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U.N high Commissioner for Human Rights examines the Right to Water

mardi 14 août 2007

Dans le cadre des campagnes internationales pour le droit à l’eau et de sa reconnaissance par l’ONU, un rapport très intéressant a été rédigé par Anil Naidoo après un séminaire (2-6 juin à Berlin) sur invitation de Louise Arbour Haut Commissaire des Nations-Unies pour les Droits de l’Homme.

Report from the International Expert Seminar

Berlin, Germany, June 4-6, 2007

Anil Naidoo :

I am pleased to report that the momentum
has been steadily building for our campaign to
recognize and implement the human right to

I have been asked to serve as an expert
adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights, Madame Louise Arbour – an
indication that our hard work is paying off.

It has been over five years since Maude Barlow
launched the Treaty Initiative to Share and
Protect the Global
Water Commons.
Since then we have
taken many steps
toward securing the
human right to water,
including promoting a
draft UN convention,
launching the Friends
of the Right to Water
network, and speaking
on these issues
at every possible
opportunity. We
have promoted this
campaign in spaces
ranging from a tent
lit with one bare bulb in Nairobi, to the luxurious
space occupied by the European Parliament in
Brussels. Our message resonates around the
world. Now we have been given the opportunity
to take the message directly to the UN.

Advising the United Nations

Madame Arbour has been asked to write a
report on the scope and obligations of states
regarding the human right to water. This report
will be delivered at the fall session of the UN
Human Rights Council in Geneva. The advisory
committee we have been invited to join is made
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Examines the
Right to Water
Report from the International Expert Seminar
Berlin, Germany, June 4-6, 2007
up of 22 international human rights and water
experts from a variety of sectors, including heads
of UN agencies, human rights lawyers and UN
Special Rapporteurs whose mandates encompass

This is a critical moment for our campaign. The
questions facing the High Commissioner, and
how she responds, will have huge implications
for our future work and for how governments
and multilateral organizations
respond to the global
water crisis.

Co-opting the right to water

In the past , the
divisions between
water justice activists
and private water
promoters were
clear. Countries such
as France, United
Kingdom, Spain and
Germany pushed for
increased private water delivery, and fought any
attempts to enshrine the right to water at the
United Nations.

These countries have since changed course, and
are now supportive of the right to water. Given their
past advocacy at the World Trade Organization in
favour of privatization, we have to wonder whether
or not the privateers are seeking to co-opt the right
to water, in an effort to serve private interests. In
contrast, we see the right to water as a mechanism
that could guarantee access to the poorest and
most vulnerable people on the planet.

Accelerating the debate

The debate about the right to water has been a
hot topic since 2002, when the UN Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights released a
document called General Comment 15 (GC15).
This represented a landmark interpretation of
the UN states’ human rights obligations, stating :
“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
realization of other human rights.”

GC15 gave the right to water a legal basis and an
offi cial acknowledgement that never previously
existed. It elevated the
stakes and made the issue
impossible to ignore. It
meant that the right to
water wasn’t going away,
and this forced countries
to modify their position,
even if their real agenda
was to support water

Certain UN member
states are afraid of a
broad definition of the
right to water which could
oblige them to provide
water to their citizens on
a non-profi t, public basis.
Corporations and corporate-influenced states
now seem to be trying to direct and define the
meaning of the right to water, in an effort to allow
privatization to proceed.

We are concerned
that if the right to water is defined too narrowly,
then it could simply guarantee access to water,
without obliging states to ensure that water is
managed in an equitable manner. This would
mean that corporations could actually benefit
from implementation of the right to water by being
able to use it as a tool to challenge public water
delivery and state monopolies.

Looking back, the initial reaction to GC 15 was
muted to say the least. At the Kyoto 3rd World
Water Forum, just months after GC15 had
been released, the fi nal ministerial declaration
did not even reference the issue. Other than
the NGO voices, no other statements were
issued to support the arguments embodied in
GC15 – concepts such as non-discrimination,
accessibility and affordability. The issue was all
but boycotted by the most powerful.

Privatization is no solution

Since the 3rd WWF, however, there has been a
stampede to acknowledge the right to water and
everyone from the World Bank to the corporations
themselves claim to be its champions. Hyping the
tragedy of the global water crisis, decrying the
failure of public water management and then
claiming to be the solution, water privateers have
adopted the water justice
movement’s rights-based
language, in an effort
to carve out a greater
market for themselves.

