Last week the UN human rights council (UN OHCHR) passed a resolution that prolongs and the mandate of the independent expert on the right to water and sanitation and upgrades it to that of a special rapporteur. The fact that the holder of the mandate, Catarina de Albuquerque will now have the same title and task as the special rapporteurs for the human right to food, health, and housing is very encouraging. I am also happy that the Swedish government decided to co sponsor the resolution as a way of showing its support. A range of organisations in Sweden have been working for some time to push for a change in the government's approach to this human right, and in doing so, also strengthening the status of social and economic human rights. For example, the Church of Sweden collected thousands of signatures in 2008 for a Swedish signature on the resolution calling for an independent expert.
The Swedish Water House hosted a cluster group for 3 years including development and environmental organisations who came forward with a joint policy brief last year. Since 2008, it has been unclear at least to the civil society including Amnesty International where the Swedish government stands on the issue, so it is a relief that they are now back on track. But what does the government's co-sponsorship really mean? It shows support for the mandate of the special rapporteur, and recognises the human right to water and sanitation. It is a very encouraging step in the right direction! I do believe that the support of developed countries for this human right, which is part of the already existing right to an adequate standard of living, will contribute to the realisation of the right on the ground. It does so by creating a legal framework and a tool for those without adequate water and sanitation to claim access to them from their government.
by Ann-Mari Karlsson,
Swedish Water House