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Mark Hays, 617-695-2525
Corporate Accountability Statement on Passage of United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on the Rights to Water and Sanitation
BOSTON - October 4 - Last Thursday, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution that further recognized the rights to water and sanitation, an important step towards making these rights legally binding. This action underscores the important precedent set by the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution [A/RES/64/292], adopted this summer, where governments formally recognized the right to water and sanitation as rights that they must uphold.
The resolution states that the rights to water and sanitation are, at a minimum, inextricably related to other human rights – such as the right to health and to life – which governments have already formally recognized as law through various international treaties. It also calls on governments to adopt policies and mechanisms that will progressively realize people’s rights to water and sanitation. These recommendations from the UN’s primary human rights body will help push governments to prioritize improving access to water and sanitation for the billions who currently lack such access, and will help enable ordinary people to seek redress when their rights have been violated or have not been met.
Corporate Accountability International is hopeful that passage of this resolution will generate further momentum for the work of the Independent Expert on the Right to Water and Sanitation, who in 2008 was appointed to a three year post by the Human Rights Council to study the legal parameters of the rights to water and sanitation and make recommendations on what policies governments should adopt in order to protect and fulfill these rights. We also hope that Member States will, in the wake of this resolution, take bold steps to become champions of these rights on the ground as well as in the halls of government.
We also remain concerned that some elements of this resolution do not go far enough, and could even be detrimental to the realization of these rights. In particular, we are concerned about operating paragraph (OP) seven of the resolution, which deals with the involvement of non-State actors – including the private sector – in the provision of water and sanitation services. This paragraph says that “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.”
For years, governments and international financial institutions have actively and systematically promoted the involvement of corporations in the provision of water and sanitation services, often at the expense of people’s lives and health. Millions of people have seen their water rates skyrocket or their access to water cut off when private corporations have controlled their access to water for profit, or have waited in vain for the promises of these corporations to extend water access to their communities.
If the right to water is to be truly respected, protected and fulfilled, we must have global water policies that do not promote a pre-ordained solution, but focus on truly providing affordable and equitable water and sanitation for all. The current understanding of human rights law with respect to this right supports this principle, in that human rights law is understood to be neutral and does not favor the private sector over the public sector when States determine how to provide people with water and sanitation.
Prior to passage of the Human Rights Council resolution, Corporate Accountability International and eighteen other civil society organizations sent a letter sharing these and other concerns with the members of the Human Rights Council and the members of the U.N. General Assembly (The letter is accessible on our website here).
The final resolution text on this specific subject is an improvement over the original text, but we believe it still falls short. Therefore, the international community must guard against any element of this resolution being used to encourage States to seek involvement of non-State actors, or private water corporations, as a preferential option.
In the wake of this resolution, it is critical that communities, civil society organizations, social movements and people around the world seize the momentum toward realization of our rights to water and sanitation, while urging States to adopt policies that will foster democratic governance and fully participatory decision-making processes regarding these rights. We must ensure that democracy is in the driver’s seat when global water policy is being crafted, so that the billions of people who lack access to clean water and sanitation are not only heard but have a lead role in shaping the policies that underpin their basic survival and dignity.