GENEVA / NEW YORK (21 March 2023) – Water should be managed as a common good not a commodity, UN experts* said today. They urged States to ensure that human rights and water defenders be placed at the core of the discussions during the first UN conference focusing on water in nearly five decades. The experts issued the following statement ahead of the UN 2023 Water Conference (22-24 March).
“The human rights to water and sanitation are clear illustrations of the indivisibility, interrelatedness and interdependency of human rights and are vital for achieving an adequate standard of living. Whether looking at physical security of women and girls, discrimination against Indigenous Peoples, peasants, minorities or to the human rights to health, adequate housing, a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, education, and many others, all are intimately linked to water and sanitation.
For the first time in almost 50 years, the United Nations is convening a three-day conference in New York to consider the global water situation and the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We welcome the efforts by the United Nations, Member States, right-holders and other stakeholders from all parts of the world to gather in New York and work together for advancing the global water agenda. Progress on SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation for all - can only happen effectively if communities and their human rights are at the center of the discussions, especially by hearing the voices of those that endure discrimination, marginalisation, poverty and situations of vulnerability.
Water is a human right. It needs to be managed as a common good. Considering water as a commodity or a business opportunity will leave behind those that cannot access or afford the market prices. Commodification of water will derail achievement of the SDGs and hamper efforts to solve the global water crisis, already further exacerbated by the triple planetary crisis: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and toxic pollution, affecting the life and health of billions around the world.
The UN 2030 Water Conference is an opportunity for listening to and engaging with human rights defenders, particularly water rights defenders, and other rights-holders. Instead of restricting the freedom of expression and association of human rights and water rights defenders, and even criminalising them, it is time to ensure their meaningful participation, especially for women and youth human rights defenders, in all discussions and in any outcomes and water governance mechanisms at the international, national, and local levels. In this context, robust public access to information frameworks are needed to foster transparency, participation and accountability.
It is time to stop a technocratic approach to water and consider the ideas, knowledge and solutions of Indigenous Peoples, peasants, and local communities who understand local aquatic ecosystems to ensure sustainability of the water agenda.
As mentioned in a recent open letter from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to member States, the UN Water Conference “is a once in a lifetime opportunity to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and Sustainable Development Goal 6 in particular, to address the root causes of this water and sanitation crisis” currently affecting two billion people without guaranteed access to safe drinking water and more than four billion without basic sanitation.
We reiterate our hope that the UN 2030 Water Conference will be the beginning of a genuine and long-term collaborative agenda to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 and promote and protect human rights by putting water rights defenders and rights-holders at the center of all decision-making processes at international, national and local level.”
*The experts: Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; José Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples; Balakrishan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti: Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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