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NEWS: Harper loses ‘independent expert’ fight at the UN

On March 25, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution – sponsored by sixty countries – changing the powers and title of Catarina de Albuquerque from the ‘Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation’ to that of ‘Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation’ and extending her term for another three years.

Catarina de Albuquerque

Catarina de Albuquerque

In March 2008, the Harper government weakened a resolution by Germany and Spain at the UN Human Rights Council by demanding that the then proposed position of ‘special rapporteur’ on water and sanitation be downgraded to an ‘independent expert’.

Special Rapporteurs can conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations and assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. In contrast, an Independent Expert’s role involves developing a dialogue with governments and other bodies, undertaking studies, making recommendations, and working with other UN agencies.

The Harper government also continues to oppose the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation.

The Harper government lost its fight on this at the UN on July 28, 2010 when the right to water and sanitation was recognized by the UN General Assembly and on October 1, 2010 when the UN Human Rights Council affirmed that the right to water and sanitation is contained in existing human rights treaties and is therefore legally binding and equal to all other human rights.

The Harper government has been obstinate though. In its World Water Day message, the Harper government did not acknowledge these UN decisions. On March 22, Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda blandly stated, “Access to clean water and basic sanitation is fundamental to human health and sustainable development. …On this World Water Day, I ask you to remember those who still lack access to these invaluable resources around the world.”

An Environics Research poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians – and released on World Water Day – indicated that 73 per cent of Canadians want the Harper government to recognize the human right to clean and safe water and sanitation.

The resolution extending and enhancing Ms. de Albuquerque’s role is at http://omiusajpic.org/files/2011/03/UN-HRC-Resolution-on-mandate.pdf. Our March 2008 media release on the role played by the Harper government at the UN can be read at http://canadians.org/media/water/2008/17-Mar-08.html.