World Water Day Wake Up Call: Water Defenders are Human Rights Defenders

This blog was originally published at the Inner Sense Wings for Water web page, together with other blogs, forming a dialogue to reflect on the results of the Wings for Water multistakeholder dialogue that took place on 21 March and World Water Day 2013. The images are credited to artist José Veugen.

Earth Charter Principle 2:

Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love.
a. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people.
b. Affirm that with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good.

José Veugen

Last week I attended an impressive UN meeting with Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) in Geneva. Many, if not most, of the cases involving (threats or) violence done to these EHRDs involved issues on water, in most cases water polluted by companies with local governments not stopping or even supporting them.

Water and Sanitation was explicitly recognized as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010 (Resolution 64/292), thereby acknowledging that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.

There is a strong environmental element to the right to water and sanitation as states are:

i)            to refrain from and prevent any actions that would lower the quality of drinking water to unsafe levels;

ii)           must ensure that water sources that are currently safe do not become unsafe as a result of pollution; and

iii)          should improve water sources and the treatment of drinking-water; thus reducing or preventing pollution.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals recently defined its focus area’s for the Post 2015 agenda. ‘Water and Sanitation’ is clearly in it, but the focus document lacks a human rights based approach.

I, on this World Water Day, repeat part of the statement we made last week as a group as input for the Open Working Group on behalf of EHRDs (registered as WorldWeWant2015, Comment 85, see

José Veugen

“We call on the OWG to design the SDGs so that they safeguard the lives and personal integrity of individuals who defend the environment. The work of human rights defenders in defense of environmental rights directly contributes to sustainable development and the achievement of the SDGs.

We also call on the OWG to uphold human rights in all their dimensions in the post-2015 development agenda. The post-2015 framework must at the very least respect and reflect pre-existing human rights legal norms, standards and political commitments, including with respect to the rights to development, health, food, water and sanitation and a healthy environment. A post-2015 framework should be based on the inherent dignity of people as human rights-holders.”

Wake up, especially Administrators and Business, and respect our right to water and sanitation. Defenders of Water are Human Rights Defenders and their work is critical for a sustainable future, for the benefit of our water, our planet, of all: present and future generations.