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UPDATE: Special rapporteur on right to water to report to UN Human Rights Council

It is expected that Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, will present her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council today.

On July 28, 2010, the right to water and sanitation was recognized by the UN General Assembly. Canada abstained from that historic vote. In May 2012, Embassy magazine reported, “Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN special rapporteur for the right to water, publicly condemned Canada for its stance in a speech on world water day, March 22. In an email to Embassy, she wrote that she is hopeful Canada would recommit to water and sanitation as a human right…”

That same article highlighted, “After years of opposition, the Harper government now says that Canada will recognize the human right to water. …Environment Minister Peter Kent (says) that Canada is ‘now prepared to move forward to explicitly recognize the human right to safe drinking water’ (and will) remove its request for the (Rio+20) statement on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation to be deleted. …’By the time we get to Rio (on June 20-22), we will make it clear that Canada recognizes the right to safe drinking water and to basic sanitation,’ he said.” In early June, the Inter Press Service reported, “Canada, in a dramatic political turnaround, has signaled its willingness to recognise water and sanitation as a basic human right.”

That all said, we have not seen a major announcement or media release from the Harper government confirming the recognition of the right to water and sanitation, nor, perhaps more importantly, any indication on how it is moving forward on the implementation of these rights.

It is worth noting that 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. More on this at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6263.

Canada’s compliance to human rights obligations will next be reviewed – through the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review process – in 2013, likely in February of that year. The Council of Canadians intends to intervene on this occasion.

Photo: On March 12 in Marseille, France, water campaigner Meera Karunananthan presented the UN special rapporteur with ten reports commissioned by the Blue Planet Project to support local campaigns for water justice. These reports provide insight and analysis into how our allies around the world are promoting the human right to water and sanitation in their countries against a backdrop of land grabs, mining injustice, economic austerity, and environmental racism. The country reports were from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador (in Spanish) and Europe, India, Indonesia, Palestine, the United States and Canada (in English).