A conversation on the Human Rights to water and sanitation


In honour of International Human Rights Day on December 10, WSSCC's Senior Programme Officer for Equality and Non-Discrimination, Mr. Enrico Muratore discusses the Human Rights to water and sanitation, the UN human rights framework for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) including SDG 6.2 and WSSCC’s role and action to promote the realization of the Human Rights to sanitation.

Watch the video of the interview here:

1.How can you define and describe the human right to sanitation and what are its relations with the human rights to water?

The human right to sanitation can be defined as the right to access and use accessible[1] and affordable toilets that are safe, hygienic, secure, socially, and culturally acceptable and that ensure privacy and dignity, in all spheres of life (within households like in education, health institutions or other public places, the workplace, etc).

The human rights to water and sanitation were recognized by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in several resolutions adopted between 2010 and 2015[2]. Several other universal and regional human rights instruments contain explicit references to the rights to water and sanitation[3].

Today, water and sanitation are considered as two distinct human rights with equal status. While safe water remains essential for ensuring adequate sanitation and hygiene services, separating the two human rights has been necessary to develop specific standards for the human right to sanitation. Also, the realization of this human right entails the recognition of the specific responsibilities, obligations and roles not only of States but also other duty-bearers including citizens, who are not only rights-holders but also carry the responsibility to adapt their behaviour to improve their own sanitation, because one household lacking adequate, safe and hygienic sanitation may have a negative impact on the health of neighbours.

However, despite the efforts of governments and other relevant stakeholders, the human right to sanitation is not yet fully enjoyed in 2017 by over 2.5 billion people in the world.

 2.  What is the relevance of the UN human rights framework for the SDG, including SDG 6.2, and how does this translate in practice?

 The experience of the MDG era showed that important human rights dimensions had been insufficiently considered, leading to the mixed results we know. There is widespread recognition today that sustainable development cannot be achieved without human rights.

Building on this lesson, human rights principles and standards are now strongly reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development Goals are grounded in international human rights law and provide States with an unprecedented opportunity to advance the realization of human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination, and build “more peaceful, just and inclusive societies”.

Fostering SDG target 6.2., which aims at achieving, by 2030, “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations”, will actually contribute to realizing the human right to sanitation for all without discrimination, with special emphasis on gender-based discrimination.

 3. How can States and other duty-bearers practically address SDG 6 and its target 6.2 to realize the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation and thereby contribute to the realization of all other human rights?

Human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated. Realizing the human rights to water and sanitation has direct impact on many other interrelated rights including the human rights to health and to an adequate standard of living. When we know that because of inadequate or absent sanitation facilities in schools, making menstrual hygiene management a real challenge, one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle[4], and that similar issues in the workplace have similar effects on women and girls, we also clearly understand the contribution of the human rights to water and sanitation to the realization of the rights to education or to work.

SDG target 6.2 was phrased to ensure access to sanitation and hygiene for all without discrimination (and particularly, women and girls and “those in vulnerable situations”). Consequently, achieving the SDGs and target 6.2 in particular demands inclusive democratic processes. We cannot focus anymore on low-hanging fruits only. A human rights-based, inclusive approach is required for their implementation and review, and citizens are not simply passive development beneficiaries but are to fully recognized their status as rights-holders and actors of the development process.

This can practically be achieved through the set-up of standing mechanisms of inclusion in decision-making, implementation and review processes at all (central and decentralized) levels of governance for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable categories of society (and particularly women and girls in them).

Given the applicable human rights binding framework, States and other duty-bearers active in the fields of water, sanitation and hygiene(WASH) have the obligation to make sure that the information collected through existing sectoral monitoring systems is the result of rights-based analysis of social structures and that the indicators used are themselves rights-based, and as such can be utilized by States in the frame of UN human rights reporting.

And when it comes to reporting on the human rights to water and sanitation or SDG reporting, rights-based sanitation data must feature prominently, together with data on equal and non-discriminatory access to water, and should show progress in the integration of equality and non-discrimination dimensions in local, national and regional sanitation and hygiene policies, programmes and budgets.

4. What is WSSCC’s role and action to promote the realization of the Human Right to Sanitation for all without discrimination?

