River Basin Governance

A Human Rights-Based Approach

As stated by UN General Secretary Ban ki-Moon, Shortfalls have occurred not because the goals are unreachable, or because time is too short. We are off course because of unmet commitments, inadequate resources and a lack of focus and accountability.

The Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) can provide a legal framework to ensure the rights and freedoms to which every person is entitled. This is particularly relevant in countries where national legislation does not reflect human rights law, or people are unaware of their government’s obligations under human rights law. By introducing a HRBA, it is possible to strengthen domestic accountability based on international norms. Human rights are thus not only born and safeguarded through jurisprudence and legislation, but also need to be internalised in the minds of both rights-holders and duty-bearers by becoming integrated into the political processes which steer the legal framework. An HRBA aims to empower the rights-holders to hold duty-bearers accountable for non-compliance, and although similar in language to human rights found in jurisdiction and legislation, it is not limited to legal outcomes. Accountability is therefore described by OHCHR as “a cornerstone of the human rights framework” (OHCHR, 2013, Who will be accountable?”,p.ix).

Such a HRBA can be applied to Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) processes to improve the access to water and sanitation and realise the human rights to water and sanitation. WaterLex has been developing tools and training programmes for a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to IWRM over the last four years.  The manual that we developed in collaboration with SIWI and UNDP-CapNet was initially the basis for a series of online training courses, and we have since developed a practical workshop format with river basins from eight countries in the Volta Basin, West Africa. It is from this engagement that we now have more in-depth research, studies and support programmes in countries like DRC, Benin and Burkina Faso.

This HRBA works at river basin level with water authorities and water users, and also for development organisations. WaterLex has conducted research, training and developed support tools for a number of development organisations that work in the water sector, aiding internal processes to integrate a HRBA, and increasing the accountability of the duty bearer through improvements in policy and processes.

Through our Central American and African programmes, and various studies of how a human rights-based approach assists in water resource management, WaterLex is taking a more holistic view of river basin governance. It will extend the understanding of the inter-relationships between international water law guidelines, the environment and human rights law, while always keeping our vision of a world where there is access to safe and sustainable water and sanitation for all.