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Rio+20: UN expert urges Governments not to sideline the human right to water and sanitation

Rio+20 plus human rights

06 June 2012

GENEVA (6 June 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque called on world Governments to fully support the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 20-22 June.

In an open letter* to States negotiating the outcome document of the Rio+20 Summit, the UN independent expert expressed concern that a clear recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is at risk of being suppressed from the original text after three rounds of “informal-informal” negotiations held in New York in the past three months.

“Some States suggested alternative language that does not explicitly refer to the human right to water and sanitation; some tried to reinterpret or even dilute the content of this human right,” Ms. de Albuquerque warned, recalling that it already has been recognized as a human right under international law, including by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2010.

In her view, when agreeing on a sustainable development target for water and sanitation, Governments have to integrate the human right to water and sanitation and “aim at achieving access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all without discrimination, in sufficient quantities to protect human health and dignity, particularly for the most marginalized.”

The Special Rapporteur warned that the decisions taken by States at Rio+20 will impact national policymaking, national and local budget allocations and the prioritization of funds by donors. “The outcome of the Rio+20 negotiations, therefore, has strong potential for helping shape the future and peoples’ lives for decades to come. States must not miss this opportunity,” she underscored.

“I call on all States to maintain their support to this fundamental human right and its explicit inclusion in the Rio+20 outcome document,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “It is clear that a commitment to water and sanitation without the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is insufficient to achieve the future we all want.”

Catarina de Albuquerque is the first UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. She was appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2008. Ms. de Albuquerque is a Professor at the Law Faculties of the Universities of Braga and Coimbra and the American University’s Washington College of Law and a Senior Legal Adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law, an independent institution under the Prosecutor General’s Office. Learn more, log on to:

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