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Answering Rights Groups' Call, UN Human Rights Panel Demands Trump Admin Address Water Justice

"Federal policy must do a complete U-turn to keep us in compliance with international human rights law."

The U.N Human Rights Committee took "a huge step forward for the U.N.-enshrined human right to water," Food & Water Watch said Monday. (Photo: wonderisland/Shutterstock)

Three months after a human rights coalition called on the United Nations to address the American government's failure to ensure water justice for its residents, the international body included access to clean water in a list of human rights issues the U.S. must address.

In its periodic review of the U.S., the U.N. Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) specifically called out the water crisis in Flint, Michigan as one of the items it needs to address, as well as making sure all citizens have access to safe and clean water:

Please indicate what steps the State party is taking to ensure access to safe and clean water for its population. Specifically describe efforts to remedy the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as efforts to keep water affordable for low-income populations when publicly owned water services are privatized. Further clarify the State party’s initiatives to address significant threats to the right to life posed by impacts of climate change such as flash floods, coastal flooding, wildfires, infectious disease, extreme heat and air pollution.

The statement indicates a "huge step forward" for the UNHRC and climate justice, Food & Water Watch (FWW) said Monday.

"This is the first evidence we've seen that the U.N. is codifying not only clean, affordable water but also climate justice as civil rights issues," Maude Barlow, board chair of FWW and former senior advisor to the U.N. on water issues, said in a statement. "This is a huge step forward for the U.N.-enshrined human right to water."

"This is the first evidence we've seen that the U.N. is codifying not only clean, affordable water but also climate justice as civil rights issues. This is a huge step forward for the U.N.-enshrined human right to water."                                          —Maude Barlow, Food & Water Watch

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Along with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, and In the Public Interest, Food & Water Watch wrote to the UNHRC in January asking that they recognize water justice as a human rights issue under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As Common Dreams reported last week, the UNHRC also demanded to know what steps the U.S. is taking to protect the "right to life" from the climate crisis, which has contributed to wildfires as well as increasingly destructive hurricanes and flooding.

Now that some of the world's top human rights officials have formally recognized that the U.S. has violated its citizens' fundamental rights by cutting off access to drinking water—especially as the Trump administration has rolled back regulations on water pollution and a federal judge acknowledged last week that Michigan's former governor may have helped cover up Flint's water crisis—Congress must follow suit, FWW said.

"Trump and many in Congress continue to enable industry to use and abuse the planet that sustains us for profit," executive director Wenonah Hauter said. "Federal policy must do a complete U-turn to keep us in compliance with international human rights law. Congress must pass legislation that swiftly moves us away from fossil fuels and provides public funding to upgrade our water systems to ensure the human right to water."

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