adequate standard of living recognized in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and is inextricably linked to other human rights, including the rights to dignity, food, adequate housing and health. More broadly, we believe that the human right to water and sanitation are essential for the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, and ultimately should be recognized as such by law. We hope that this resolution will clearly acknowledge this point at well.

We strongly urge members of the UN Human Rights Council to strengthen this resolution by adopting our recommendations, and we call upon the delegations of UN Member States at the UN General Assembly to weigh in on these deliberations in order to ensure that the spirit of the General Assembly resolution passed this summer is upheld throughout this process. We appreciate your consideration of these concerns and await your response.


Alliance for Democracy (U.S.A.)

Alpine Riverkeepers (Australia)

Bloque Popular (Honduras)

Blue Planet Project /Council of Canadians (Canada)

Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Francisco de Vitoria O.P.” A.C. (Mexico)

Comisión Nacional de Defensa del agua y de la Vida CONAGUA y VIDA (Peru)

Confederación de Trabajadores de Agua, Saneamiento y Medio Ambiente de las Américas- CONTAGUAS

Corporación Ecofondo (Colombia)

Corporación Ecológica y Cultural Penca de Sábila (Colombia)

Corporate Accountability International (U.S.A.)

Coalición de Organizaciones Mexicanas por el Derecho al Agua (COMDA) (Mexico)

Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (Nigeria)

Fair Water Use (Australia)


International Indian Treaty Council (International)

New Zealand Water Pressure Group (New Zealand)

Planeta Agua Blog (Colombia)

Polaris Institute (Canada)

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