Underlying Principles

Human rights principles apply across all of international human rights law and therefore must be ensured with respect to each individual human right. The full set of human rights principles comprises the principles of universality, indivisibility, inter-dependence, participation, accountability, transparency, access to information and non-discrimination and equality.

Non-discrimination and equality: International human rights law envisages the equal enjoyment of all rights by all people. The principle of non-discrimination and equality is therefore a cornerstone of human rights practice. It encompasses both the prohibition of discrimination and the obligation for states to work towards equality in water and sanitation service provision.

Discrimination of individuals or groups on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status must be prohibited. States must furthermore be mindful of de facto discrimination and – where this is revealed – take immediate measures to effectively end it. Certain practices or legislation may have a (unintended) discriminatory effect on certain people.

States must also work towards eliminating existing inequalities. This requires knowledge of disparities, which typically not only include income groups but also rural – urban populations, disparities based on gender and the de facto exclusion of marginalised groups. Targeted affirmative measures must be taken to ensure that gaps between those served and those unserved are narrowed and eventually closed.

Some places, persons and groups will often require particular attention in the realisation of the rights to water and sanitation, as they often are often marginalised and excluded or are potentially vulnerable. This includes for example people living in informal settlements, indigenous peoples, refugees, traveller communities, internally displaced persons and returnees, victims of natural disasters, prisoners, older persons, people with disabilities, people with serious or chronic illnesses, children, women and transgender and intersex individuals.

Access to information and transparency: Only informed users of water and sanitation services will be able to voice concerns and hold entities to account. The state must make information available on about current and planned water and sanitation law, policies and programmes, including for example on the provision of services, tariff systems and the quality of water and sanitation.

A transparent government furthermore assures visibility and accessibility of information. Transparency establishes openness of information without the need for preceding requests, through for example dissemination of information on the radio, internet and official journals. Transparency should therefore be integrated throughout the entire legal framework, institutions and proceedings of the state.

States should disseminate information through channels that are easily accessible by all. States must ensure that information is translated in all relevant languages and dialects and ensure that people who are unable to read can access information through other means, such as radio and through information centres. In any case, it is crucial that states always consider the particular needs of the individuals or groups that have an interest in the information available.

Participation: The human rights to water and sanitation can only be realised in an effective manner when people become part of all processes that relate to the realisation of these rights. Participation must be active, free and meaningful. It must provide for real opportunities to influence the planning process. Participation ensures better implementation and enhances the effectiveness and sustainability of interventions, as it ensures that local conditions and needs can be taken into account. Opportunities for participation, including community needs assessments, must be established as early as possible. Any plan or decision-making that relates to the realisation of the rights to water and to sanitation must be developed through a participatory and transparent process.

Accountability: Service providers and the government must be accountable to users. Individuals or groups who feel that their rights have been violated must have access to independent review mechanisms and courts to have their complaints heard and resolved.      Furthermore, mechanisms must be enacted that establish oversight and control between both public and private actors in water and sanitation provision. Clear institutional mandates must be defined to build accountability into the entire system of water and sanitation provision. Actions taken or decisions made under those mandates must be accountable and regulated through a system of oversight responsibilities.