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Bad Canada! Human Right to Water Under Attack

It is becoming a tired tale to tell, but this Canadian government is again reaffirming its role among the absolute worst governments in the world when it comes to international negotiations and promoting human rights, equity and justice. They have made a name for themselves in the Climate Change negotiations consistently winning the fossil of the day, fossil of the year and fossil of the millennium awards (they would if there was one for the millennium!).

This has cost Canada much in international reputation and any previous capital for work on landmines or peacekeeping is long gone. Canada has also lost its spot on the Security Council for the first time ever and Canadian activists can only applaud because we all know the positions this government would take would be regressive, aggressive and destructive. What a sad thing to say even as the turmoil continues with Canadian domestic politics, Canadians should know that the damage that this government is doing is extending around the world. From pulling out of Kyoto to denying the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we now have Canada attacking the human right to water and sanitation at the UN negotiations for the next Earth Summit known as Rio+20.

I am seeing all of this play out first hand as I am here in New York at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development negotiations and what Canadian negotiators are doing in our name is terrible. This is supposed to be focused on sustainable development and the environment but at every turn this government is doing everything it can to ensure that this becomes a document that favour the private sector and corporations over human rights and the environment. Every time the 130 countries of the Group of 77 speak up or suggest amendments, Canada leads or joins an attack on their position, alongside other developed countries.

Of course the most egregious is again demanding the removal of recognition of the human right to water and sanitation from the official negotiating text, called ‘The Future We Want’. Taking this position when the world has spoken through resolutions at the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization shows the degree that this government does not respect international law. Why should they, they seem to not respect domestic law either!

If they are successful this week, it will essentially block all further movement on implementing the human right to water and sanitation! This is because of the peculiar nature of the UN where if there is not consensus, then there is no opportunity to move issues forward. These rogue countries will try and claim no consensus despite a General Assembly resolution passing, 3 Human Rights Council resolutions passing and a WHO resolution passing, all within the last 1.5 years and all affirming recognition of the human right to water and sanitation!

What are we doing about this?

I am working with groups around the world to ensure that we push back on Canada, New Zealand and the EU, which have all demanded human rights be replaced by access to water, a much weaker concept. Within the EU, Denmark and the UK have been singled out as the problem, with Denmark as the EU chair this is a big problem. This was to be expected since when we first got the human right to water and sanitation passed in July of 2010, we had to push through the resistance of a few powerful developed countries. We were successful and they abstained because we made it politically impossible for them to vote against the resolution, but they have not given up and the next few days will see if they are successful in denying millions of people and future generations the human right to water and sanitation, possibly the most fundamental human right there is!

We have a sign-on letter circulating (copied below) that in just over one day has gathered over a hundred organizations from around the world condemning these governments and what they are trying to do, it includes major labour organizations, social movements and key civil society organizations.

I have been working with the Special Rapporteur on Water whose has committed to sending a press release voicing her concern about this as she did during the Marseille World Water Forum after working with the Council of Canadian team there!

I have been working with some of our key allies within the Group of 77 and the EU to strategize on how to apply pressure on these governments. There are many, many issues under heavy negotiation here in New York, but this issue is gathering a lot of attention I am happy to report.

Tomorrow, the front page of the civil society outreach magazine here in Rio will have an article I will write based on this blog and the letter below, which will put this issue directly in front of civil society and missions both.

The team back in Ottawa is being very supportive and this is important because there are not many water warriors here in New York, really none other and so the national office staff support and the water movement support is very critical if we are going to be successful.

I do not know if we will succeed, but in the two days since the negotiations started I can say that we have achieved global attention for this issue as the information is circulating on multiple lists and circling back to the negotiations here as questions are asked and concerns voiced.

Let’s hope that this is enough to protect the hard won right that got traction when Maude took the issue to the UN in 2008 and 2009 when she was appointed as senior advisor on water to the President of the UN General Assembly. One year later we were able to work with our good friend, former Bolivian Ambassador the UN, Pablo Solon, to get the right recognized. We must now come together to protect this victory.

We the undersigned representatives of civil society organizations and social movements,

Seeking to protect the United Nations historic recognition of the Human Right to water and Sanitation by the General Assembly and Human Rights Council through resolutions A/Res/64/292 and A/HRC/15/L/14 respectively,

Concerned by European Union amendments to the UNCSD Zero Draft text which seeks to remove recognition of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation,

Call upon all UN Member States, including those of the European Union, to respect their legally-binding obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the Human Right to Water and Sanitation as embodied in the two cited resolutions, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and all other relevant international laws, treaties, covenants or declarations,

We further demand that the negotiations for Rio+20 and the proposed Green Economy not lead to increased violations of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation through the introduction of mechanisms designed to implement markets, property rights and trading regimes for water.

We call upon all UN Member States to work with civil society and social movements to create the water ‘Future We Want’ which must include respect for water as a human right, public trust and commons.


Name, Organization, Country

Further Background:

If the EU, Canada and New Zealand, are successful in removing the Human Right to Water and Sanitation from this text, it will have a devastating effect on the obligations which were agreed to at the General Assembly under Resolution A/Res/64/292 and reaffirmed at the Human Rights Council under A/HRC/15/L/14 and subsequently by 2 other HRC resolutions and a WHO resolution.

One week ago the recognition of the right was removed from the Marseille World Water Forum declaration (this was led by Canada), but that corporate forum is illegitimate, has no legal standing in the United Nations and has never recognized the human right to water and sanitation; while the Rio+20 negotiations are the most important negotiations currently at the United Nations.

If the original Zero Draft text is changed as they have amended it below, it will signal that the right is not in force and could lead to the effective abrogation of the right, practically if not legally.