Press Release

SRESCER of the IACHR urges the prioritization of actions aimed at the realization of the rights to water and sanitation in the Hemisphere

March 23, 2018

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Washington, D.C.- On World Water Day, commemorated every March 22nd, the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on OAS Member States to redouble their efforts to guarantee the enjoyment of water and sanitation rights in the continent, in particular, by strengthening their recognition as human rights in their national regulatory frameworks; establishing participatory strategies, adequate budgets and clear and measurable objectives that allow for the full realization of the all components and contents of these rights. The SRESCER also urges States to establish prevention policies and parameters of due diligence to reduce risks and to avoid violations of these rights; and, to ensure the existence of effective legal procedures and remedies that allow for the reparation of victims as well as the accountability of state and non-state actors.

The SRESCER recalls that the bodies of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, and in particular the IACHR, have been progressively addressing a series of issues related to the human right to water through the system of petitions and individual cases, precautionary measures, and monitoring and promotion activities. The IACHR has pointed out that access to water is a necessary element to guarantee the right to life, the right to personal integrity and that it is an inherent aspect of the right to health. Within this framework, the SRESCER also emphasizes the wide recognition of the right’s close and fundamental relationship with other human rights, in particular, food, housing, education and a healthy environment, which places it as a determining factor for the respect and guarantee of those rights. Precisely, under such circumstances, the Special Rapporteurship has prioritized the rights to water and sanitation in its work agenda having in mind its intimate relationship with the rights to food, health and dignified living conditions.

In addition, taking into account the principles of indivisibility and interdependence, the IACHR has already recognized in its 2015 Annual Report that States must adopt measures to guarantee the satisfaction of an essential level of access to water in conditions of quantity and quality for human consumption without any discrimination. States must also refrain from engaging in practices or activities that violate or restrict access to drinking water in conditions of equality. Likewise, they must prevent third parties from undermining access to water, adopting internal measures to prevent non-state actors from harming or denying their content, for example, by contaminating water resources, wells and other water distribution systems.

The SRESCER underlines the importance of not leaving aside the collective and cultural dimensions of the right to water in relation to indigenous and tribal peoples, in particular, about their rights regarding their territories and natural resources. It also highlights that there are particularities and specific contexts that must be taken into account in relation to historically discriminated groups, such as women, children and adolescents, Afro-descendant persons, homeless people or people living in informal settlements, migrants, refugees or persons seeking international protection, stateless and displaced persons, persons deprived of liberty, elderly people, people with disabilities and peasant communities, among others.

For its part, situations of water stress due to the scarcity and deterioration in water quality, the intensification in different types of demands for water usage and disposal, as well as changes in its natural renewal cycles due to the effects of climate change, put forth pressure on this natural resource and facilitate the generation of crises and conflicts around it. In addition, the SRESCER sees with concern the repeated complaints and information about violations of these rights and the negative impacts that may occur if a human rights approach is not taken into account in the policies and normative frameworks that affect them, particularly in the contexts of cross-border management and use of water, activities of public and transnational companies, implementation of investment treaties and in the execution and financing of development projects. Consequently, the States should take actions aimed at the efficient use of water resources in all sectors and ensure their sustainability.

In view of this, it is emphasized that there is not only an international human rights framework that gives rise to specific obligations for States in relation to the rights to water and sanitation, but that States have also committed to achieving specific objectives in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, for the universal and equitable access to water at an affordable price; access to adequate sanitation services for all people by putting an end to open defecation; the reduction of pollution on water; the protection of related ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and rivers; as well as cross-border cooperation and local community participation in water management.

In this framework, the SRESCER urges States to prioritize the effective fulfillment of their obligations related to the rights to water and sanitation and that the third parties, directly or indirectly, tied to their implementation consider, as appropriate, the effects that the states’ obligations might produce on their conduct. It also emphasizes that although there may be difficulties and challenges when determining the existence of violations of the rights to water and sanitation, for example, regarding the availability of economic resources or the progressivity towards their full realization, there are also immediate obligations that can be verified and assessed. Finally, the Special Rapporteurship is at the disposal of the States of the region to provide technical assistance in the matter in order to coordinate efforts, agendas and cooperation spaces around all the pillars of the IACHR mandate in order to accomplish the full realization of the rights to water and sanitation.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an Office specially created to support to the IACHR in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights throughout the Americas.

No. 059/18