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Statement by Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to safe drinking water and sanitation to the 69th session of the General Assembly Third Committee

Item # 69 (b,c)

22 October, 2014
New York


Mme. Chairperson [Sofia Mesquita Borges from Timor-Leste],
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today to present my annual report before the Third Committee, pursuant Human Rights Council resolutions 16/2 and 18/1, as well as General Assembly resolution 64/292.

Before presenting the report, I would like to take a moment to speak about human rights in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and in the climate change regime.

I believe that the biggest blind-spot of the MDGs has been their disregard to inequalities. I think it is fair to say that the current deliberations have been characterized by ambivalence, but overall there is an emerging consensus about the need to address and ultimately eliminate inequalities. The Outcome Document of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals provides a solid basis for addressing inequalities. I would like to raise two points that I consider key in moving forward: at the political level, it is essential to keep and stress the commitment to progressively eliminating inequalities and to strengthen the targets on social, economic, and political inclusion as well as equal opportunities and reducing inequalities of outcome by making them concrete and time-bound. This links to my second point, namely that it is essential to support these targets with indicators and measurements that fully capture the different forms of inequalities and progress toward eliminating them. The political agreement to be reached by UN Members States in the form of the SDGs must not be betrayed in the selection of indicators.

Likewise, I urge States parties to integrate human rights in climate change negotiations. Any future agreement must reinforce and build upon previous commitments to fully respect, protect and fulfill human rights in all climate change related actions. I understand that negotiations can become very technical, but we must not lose sight of people being affected by climate change, and States must ensure full coherence between their human rights obligations and their efforts to address climate change.


Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

My annual report focuses on the right to participation in the context of realizing the human rights to water and sanitation. The idea of participation in the water and sanitation sectors is not new. So why have I decided to take this up as the topic for my report? – During the course of my mandate, I have witnessed both the positive impact of authentic participation, as well as persistent problems arising from a lack of meaningful participation. Often “participation” remains a mere façade. On the other hand, where participation is taken seriously this leads to more sustainable results.

Participation is a right in itself. People have a right to take part in decision-making processes that may affect their lives. This means more than voting in an election every four or five years. States have an obligation to ensure that people can participate fully in decision-making.

To ensure that participation is active, free and meaningful, States should create spaces and opportunities for engagement and enable people to access such processes. They should involve people from the beginning, and they should provide people with the necessary information to form an opinion and with a genuine and reasonable opportunity to influence decision-making. This means that consultations should not merely aim at securing people’s buy-in, but involve people in the design of the measures to be adopted and take their views seriously. For instance, authorities in Tuscany, Italy, are required to answer to proposals made and explain why proposals are taken up, or not, in policies.

Moreover, people not only must have the opportunity to decide on the location of a borehole or latrine, but also on the overall priorities set by the government, the distribution and redistribution of resources and the strategic decisions on legislative and policy frameworks and budgets. For example Brazil ensured a broad nationwide participatory process in the development of its National Water and Sanitation Plan. At a local level, for instance, in Tanzania, communities use budget tracking to monitor government spending of funds allocated for water and sanitation. They requested explanations from the relevant authorities, which resulted in greater responsiveness and accountability.

However, I recognize that ensuring active, free and meaningful participation is not without difficulties. The greatest challenge may be in ensuring that everyone can realize his or her right to participation on the basis of equality and that elite capture of such processes is avoided. For that purpose marginalized individuals and groups, and the specific barriers they face need to be addressed. This includes physical, economic, institutional, attitudinal, social and others including gender-stereotypes, self-censorship and intimidation. For example, so called “Poverty truth commissions” can lead to a useful inversion of power dynamics, with those who have become experts through experience testifying and those “in power” hearing the testimony. The process ensures that people experiencing poverty are at the heart of developing solutions.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that participation is a human right in itself. States must take measures to institutionalize participation and make it inclusive in their work towards the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation.


Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Looking back at my term as a Special Rapporteur, I have always aimed to make the human rights to water and sanitation tangible and to build bridges between different stakeholders, professions and people. After receiving numerous requests to provide practical guidance on how to implement the human rights to water and sanitation, I have developed a handbook for realizing the human rights to water and sanitation, and it is my great pleasure to present it today. I sincerely hope that you will find this Handbook instructive and useful, and that you will be able to use it in your work to strengthen the power of the human rights to water and sanitation.
Thank you for your attention