AU Watch

African Commission Adopts Guidelines on the Human Right to Water

In the midst of a global pandemic that has highlighted the need to make water accessible for all, the African Commission has published new Guidelines on the Right to Water in Africa. (ACHPR Press Release) While the African Charter does not expressly include the right to water, the guidance is grounded in the regional treaties’ protection of economic, social, and cultural development; health; access to natural resources; the environment; and, food. The Guidelines aim to inform civil society on States’ obligations with respect to the right to water, and guide States in meeting their obligations to respect, protect, and guarantee the right to water.

Drawing on its jurisprudence and prior resolutions, as well as reports from United Nations special rapporteurs and General Comment No. 15 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the ACHPR Guidelines provide a comprehensive, human-rights based approach to ensure access to safe, affordable, and sufficient water. The Guidelines were adopted during the ACHPR’s 26th Extraordinary Session in July 2019, and made public during its 28th Extraordinary Session, which took place during the last week of June 2020.

Guidelines – Overview
The ACHPR’s Resolution 300, of 2015, mandated its Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa to develop the guidelines. The Working Group drew on articles 16 (right to health), 21 (free disposal of wealth and natural resources), 22 (economic, social and cultural development), and 24 (satisfactory environment) of the African Charter and on Article 15 (right to food security) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women (Maputo Protocol). The guidance builds on prior ACHPR documents, including the ACHPR Guidelines and Principles on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Nairobi Guidelines) and 2010 Reporting Guidelines for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa (Tunis Reporting Guidelines), as well as relevant United Nations reports and interpretations.

The Guidelines cover States’ obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to water, as well as to mobilize resources for the realization of the right to water. See ACHPR Guidelines on the Right to Water in Africa (2019), paras. 1-4. Specifically, the Guidelines clarify that States have an obligation to “protect water resources, including springs, streams and lakes that are of cultural significance to the local and traditional communities or to the country at large….” See id. at para. 1.5. More generally, the Guidelines state that the principles of non-discrimination, equal access, and non-retrogression must be complied with in the context of the right to water. See id. at paras. 5-6. The principle of non-retrogression prohibits States from implementing measures that would lead to “backward steps in the enjoyment of the right to water.” See id. at para. 6.1. Beyond prohibiting discrimination, the principle of non-discrimination and equal access also requires paying “particular attention” to gender equality and the protection of the rights of women and girls in the water sector. See id. at para. 5.3.

Why not read the whole Guidelines?

COVID-19 & HUMAN RIGHTS

See human rights bodies’ COVID-19 guidance on our dedicated webpage, organized by mechanism and theme, and updated daily.

For the ACHPR schedule and activity changes due to the pandemic, see our monthly posts.

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