Multiple sources at the World Water Forum in Marseille, France have confirmed that Canada led the charge to have language that explicitly affirmed the United Nations recognized right to water and sanitation removed from the forum’s Ministerial Declaration released earlier this week. At the opening plenary of the Alternative World Water Forum, the UN special rapporteur for the right to water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque said, “Be vigilant. The Marseille Ministerial Declaration is already being used at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to weaken these rights.”

The Ministerial Declaration fails to explicitly affirm the UN recognized rights because Canada insisted on the weaker language of “human rights obligations relating to access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”. The Declaration also does not commit countries to the UN resolution passed on July 28, 2010 - Canada abstained in this vote, while 122 countries voted in favour of it - nor the October 2010 UN Human Rights Council that said the rights are legally binding and equal to all other human rights. Instead, Canada pressed for weaker language that only acknowledges “the adoption of United Nations resolutions related to the recognition of the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”.

Canada has consistently opposed and tried to undermine these fundamental human rights.

Canada has said:

It’s premature to declare the right to water and sanitation
In June 2010, prior to the historic UN vote, then-Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon made it clear that the Harper government does not support the right to water and sanitation and “will not put Canada in a position where our sovereign right to protect our natural resources is compromised by any international treaties…” Immediately after the General Assembly vote, UN documents show that, “The representative of Canada said…since there was no consensus on the matter it was premature to declare such a right in the absence of clear international agreement…”

Water and sanitation is fundamental to health and development, but not a human right
By March 22, 2011, on the first UN-declared World Water Day after the General Assembly vote, Canada again failed to recognize the right to water and sanitation in public statements. The Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda would only say, “Access to clean water and basic sanitation is fundamental to human health and sustainable development.” In contrast, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton took the occasion of World Water Day to state, “The EU acknowledges the recent recognition of the human right to water and sanitation by the UN General Assembly, and the Human Rights Council’s specification that this right is part of the human right to an adequate standard of living.”

There should only be an independent expert, not a special rapporteur
On March 25, 2011, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution changing the powers and title of de Albuquerque from the ‘Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation’ to that of ‘Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation’. In March 2008, Canada had successfully pushed to weaken a resolution by Germany and Spain at the UN Human Rights Council by demanding that the then proposed position of ‘special rapporteur’ be downgraded to an ‘independent expert’. Special Rapporteurs can conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations and assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. In contrast, an Independent Expert’s role involves developing a dialogue with governments and other bodies, undertaking studies, making recommendations, and working with other UN agencies.

Canada’s compliance to its human rights obligations will next be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2013. The international community must use this opportunity to put on record Canada’s failure to respect and uphold the right to water and sanitation.

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