Introduction: A Human Right to Water and Sanitation Toolkit for Global Water Justice Activists
The global water justice movement has distinguished itself from conservationist organizations and traditional human rights advocacy groups by focusing on systemic injustices related to the use, distribution and control of freshwater supplies. Global water justice groups are not only concerned with access to drinking water and sanitation services, but also with the questions of who controls and owns our water, who defines policies related to freshwater and how priorities are determined when it comes to access. They have challenged the ways in which the neoliberal economic model has sought to answer these questions, calling instead for a water justice approach based on common ownership, collective control, equitable access and sustainable use to preserve healthy watersheds for future generations.
Over the past two decades the struggle for water justice has been linked with campaigns for formal recognition of the human right to water and sanitation, which has prompted some debate about the value of human rights instruments in addressing root causes of injustices arising from free-market policies.
This project is an attempt to bridge the gaps between human-rights based campaigns and water justice ethics by demonstrating how human rights campaigns can effectively challenge neoliberal policies pertaining to the control, use and distribution of freshwater. It is the result of discussions between grassroots activists, water justice organizations and legal scholars to provide information that would support the creation of human rights to water and sanitation policies. It is our hope that these policies will empower frontline communities and grassroots groups in their efforts to stop the corporate takeover of water, whether in the form of privatization of water and sanitation services, the use of lakes and rivers as dumpsites for extractive industries, or over-extraction by beverage companies.
Not only does this set of educational tools provide information to support campaigns for universal access to sufficient, safe, affordable, accessible and acceptable drinking water and sanitation services, it recognizes that that the protection of watersheds for future generations, the equitable distribution and democratic control of scarce freshwater supplies and essential services are integral to the achievement of universal access. The resources contained in this toolkit acknowledge and aim to challenge the threats posed by the neoliberal economic model to the full and universal realization of the human rights to water and sanitation.
The resources contained in this guide are drawn from successful local and national campaigns to articulate a vision for the human right to water that will empower local communities to defend their rights to water and sanitation against the growing threats of neoliberalization through austerity measures, development loan conditions, trade agreements and investment treaties.
- A Water Justice Vision for the Normative Content and Principles of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation:
This section draws from international examples and case law to demonstrate how the normative content and principles of the human right to water and sanitation can support campaigns for equitable access, sustainable use and collective control.
- The Freshwater Commons and the Public Trust Doctrine
This report explains how an important principle existing within various legal systems can support campaigns to enshrine elements of the human rights to water and sanitation
- The Uruguayan Model: Protecting the human right to water and sanitation by banning privatization
Given the growing list of human rights violations resulting from the privatization of water and sanitation services, this portion of the toolkit draws on the Uruguayan example to argue that the human rights to water and sanitation can be codified in a manner that prohibits private sector participation
- Fighting the Dispossession of Peasants and Rural Communities
This section draws from key policy initiatives and the local and international level to expand the definition and applications of the human rights to water and sanitation to include access to water for food production, public participation in decision-making and healthy environments through collective control of freshwater supplies, to fight the marginalization of rural communities.
Contributors to the Water Policy module
Meera Karunananthan is the international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project. The Blue Planet Project is an international project that works with communities and organizations around the world to defend the water commons and promote the human rights to water and sanitation. Meera completed a Master’s thesis examining the corporate appropriation of right to water discourse and its impact on public policy and is currently pursuing a PhD in geography at the University of Ottawa.
Luis Francisco López Guzmán is an environmental lawyer with a master’s degree in environmental law. He is a PhD candidate currently working as the Director of Health Regulation and Legislation in the Ministry of Health and is affiliated with the Salvadoran environmental NGO UNES. He previously served as head of the policy team responsible for drafting El Salvador’s General Water Bill, the Legal framework on Continental Waters and Aquifers, the constitutional reform on the Human Right to Water and the Treaty on Integrated and Sustainable Water Resource Management dealing with transboundary waters shared by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Adriana Marquisio is the Head of the Department of international and national solidarity at Urguay’s public water utility, OSE. As a fourth generation water worker in her family, Adriana Marquisio has worked at OSE since 1984. She is a co-founder of the Uruguayan water justice network (Comisión en Defensa del Agua y la Vida) and a co-founder of the water justice network of the Americas, la Red Vida. She served as Vice-President of the water workers union, FFOSE from 2003 to 2005 and Vice-President of Federation of public workers from 2009 to 2011. She has been involved in several global water justice initiatives including the Platform for public-public and public-community partnerships and the Blue October initiative.
James Olson is a Michigan-based lawyer who has represented citizens and communities in cases involving public trust, water and other environmental issues. He is the founder and President of FLOW (Flow for Love of Water), a Great Lakes Water Policy Center. He has written books and articles, and lectured widely on environmental, land use, water, and public trust law for over 40 years. He also teaches at the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, Northwestern Michigan College. He has appeared in the films “FLOW For Love of Water” and “Blue Gold.” He has received many awards, including Michigan Lawyers’ Weekly Lawyer of the Year and the State Bar of Michigan Champion of Justice.
Robert Ramsay is the Senior Research Officer for the Municipal Sector at the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ottawa. Prior to this, he worked in research, collective bargaining, and campaigns at the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Robert has graduate degrees in Urban Geography and Communications. He has worked internationally in labour and education, and remains active in social justice work both in Canada and in his native United States.
Britton Schwartz is a clinical fellow and supervising attorney at the Berkeley Law Environmental Law Clinic. The clinic engages students in policymaking, litigation and legislation related to local and global environmental issues with a particular focus on the overlap between environmental protection and social justice. Prior to joining the clinic, Britton helped develop and run the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University’s School of Law. Her work has focused on environmental justice challenges facing low-income and homeless communities of color and indigenous peoples in the United States and Latin America, with an emphasis on the human rights to water and sanitation.