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Human right to water and sanitation – attacked from a transboundary perspective during the Rio+20 negotiations

Article by Sascha Gabizon, Executive Director, WECF Women in Europe for a Common Future. WECF was organising partner for the Major Group “Women” for the Rio+20 negotiations

28.06.2012 |Sascha Gabizon

The section on water in the Rio+20 outcome document does not bring the world really anything new. But the negotiations were a long struggle, and till the last days it looked like the water section would do more harm than good.

Canada and the UK had started with opposing the mention to the UN resolution on the human right to water and sanitation of September 2010  as they do not want to recognize the right to sanitation. Also, Canada, Turkey and G77 started making problems about transboundary water management, retracting from previous agreed language on Integrated Water Resource Management as agreed in Johannesburg at the WSSD in 2002.

Some G77 countries and Canada had tried to add language to leave out all transboundary water issues. But obligations of states in relation to human rights do not end at national borders. States have an obligation to minimise pollution of shared water courses where this would have an impact on the rights to water in other countries. These obligations are already well recognised under customary international law, that require that States do not cause significant harm to others and that water resources are reasonably and equitably used. Therefore the example of the UNECE “Convention on the protection and use of Transboundary watercourses and international lakes” of March 1992 is such an important example internationally. Unfortunately it has not been recognized as such in the Rio+20 outcome document.

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