RIO+20: Canada, Last Holdout, Drops Opposition to Water as Human Right

Posted on 31 May 2012 by admin

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, May 31, 2012 (IPS) – Canada, in a dramatic political turnaround, has signaled its willingness to recognise water and sanitation as a basic human right.

As negotiations continue over the Rio+20 plan of action on sustainable development to be adopted in Brazil next month, Canada became one of the last Western nations to drop its opposition to a reference to water as a human right in the document titled “The Future We Want.”

Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, one of Canada’s largest social justice advocacy organisations, said it took “unprecedented pressure” to get the government in Ottawa to change its position.

“The shift is a good thing, but words are not enough. We need actions, and the government’s actions directly contradict respect for the human right to water,” said Barlowe, a former U.N. senior advisor on water to the president of the General Assembly.

Asked what next, she told IPS: “That’s a very good question.” She said the government is supposed to prepare a report on its plan of action and submit it to the United Nations.

“You can be sure we will be sitting on them,” she added.

When the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in July 2010 recognising water and sanitation as a basic human right, 122 countries voted for it, with 41 abstentions, but with no negative votes.

The United States, along with Canada, abstained – and so did some of the European, as well as industrialised countries, including Britain, Australia, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland.

But several developing nations, mostly from Africa, also abstained on the vote, siding with rich industrial countries. These included: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Zambia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

At the initial Rio+20 negotiations last year, several human rights and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) warned that the human right to water and sanitation was under threat.

Anil Naidoo, of the Canada-based Blue Planet Project, said that as recently as last month, Canada was isolated in the Rio+20 negotiations as the only country to publicly claim there is no legal basis for the right and call for its deletion.

“This position was untenable, however, almost two years after the General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the right, followed by three subsequent confirming Human Rights Council resolutions’, he added.

The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, will be a summit meeting of world leaders, scheduled to take place in Brazil Jun. 20-22.

A Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), comprising all 193 members states, is currently conducting another round of weeklong negotiations, beginning last Tuesday, aimed at finalising the plan of action, informally called the zero draft.

Naidoo said the first indication that states would try to undermine the human right to water and sanitation was when the UK, working inside the European Union (EU), proposed deleting paragraph 67 of the zero draft, which explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation.

After pressure from several international NGOs, and a rare explicit sanction from the Special Rapporteur on Water Catarina de Albuquerque, the EU backed down and other governments pushed back against the UK, notably Spain, said Naidoo.

But still, Canada, the other main longstanding opponent of the human right to water and sanitation, continued to call for deletion of paragraph 67 and in the next round was joined by the United States and Israel.

“Working with allies inside the negotiations, we increased the pressure and with staff from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, were able to get the High Commissioner to call for human rights to be protected in the Rio negotiations.” he added.

Naidoo said “this has been a long struggle for those of us in Canada.”

“We are aware that recognition is only the first step towards our real goals of implementation and realisation,” he added.

“We also know those governments and corporations who are against the human right will continue to try ever means to limit the scope and impact of this victory; still, (but) we are making progress,” he said.


Download PDF File

Download TERRAVIVA PDF File   Download TERRAVIVA PDF File


Expo Milano

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos


Terraviva talks to Giuseppe Sala, CEO of EXPO Milano 2015 Expo Milano 2015 is in Rio to kick off its global dialogue on food and energy. During a side on June 21, CEO Giuseppe Sala gives an overview of the Expo 2015 that will run from May to October in Milan, Italy.more >>.

Upcoming Events


RSS News from our partners

  • Are you ready to Connect4Climate?
    World Bank's social media campaign engaged African youth caring about climate change.
  • Natural capital accounting
    Thomson Reuters Foundation and the World Bank have jointly produced a video explaining the concept of “natural capital accounting” in the run-up to the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development. The seven-minute video news release (VNR) was created as part of a World Bank campaign for countries to carry through on promises to include the full [...]
  • IUCN World Conservation Congress
    IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is a long standing member of COM+. It helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, [...]
  • IFC, Union for Ethical BioTrade Encourage Businesses to Protect Biodiversity in Latin America
    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 17, 2012—IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the Union for Ethical BioTrade today announced an agreement at the Rio+20 Conference to increase private sector awareness of biodiversity and strengthen market frameworks for protecting it in Latin America. In addition to aiding environmental conservation, the partnership will help [...]
  • Rio de Janeiro e Banco Mundial lançam inĂ©dito Programa de Desenvolvimento de Baixo Carbono da Cidade
    RIO DE JANEIRO, 18 de junho de 2012 – A Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Banco Mundial lançaram hoje, durante a CĂşpula dos Prefeitos – evento paralelo Ă  ConferĂŞncia das Nações Unidas sobre Desenvolvimento Sustentável-Rio+20 –, um programa pioneiro na esfera municipal para colocar em prática ações para o desenvolvimento de baixo carbono [...]

Sponsors and Partners of TerraViva Rio + 20


TerraViva is an independent publication of IPS Inter Press Service news agency. The opinions expressed in TerraViva do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of IPS or the official position of any of its sponsors or partners.