Of course, they are
ignoring the serious
failures associated with
private water delivery
and the rights violations
perpetrated by private
operators who routinely
cut off the poor after
delivering poor quality
water and jacking up

Another argument that
the corporate sector has been elbowing in on,
is the discussion about whether governments
should provide subsidies to ensure access to
poor people. Of course, this is a measure we
support. But we don’t want to see those subsidies
funneled back to private water companies.

Many questions to explore

Over the two days of the session in Berlin, the
expert panel debated a series of questions
and, at times, engaged in heated debate on
particular issues. To promote a free-flowing
discussion, it was agreed that comments were
not for attribution. This being said, one of the
experts present was Gerard Payen, former senior
executive vice-president of Suez. Payen was
“water is a limited natural
resource and a public good
fundamental for life and
health. The human right to
water is indipensable for
leading a life in human
dignity. It is a prerequisite
for the realization of other
human rights.”

the chief architect of Suez’s global expansion in
the 1990s and is now head of the global water
lobby group Aquafed. You can be sure that
Payen strongly protected the position and role
of the private sector and this required equally
vigorous challenging. I have debated Mr. Payen
a few times at various events. Last year we
came together in Nairobi and Dijon to discuss
our differences on the definition of the Right to

Here is a taste of some of the questions we
considered :

 How should we enforce standards and punish
violations of the
right to water ?

 How much water
should individuals
have a right to ?

 Do states have
the obligation to
provide a certain
amount of water ?

 In which cases are
prohibited ?

 What procedures
and safeguards
should be followed
before a dis-connection takes
place ?

 Is it possible to
outline specific obligations to provide access
to safe-drinking water in relation to the right
to life ?

 Is the current system for monitoring human
rights obligations to provide access to safedrinking
water comprehensive and if not,
what is lacking ?

One particularly contentious issue was whether
privatization of water should be prohibited in the
absence of an effective regulatory and monitoring
system. Of course the corporations were strongly
against this kind of prohibition, which was
originally outlined in General Comment 15.

This debate gave us some interesting insight into
the discussions taking place at the UN in regard
to the right to water. We were told by some of the
people who had originally drafted GC15 that there
was great debate regarding the role of the private
sector in water delivery. The feeling was that it
would not be possible to call for a complete ban
on the private sector but that it was important to
regulate third-party providers of water, to ensure
they don’t commit violations. GC15 outlines the
need for independent monitoring, genuine public
participation and the imposition of penalties for

Next steps

Overall, the message
I took home from the
Berlin was that we must
be vigilant and prepared
to move quickly in the
next few months. Once
Madame Arbour ’ s
recommendations are
before the Human
Rights Council it will
be up to governments
on to decide what to
do with her report.

Civil society and social
movements can help
our governments do
the right thing on this
critical issue.
In the lead-up to this
report I circulated around a letter outlining our
basic positions in regard to a UN Convention
on the Right to Water. The letter was signed by
almost 200 organizations from 50 countries. Our
overall goals in this campaign are to :

 Ensure that affordable access to clean water
is secured and protected as a basic human
right around the world ;

 Ensure that water systems are locally, publicly
and democratically owned and controlled in
a transparent manner ;

 Prevent governments, the private water
industry and international financial institutions
and others from interfering with the human
right to water.

Many of the water justice organizations that
signed on to the letter in June are planning to
be present in Geneva, when Madame Arbour
releases her final report. I expect, based on my
work with the expert panel and discussions I have
had with the High Commissioner’s Office that we
will see a clear outlining of the states’ obligations
under the human right to water. We can also
expect appointment of a Special Rapporteur to
be one of the recommendations. From here it will
be up to governments to decide what to do with
the recommendations, but the more pressure
we apply, the harder it will be to ignore any of
Madame Arbour’s findings.

The next few months will write a critical chapter in
the right to water campaign and this is a wonderful
opportunity for us to take the movement to the
next level. I look forward to working with groups
and activists around the world to realize our
commitment to water justice and water for all !
The Blue Planet Project is an organization committed to
supporting global grassroots struggles for the right to water.
As Project Organzier, Anil Naidoo has spent the past 4
years working with local communities and global activists,
linking struggles South and North, building the water justice
movement, and developing strategies and planning actions to
advance the right to water.

For more information on the Blue
Planet Project, please visit

Pour en savoir plus sur la politique internationale des entreprises françaises de l’eau et leurs soutiens politiques, voir :

Loi "Oudin-Santini" sur la coopération internationale : une nouvelle arme pour les lobbies de l’eau ?

Un article qui prouve que les entreprises privées de l’eau et les états qui les soutiennent sont loin d’avoir changé de politique.

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