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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS DIALOGUE ON SAFE DRINKING WATER AND SANITATION AND ON ARBITRARY DETENTION

Hears Addresses from Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia
13 September 2016

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and with Sètondji Roland Adjovi, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention.  It also heard addresses by Baroness Anelay, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, and Darja Bandaž Kuret, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia.

Baroness Anelay underlined some of most serious human rights problems, such as modern slavery, the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria and Yemen, and human rights and the empowerment of women and girls.  She further underlined the role of civil society as the “oxygen of democracy.”  It was therefore counterintuitive to label civil society activists as “foreign agents.”  She noted that the United Kingdom had always been a strong advocate of the Human Rights Council’s mandate, and that it promoted universal human rights as a foundation for development and an antidote to conflict. 

Ms. Kuret said that one of the crucial tasks of the Council was to consider the deteriorating human rights situations around the globe, including as an early warning sign of possible atrocity crimes.  It was positive that the Council would hold discussions on several such situations, and hopes were expressed that the Council’s debates would result in something meaningful for people at risk.  If the Universal Periodic Review was to remain a successful story, the international community needed to make dialogues with countries under review more interactive and less repetitive.  

In his presentation Mr. Heller focused on gender dimensions in realizing the human right to water and sanitation.  Gender equality was a fundamental human rights principle, yet gender inequalities were profound in the water and sanitation sector.  Gender inequalities were pervasive and occurred at every stage of a woman’s life.  There was a pressing need to ensure that women and girls, throughout their whole life cycle, had the same opportunities to lead a healthy and self-determining life.  Particular attention had to be paid to inequalities as a result of social factors, such as caste, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Mr. Adjovi said the Working Group was not sufficiently known or understood.  The victims had hopes in the international community and the mechanisms set up for them.  The Human Rights Council should suggest to the General Assembly that an international day against arbitrary detention be established.  For every victim of arbitrary detention, other people—family members—also suffered.  He turned to the renewal of the mandate as a whole, noting that it would come to an end in 2016.  The Working Group had dealt with 150 cases every year.  There were hundreds of requests that the Working Group could not process.  Measures that did not have any financial implications had already been implemented. 

Botswana, El Salvador, Tajikistan and Malta spoke as concerned countries.

In the ensuing discussion on the right to water and sanitation, speakers recognized the pivotal role of women as providers and users of water, and the need to equip and empower them to ensure their full access to safe drinking water.  In armed conflicts, inequalities in access to water and sanitation could mean life and death.  Speakers called attention to the desperate water and sanitation situation in places of detention because of overcrowding, and to the need for multi-year investment and constant humanitarian access in order to support and maintain urban water and sanitation services in protracted conflicts. 

During the discussion on arbitrary detention, speakers expressed concern at reports of human rights defenders being subjected to threats, harassment and arbitrary detention in certain countries.  They noted that although the opinions and recommendations of the Working Group were only advisory, they could nevertheless play an important role in preventing arbitrary detention.  The fight against arbitrary detention was of pivotal importance as individual liberties presented a pillar of democracy.  Speakers thus supported the call for the establishment of an international day against arbitrary detention.

Speaking were Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Egypt on behalf of the Blue Group, Peru, Germany, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Japan, Libya, Fiji, Bolivia, Cuba, Austria, Brazil, International Committee of the Red Cross, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Greece, Senegal, Denmark, Malaysia, Spain, Venezuela, Slovenia, India, Morocco, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Sudan, Togo, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Palestine, Iran, Italy, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Namibia, Philippines, Ghana, Uruguay, Burkina Faso, Bahrain, Ukraine, France and El Salvador.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des droits de l’Homme, Alsalam Foundation, CIVICUS, Franciscans International, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Centre for Environmental and Management Studies, International Islamic Federation of Student Associations, International Association for Democracy in Africa, Arab Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights House Foundation, Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, JSSOR Youth Organisation, and Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy.

China spoke in a right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 September, for a full day of meetings.  First, it will hold a general debate on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the rights of older persons, and finally a high-level panel discussion on the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.

