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Report from UN independent expert on water

The recently-released ‘Report of the independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation’ states that, “In March 2008, the Human Rights Council, in its resolution 7/22 adopted without a vote, decided to appoint an independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. At its ninth session in September 2008, the Council appointed Catarina de Albuquerque as independent expert, for a period of three years. Ms. de Albuquerque took up her mandate on 1 November 2008 and has since then engaged in different consultations with various stakeholders in order to define her priorities and organize her work.”

You may remember that in March 2008 the Council of Canadians was very active in calling for the UN Human Rights Council to both endorse the right to water and to appoint a special rapporteur. You can read our media release from that time at Maude Barlow’s Toronto Star op-ed on this can also be read at Both critique the positions taken by the Harper government on these issues.

The report released yesterday notes that Ms. de Albuquerque has “consulted different stakeholders” and “She also had the occasion to meet with (Maude Barlow) the Senior Adviser to the President of the General Assembly on water issues and her team in New York…”

We are pleased that the report highlights that, “The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the study (A/HRC/6/3) to the Human Rights Council at its sixth session in September 2007. In the study, the former High Commissioner expressed her belief ‘that it is now time to consider access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, defined as the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses – drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene – to sustain life and health.'”

Later the report notes that, “Given the multitude of tasks, the broad mandate, the fact that it is newly created, and also since it covers more than one issue – namely both water and sanitation – the independent expert decided to take a thematic approach to the tasks ahead. This means that she will not address all subjects simultaneously, but rather intends to focus on a different subject each year…During the first year of her mandate the independent expert plans to pay special attention to sanitation, namely to the normative content of human rights obligations in relation to access to sanitation.”

It also notes that, “This particular focus on sanitation during the first year of her mandate, does not mean that the independent expert will disregard water during that period of time – there are inextricable links between the two, and public policies for water and sanitation have to be seen as part of an integrated strategy. In fact, clean drinking water supplies cannot be secured without adequate attention to sanitation, since human excreta remains one of the most serious sources of drinking water contamination. The absence of adequate sanitation leads to the extensive pollution of water sources that communities depend on for survival. Thus, it is impossible to consider one without the other.”

The 13-page report can be read at