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WIN! Kalahari Bushmen win right to water in Botswana court decision

Survival International reports this morning that, “In a momentous decision, Botswana’s Court of Appeal today quashed a ruling that denied the Kalahari Bushmen access to water on their ancestral lands. …Celebrating after the decision, a Bushman spokesman said, ‘We are very happy that our rights have finally been recognized. Like any human beings, we need water to live.'”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow says, “This is a major win, it’s the first test case of our right to water resolution at the United Nations.” In fact, the ruling quoted a report by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN’s recognition of water as a fundamental human right: “water is a limited natural resource and a public good fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights…”

In an August 2010 Survival International media release, Barlow condemned the Botswana government’s failure to allow Bushmen to access water. She stated, “Last week, the UN General Assembly declared that everyone, everywhere, has the right to water. But now the world witnesses one of Africa’s most prosperous countries denying its first inhabitants the right to sink a well, while promoting mining and safari camps just a few miles away. It’s hard to imagine a more cruel and inhuman way to treat people. One can only conclude Botswana’s authorities view Bushmen as less important than wildlife. Many people around the world will be horrified at what they’re seeing.” That’s at

“Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘This is a great victory for the Bushmen, and also for Botswana as a whole. …This is, after all, a victory for human rights and the rule of law throughout Botswana.’”

The Botswana Gazette had reported in mid-January that, “On January 17th, Botswana’s Court of Appeal will begin a hearing to decide  whether Kalahari Bushmen living on their ancestral lands have the right to water. The Bushmen, who returned to their lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve after a previous court victory, are appealing against a 2010 High Court ruling that denied their right to access a well in the reserve they had used for decades. The 2010 ruling, which came a week before the UN formally recognized water as a fundamental human right, has been slammed by Africa’s key human rights body for denying the Bushmen’s ‘right to life’. Without the well, the Bushmen are forced to make arduous journeys by foot or donkey to fetch water from outside the reserve.”

Survival International has previously stated, “If the Bushmen are unsuccessful in the appeal, the ruling will fly in the face of two UN Declarations which recognize water as a fundamental human right. …Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, ‘The world is watching and waiting to see if the Bushmen will finally see justice. All the Bushmen ask is for a guarantee that the government will not stop them from getting water; how could any just court deny that?’” They have also highlighted that, “Prof. James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples, (has written) that the ‘denial of services to those currently living in the reserve does not appear to be in keeping with the spirit and underlying logic of the (2006 High Court) decision, nor with the relevant international human rights standards.’”

For past campaign blogs on this, please go to Survival International’s announcement today can be read in full at

The Council of Canadians offers its congratulations and solidarity to Survival International and the Kalahari Bushmen on their win today.