Advocating for the rights

Here are a number of ways to advocate for the human rights to water and sanitation:

Advocating for the rights to water and sanitation

Citizens and civil society have an important role to play in holding governments to account on realising their obligations. Advocacy must take place in a particular context, and be aimed at a particular target. Advocating for water and sanitation can be targeted at changing the local, national or even international policy and practice. People can for example aim to change legislation with regard to the rights, or campaign for prioritising areas that are currently neglected in service provision of water and sanitation. There are many different ways to advocate for the rights, this includes sending letters, participating in decision-making processes, campaigning and lobbying. Sometimes individuals or communities organise themselves, or civil society organisations are involved in advocating for a particular issue.

Campaigning is one of the ways to ensure, through public pressure, that progressive realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation is achieved.

See Campaigns and civil society action for examples of advocating for the rights to water and sanitation.

Please also refer to WaterAid’s Advocacy Sourcebook, Freshwater Action Network’s Rights to Water and Sanitation: A Handbook for Activists and End Water Poverty’s Keep Your Promises Guide to the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (2014) for more information on advocating for water and sanitation.

Governance and Transparency Fund Programme

Over the past five years, WaterAid, in collaboration with the Freshwater Action Network, has been strongly involved in a Governance and Transparency Fund Programme, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development. This programme aimed to improve civil society organisations’ capacity to hold duty bearers to account and demand equitable and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene delivery for the poorest and most marginalised people. Some of the case studies are –partly- published on this website. See for more information and for a full overview of case studies: WaterAid, FAN, UKaid – Case Studies from the Governance and Transparency Fund Programme.

The expertise and grassroots experience of organisations working on water and sanitation can be used in various ways to influence the development of the right to water and sanitation within the UN human rights system.


Support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur

The role of a UN Special Rapporteur includes fact-finding, undertaking in-depth studies, producing reports and providing recommendations on a particular human rights theme or on country situations. Many of the mandates of Special Rapporteurs actively encourage them to consult both governmental and civil society representatives to assist them in their work.

The work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation provides an ideal opportunity for advocacy groups to influence opinion and developments on the human rights to water and sanitation within the UN human rights system. Such groups can contribute to the work of the Special Rapporteur in several ways:

• by submitting reports or recommendations for the Special Rapporteur to the Secretariat of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
• by providing information or data on fact-finding missions
• by attending any public consultations arranged by the Special Rapporteur
• by responding to any calls for input from the Special Rapporteur.

Find out more on the OHCHR website here.


Reporting to human rights treaty bodies

States Parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are obliged to report regularly to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee) on their progress in implementing ICESCR. This includes reporting on the human rights to water and sanitation. Non-governmental organisations can assist the work of the Committee in this area in several ways, such as:

• providing the government with information from the field for state party reports;
• submitting alternative non-governmental reports to the Committee (shadow reports);
• preparing written or oral briefings for states or the Committee itself;
• encouraging states to comply with their obligation to submit reports in full and on time; and
• monitoring States Parties’ observance of and compliance with the recommendations given by the Committee after reviewing the reports.

Find out how the Committee and other human rights treaty bodies work and how civil society can contribute in this booklet. Click here to find out more.


The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR), has created a complaints mechanism for those who believe that their human rights protected in the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have been violated.

People who believe their rights have been violated can now seek justice at the international level if they are unable to find remedies at national level, and if the country in question is a party to the Optional Protocol.

The OP-ICESCR will reinforce States’ compliance with ESCR-related obligations, supporting access to legal remedies in cases of violations. It also strengthens the activities of organizations working on issues related to human rights and social justice. It will also empower claimants to help develop the content of obligations applied to their diverse situations.

There are 3 procedures under the OP-ICESCR:

  1. Communications procedures of individuals or groups claiming violations of the rights of the Covenant
  2. Inquiry procedures when the Committee (the body in charge of analysing cases under the Protocol) has received reliable information of grave or systematic violations by a State Party of rights of the Protocol; and
  3. Inter-State communications when a State Party considers that another State Party is not fulfilling its obligations under the treaty.

ESCR-Net is an organisation that serves as the Coordinator of the NGO Coalition Campaign for the OP-ICESCR, by providing litigation support, and increasing awareness of the OP-ICESCR and by strengthening the capacity of organizations to use this instrument as an important tool to advance ESCR work at the national level. Individuals and organisations can use and support procedures under OP-ICESCR in several ways. See ESCR-Net for more information on OP-ICESCR, and how to get involved:

  • support the signing and/or ratification process in your country;
  • determine if your government plans to ratify or accede to the OP-ICESCR; what are the challenges, opportunities, anticipated obstacles and timing of this process? If your government does not plan to ratify it, what are the reasons?
  • organize discussions that support the signing or ratification of the OP-ICESCR between national authorities and civil society organizations.
  • lobby national level authorities within your country (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, relevant bodies within the Executive Power and Congress or Parliament) to push for the signature and ratification of or accession to the OP-ICESCR;
  • lobby your country’s representatives during relevant meetings of intergovernmental bodies like the sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council or the Organization of American States General Assembly; and
  • ensure that your country raises the issue of ratification of the OP-ICESCR during the Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) of other countries and work to ensure that it is raised as an issue in your own country’s UPR.

The International NGO Coalition for the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR has developed a Toolkit for Action for the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This Toolkit provides practical guidance to NGOs and other civil society groups, as well as States on their work around the Optional Protocol. The Toolkit aims to facilitate international and national advocacy work for the ratification and the entry into force of the Protocol and the national implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.
The Toolkit includes four Booklets:

Booklet 1: Refreshing Your Knowledge about the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Booklet 2: Overview: The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Booklet 3: Why Should States Ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?
Booklet 4: Tools to Lobby Your Country and Advocate for the Ratification and Implementation of the Optional Protocol.

Please find the Toolkit here.