Interview with the ambassador of Spain to the UN in Geneva

Date: 4th February 2020

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By Francesca Nava

GENEVA – As part of a campaign to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the universal recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation, WSSCC is supporting Mr Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, to feature “friends of the human rights to water and sanitation” throughout 2020.

In January 2020, WSSCC, together with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, interviewed His Excellency Mr Cristobal Gonzalez-Aller Jurado, Ambassador and Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva.

Spain has been taking a leading role in the international defense and advocacy of the human right to water and sanitation.

WSSCC: What role did Spain play in the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation?

Mr Cristobal Gonzalez-Aller Jurado, Ambassador of Spain to the UN in Geneva: Spain, together with Germany, has worked for over 20 years to ensure the prioritization of the human right to drinking water and sanitation in the public agenda. In 2010, as a result of these efforts, the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/292 and in 2011 the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 18/1. In addition to enshrining the right to water, the resolutions provided momentum for improving access to sanitation in relation to poverty eradication, economic development, and sustainable development.

However, things haven’t changed much since 1999. In fact, today, water scarcity and inadequate access to sanitation can cause the displacement of more than 700 people every year. Furthermore, diarrheal disease, largely caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene, claims around 700 lives of children annually.

WSSCC: How has Spain been actively engaged in supporting the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation? Can you tell us more about this collaboration?

Mr Gonzalez-Aller Jurado: Spain’s relationships with Léo Heller and his predecessor, Ms Catarina de Albuquerque, have been very strong. I think Léo is doing a wonderful job facilitating and amplifying the importance of the right to water and sanitation, both in the developed and the underdeveloped world, with a focus on youth. In particular, the side event we organized at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), in collaboration with the Human Rights Office of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented an important opportunity for the Special Rapporteur to highlight the linkage between drinking water, sanitation, and climate change.

WSSCC: In this decade, what can be the role of the Special Rapporteur in promoting and protecting the human rights to water and sanitation, and what might be the role of State and non-State entities?

Mr Gonzalez-Aller Jurado: The role of the Special Rapporteur is to ensure water and sanitation remains a political priority. However, this also depends on the will of States, civil society, businesses, and citizens. Hence, to keep the issue high on the political agenda, it’s important to count on countries like Spain, but also Germany, who made water and sanitation a priority in their foreign policy and human rights agenda.

WSSCC: How is Spain, and in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and the European Union, working towards the implementation of the human right to water and sanitation?

Mr Gonzalez-Aller Jurado: In June of last year, we approved the resolution to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur introducing the issue of gender, in the promotion of the human right to water and sanitation. Water and sanitation are also essential components of our Master Plan for International Cooperation, running from 2018 to 2021. Since 2009, Spain has invested almost 800 million euros in the Cooperation Fund for Water and Sanitation. As a result, more than two million people have had access to drinking water and sanitation in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

WSSCC: If we look at the progress made to date on sanitation, who, or what group, do you think is still lagging behind worldwide?

Mr Gonzalez-Aller Jurado: Unfortunately, there are still many groups of the population throughout the world that do not have guaranteed access to water and sanitation. Among those, I believe access in schools should be prioritized, with a special focus on women and girls.

Overall, the political will, the commitment of citizens, civil society, and the private sector are crucial if the objective is to achieve results in the short term.

WSSCC: At a time when multilateralism is under threat, why is Spain favoring this approach and how does it contribute to advancing the agenda of the SDGs?

Mr Gonzalez-Aller Jurado: Multilateralism has always been the solution, never the problem. Problems have arisen when one-sided attempts have been adopted to impose solutions. Today the best example of a well-conceived and developed multilateral agenda that affects us all is the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030. For Spain, this is an absolute political and social priority.

On 28 July 2010, with the resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation, acknowledging that clean drinking water and sanitation are an integral component of the realization of all human rights. The Resolution called upon states and international organizations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

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