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Human Rights Day

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: Treaty of Lisbon – Environmental Protection and the Right to Water

10.12.2009 |Anke Stock

On  December 10, Human rights day is celebrated across the world. The date was chosen to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

This year on 1 December the Treaty of Lisbon ( entered into force. This ended several years of negotiations about institutional issues. The Treaty of Lisbon will strengthen the role of the European Parliament and the voice of European citizens, a citizens’ initiative will give citizens the possibility to call on the European Commission to bring forward new policy proposal.

The Treaty will also introduce the Charter of Fundamental Rights ( into European primary law. It gives the rights of the Charter a binding legal force. For WECF particularly Article 37 is of interest: it calls for the integration of the protection of the environment into all policies of the European Union.

For WECF, a main part of the work towards the protection of our environment and health is related to the right to a safe environment, including the right to safe and affordable water, sanitation and energy. These rights are the basis for the enjoyment of many other human rights, such as the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to education.

Worldwide, due to the lack of safeguarding these basic human rights, every year millions of people die. 1.4 million children die each year of diarrhoea, which is caused mainly by the lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene. 1.5 million people die yearly of indoor air pollution (data from WHO).

Even in the EU and our Eastern neighbour countries (WHO Euro region), still 14.000 children die due to a lack of safe water and sanitation. Furthermore, climate change increasingly causes draughts and floods in the Eastern European, Caucasus and Central Asian region, leading to drinking water scarcity and deterioration of water quality.

In addition to the right to life, human rights also assure the right to an adequate standard of living and access to education. Many girls in Eastern Europe skip out of school often for a week per month, when they have their period, as basic sanitation is not available at school. But also in the EU, school sanitation is a question of the right to education. A survey by WECF’s partner organisation in Bulgaria showed that school sanitation, in particularly in villages, is often a barrier for girls in attending school.

Therefore, WECF calls for the promotion and protection of the right to water and safe sanitation as a main promoter for environmental protection within the EU and worldwide. Legally binding instruments need to protect women, children and marginalised groups and assure their human rights are respected. This can only be achieved when all stakeholders, in particular vulnerable groups such as women and children, fully and equally participate in decision-making processes. WECF believes that after a decade of calls for voluntary agreements, we need to return to globally agreed binding legal instruments, including the right to water.

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