WaterLex conducted a two-day training session for The National Human Rights Institutions Water Initiative for Good Water Governance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 4-5 November, 2015. The training aimed to enhance the role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in Asia for improved monitoring of water governance. Executive representatives of 19 NHRIs participated: Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New-Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Samoa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Maldives and Timor Leste.

The representatives received training on the following topics:

  • The international legal framework for human rights based water governance;
  • The instruments and tools that NHRIs have to monitor the right to water and sanitation;
  • International case law about water and sanitation and how to use it as a tool of monitoring;
  • Collaboration between NHRIs and other actors, such as civil society groups, in relation to the right to water and sanitation;
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in relation to human rights and SDG 6 on water; and
  • Human Rights and Business.

Specific to the region, the sessions addressed the issue of South East Asia’s struggle to realize the population’s access to improved sources of water. As the Asia region is experiencing difficulties of water scarcity and water quality and water competition between different users – which is increases due to migration and urbanization, economic development and agricultural use, the representatives highly valued the event, because it advanced on access to water and sanitation, environmental concerns, human rights and sustainable development goals.

The content of the training and NHRI representatives reconfirmed the strong overlap between poverty and the lack of access to safe water and sanitation. A lack of access to water contributes to levels of poverty, as well as poverty being a factor why people do not have access to water. The same is true regarding access to sanitation.

With Southeast Asia being one of the world’s most vulnerable regions with respect to natural disasters and, considering the impacts of climate change for this region, water conflict and water and human rights challenges are expected to increase in the decades to come. Although small island developing states are particularly vulnerable, water scarcity is expected to impact all countries, the representatives agreed. Affordability of water and indigenous/tribal water rights and conflicts with other users are identified as water challenges in many locations.

Water-rich countries, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand are facing urban water supply and quality constraints. Domestic sewage is a particular concern because it affects ecosystems near densely-populated areas as hundreds of millions m3 per day of untreated wastewater from urban areas is discharged into open water bodies or leached into the subsoil.

The Asian Pacific Forum, in partnership with the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the South Africa Human Rights Commission, delivered the training.

The NHRIs present welcomed the training and confirmed the importance of working on water-related human rights issues. They all acknowledged that the work they could do on water and human rights could include:

  • Legal reform – Comment on and give recommendations on national and regional legal frameworks in relation to the relevant human rights;
  • Research specific or general human rights violations or threats;
  • Give recommendations to their governments on water and human rights related issues;
  • Undertake complaints handling and mediation;
  • Organise public hearings;
  • Engage with media outlets for advocacy;
  • Engage with networks of civil society and communities;
  • Create and advise on relevant papers and reports; and
  • Monitor and evaluate their own work.

In the words of Karam Singh, of the South African Human Rights Commission, who participated as a co-trainer in Kuala Lumpur:

“The NHRI training elaborates on various water-governance issues that affect people, communities and countries from a human rights perspective. The additional elements of Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights and Business, better equip NHRIs to interrogate, monitor, and report on human rights and water issues”

The NHRI training days were a part of the WaterLex NHRI Water Governance Initiative. The objectives of the initiative are twofold. This initiative is grounded in a human rights-based approach which accords prominence to the minimum legal standards for water governance. It is addressed to NHRIs throughout the world irrespective of geographical location.

The Initiative strives to achieve the following:

  • Create a network of NHRIs that can exchange experiences and best practices with each other;
  • Support and build the capacity of NHRIs to strengthen their role in ensuring a human rights based approach to water governance;
  • Provide trainings and other capacity building activities in relation to right to water to interested NHRIs who currently have a limited role in water governance;
  • Establish a community of practice and experiences along with an online platform for sharing information/ tools/resources/ best practices;
  • Provide support to existing monitoring practices;
  • Provide support to NHRIs´ research needs; and
  • Work together to investigate, promote and protect the human right to water.
4-5 November 2015, Kuala Lumpur: Executive representatives of 18 NHRIs participated in the training, including Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New-Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Samoa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Maldives and Timor Leste.

WaterLex’s NHRI Initiative trainings aim to empower NHRIs to take a more prominent role in relation to the right to water and sanitation and, and as a result in broader water governance, which enables the realisation of the human right to water and sanitation, recognized by the United Nations in 2010 through UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions. The Initiative is an open call for collaboration to all interested NHRI parties who wish to strengthen their role in the advancement, promotion and protection of the right to water and related human rights, thereby contributing to an enhanced human rights-based water governance. The initiative also wishes to attract NHRIs who — via their active role with regards to the right to water — are already in a position to share valuable experiences, practices, tools or resources, along with supporting those NHRIs whose position in investigating, promoting and protecting human rights is currently relatively limited.

For more information about the NHRI Water Governance Initiative, please click here.