WSSCC supports the realization of SDG goal 6.2 and works to contribute to ensure universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene to all without discrimination in all the countries where it operates in Asia and Africa, and contribute with lessons learnt to regional (Sacosan and Africasan) and global (UNGA, HRC) policy discussions and international (including South-South) cooperation.

Taking into account the international, regional and national human rights obligations of every country, and WASH related national legislation, policies, programmes and budgets, WSSCC works to facilitate the collaborative identification of equality and non-discrimination (EQND) gaps in national WASH frameworks and promotes collaborative advocacy and campaigning at all levels for rights-based policy change on sanitation and hygiene, ensuring ownership by States.

Through its flagship programme “Leave No One Behind (LNOB)’’ (as it was defined by the UN Deputy Secretary-General and former WSSCC Chair Amina J. Mohammed), WSSCC promotes the disaggregated identification of vulnerable groups in WSSCC’s countries of intervention and the consultation of these groups on their specific issues, challenges and recommendations for universal, adequate and equitable access to water and sanitation. The recommendations of women, girls and those in vulnerable situations are meant to inform country-led, collaborative and inclusive strategies for LNOB, EQND and gender (including menstrual hygiene management or MHM) integration in national SDG plans and WASH legislation, policy and programmes, and budgets, and promote the standing inclusion of women, girls and those in vulnerable situations in national, regional and global policy-making and monitoring mechanisms.

5. What are the achievements and perspectives of WSSCC’s Leave No One Behind programme?

WSSCC conducted the first LNOB consultation process  in eight countries in South Asia in 2015 – 16, resulting in a report[5] which has influenced the integration of EQND concerns in the Dhaka Declaration.

Under the current WSSCC Strategic Plan 2017 - 2020, the LNOB Programme was extended to Africa and, as part of an innovative partnership with UNHCR, special focus was placed in 2017 – 2018 on the access of refugees and other populations of concern (POC), as well as refugees host communities’ members, to water, sanitation and hygiene, to promote the inclusion and engagement of refugees in national SDG plans in the area of WASH.

As the theme of the 2019 World Water Day and World Water Development Report will be Leaving No One Behind, Human Rights and Refugees, WSSCC joined forces with UNHCR to emphasize the importance of leaving no one behind, including refugees and migrants and persons affected by humanitarian emergencies, specifically in the field of sanitation and hygiene in addition to water.

Consultations in four countries in Europe (Italy), Africa (Uganda, Cameroon) and Asia are currently being organized for this purpose. They will result in the production of reports and films as part of the series ‘’Dignity at a crossroads’’ (produced by the UN Television Service in Geneva), which will be presented in Geneva in June 2018 at the technical workshop "Leave No One Behind: WASH in Humanitarian Emergencies. Operationalizing Member States commitments to ensure non-discriminatory access to sanitation, hygiene & safe water by refugees and migrants". More information on the workshop will be soon published on the WSSCC website.

[1] Physically accessible means within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution.

[2] UN General Assembly (UNGA), Resolution: The human right to water and sanitation, 2010 (A/RES/64/292); UNGA, Resolution: The human right to water and sanitation, 2010 (A/64/L.63/Rev.1 and Add.1), para. 2; Human Rights Council (HRC), Resolution: Human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation, 2010 (A/HRC/RES/15/9); HRC, Resolution: The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, 2011 (A/HRC/RES/16/2); UNGA, Resolution: The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, 2013 (A/RES/68/157), and HRC, Resolution: The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, 2013 (A/ HRC/RES/24/18).

[3] CEDAW, Article 14(2) ; CRC, Article 24.1 ; CPRD. Article 28; ILO Convention No. 161 of 1985 on Occupational Health Services, Article 5; African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Article 14.1; Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa. Article 15. In addition, there is a set of human rights guidelines and principles with explicit reference to safe drinking water and sanitation, including the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rules 15 and 20; UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, Articles 34 and 37; UN Principles for Older Persons, Principle 1; Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Principle 18; ILO Recommendation No. 115 of 1961 on Workers’ Housing; Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national security (FAO), 3.6.

[4] http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002267/226792e.pdf

[5] https://www.wsscc.org/2016/11/11/leaving-no-one-behind-wsscc-gears-sanitation-summit-india/