15 Sep 2023

Venue: Palais des Nations | Room XXV & Online

Organization: Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, Germany, Spain, Geneva Environment Network

In the framework of the 54th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC54), taking place in Geneva from 11 September to 13 October 2023, the Permanent Missions of Germany and Spain, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the Geneva Environment Network convened a side event to reflect on the thematic report presented by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, taking a gender perspective, “Fulfilling the human rights of those living in poverty and restoring the health of aquatic ecosystems: two converging challenges”.

About this Session

Ensuring drinking water to the 2 billion people without guaranteed access to it, most of whom severely impoverished, is only possible if progress is made in restoring the good condition of the aquatic ecosystems that supply their water. According to the recently presented report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation “Fulfilling the Human Rights of Those Living in Poverty and Restoring the Health of Aquatic Ecosystems: Two Converging Challenges” (A/HRC/54/32), there is an alarming degradation of aquatic ecosystems, which has a significant impact on the realization of human rights, especially on the right to water.

These aquatic ecosystem challenges have far-reaching consequences for human rights, particularly the right to drinking water and sanitation for Indigenous Peoples, rural communities, women and girls and other groups in vulnerable situations. Human activities that cause depletion and pollution of an aquatic ecosystem (which are often toxic) affect drinking water and are disproportionately located in the territories of Indigenous Peoples, communities of African descent, and others.

The report argues for transcending to an ecosystems and integrated approach, that is in tune with the “rights-of-nature”. These perspectives connect with the leadership of women in communities and impoverished communities, where they are usually the water sources-carers. Women as stewards and conveyors of water, play a vital role in safeguarding water sources and passing down traditional wisdom to the younger generations.

This side event at the 54th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) gathered experts from different fields to discuss the intersectionality of the degradation of aquatic ecosystems, the lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the possible solutions to address the degradation of aquatic ecosystems worldwide and contribute to the realization of the human right to water. The event also aimed to underscore the interconnectedness of safeguarding water ecosystems and upholding the rights and well-being concerns of all, with a commitment to amplifying their voices and perspectives in shaping decision-making processes, from a gender-inclusive perspective.

Environment @ HRC54

Environmental issues are present in various agenda items of each session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and their side events. Toxics and human rights are the usual main environmental theme of the Council’s September sessions, with the Special Rapporteur’s annual report to the HRC. The right to water and sanitation and the rights of indigenous peoples are also environment-related issues presented by their respective United Nations Special Procedures, also in interactive dialogues with States, international organizations, human rights national institutions, and NGOs.

To develop more synergies among stakeholders and a better outreach on the environmental agenda of the 54th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC54), including the activities taking place in parallel to the Council’s session, the Geneva Environment Network has compiled this regularly-updated page that highlights the environmental-related activities of this session.


By order of intervention.

H.E. Amb. Katharina Stasch

Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations in Geneva

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo

UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

Kate Mackintosh

Executive Director, Promise Institute for Human Rights Europe | Deputy Co-chair of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide in 2020-2021

Musonda Mumba

Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

David Boyd

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

H.E. Amb. Aurora Díaz-Rato Revuelta

Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations in Geneva

Diana Rizzolio

Coordinator, UNEP Geneva Environment Network | Moderator



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