Documents

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation A/HRC/33/49

It also has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on his mission to El Salvador
A/HRC/33/49/Add.1

It also has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on his mission to Tajikistan
A/HRC/33/49/Add.2

It also has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on his mission to Botswana
A/HRC/33/49/Add.3

It also has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on his mission to Tajikistan, comments by the State, note from the Secretariat A/HRC/33/49/Add.4,

It also has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on his mission to Botswana, comments by the State A/HRC/33/49/Add.6

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, note by the Secretariat A/HRC/33/50

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, mission to Malta A/HRC/33/50/Add.1

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, comments by Malta A/HRC/33/50/Add.2

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, comments by El Salvador A/HRC/33/50/Add.3

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, revised methods of work A/HRC/33/66

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

LÉO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said his thematic report focused on gender dimensions in realizing the human right to water and sanitation.  Gender equality was a fundamental human rights principle, yet gender inequalities were profound in the water and sanitation sector.  Gender inequalities were pervasive and occurred at every stage of a woman’s life.  Particular attention had to be paid to inequalities as a result of social factors, such as caste, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.  Worldwide there were more water, hygiene and sanitation facilities outside home suited to men’s rather than women’s needs, which often led to women and girls avoiding public life, such as going to work and school.  That situation was in large part due to the absence of women’s participation in decision-making and planning.  Their meaningful participation had to be fully integrated in laws and regulations and in initiatives by non-State parties.  Socioeconomic differences and sociocultural practices and stereotypes may exacerbate gender differences.  States had to combat practices based on negative stereotypes.  Social and cultural norms, stereotypes and stigma were at the root of very unequal power relations, of sexual harassment and violence.  Women and girls avoided public sanitation places fearing gender-based violence.   Mr. Heller underlined the crucial importance of monitoring progress in achieving sanitation and water access based on gender equality, including in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Mr. Heller then outlined the findings of his country missions conducted in 2015 and the first semester of 2016.  Speaking of Tajikistan, he noted that the country had achieved impressive progress in securing access to improved water and sanitation.  However, most of its infrastructure was on the verge of collapse.  The lack of adequate access to water and sanitation in public institutions was a serious concern and had a direct negative impact on the right to health, education, work and life.  Mr. Heller encouraged the Government of Tajikistan to translate the commitment made at the global level into national legislation and policies, budgetary allocation and implementation. 

As for Botswana, he noted that the Government should use extreme drought as a learning opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy to provide uninterrupted access to safe drinking water and sanitation in future probable scenarios of increasing water stress.  The Government should continue to invest in sanitation and water services to guarantee affordable access for the poor and marginalized groups. 

With respect to El Salvador, Mr. Heller praised significant progress in securing access to drinking water and sanitation.  However, the Government of El Salvador now had to improve access to the most vulnerable groups, including those in rural areas, women, girls and prisoners.  It should incorporate the right to water and sanitation in its legal framework, elaborate a National Plan on Water and Sanitation through a participatory process and taking into account human rights principles, and establish an independent regulatory body to supervise the implementation of human rights responsibilities of the providers of water and sanitation. 

SÈTONDJI ROLAND ADJOVI, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention presented a summary of activities in 2015, and addressed the renewal of the mandate of the working group.  One mission had been carried out to Malta to follow up on previous recommendations.  Considerable progress had been made, but other progress was still outstanding.  A more human approach to the management of migrants was needed.  States needed to share the responsibility.  The Working Group was not sufficiently known or understood.  The victims had hopes in the international community and the mechanisms set up for them.  The Human Rights Council should suggest to the General Assembly that an international day against arbitrary detention be established.  For every victim of arbitrary detention, other people—family members—also suffered.  Regarding the follow-up procedure, he said that any information given to the Working Group regarding opinions and urgent appeals only arrived in a sporadic fashion.  He turned to the renewal of the mandate as a whole, noting that it would come to an end in 2016.  The Working Group had dealt with 150 cases every year.  There were hundreds of requests that the Working Group could not process.  Measures that did not have any financial implications had already been implemented.  He reiterated his gratitude to supporters of the mandate.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Botswana, speaking as a concerned country with regard to the visit by the Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation, said that Botswana was still to become a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocols; nevertheless, it was implementing its water policy while the Parliament was scheduled to debate the Water Act in November 2016.  Botswana took good note of the observations made by the Special Rapporteur, particularly those related to water quality and access to water in rural areas.  Those, and other issues, would be addressed by the Water Policy and the Water Act, which would also prioritize actions in the area of water provision, putting water for human consumption at the top of priorities.  The Government had started a study on sanitation issues in order to provide information for future planning in the area of policy development and programmes.  Botswana was committed that best measures were put in place for the enjoyment of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in the country.

El Salvador, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation for the recommendations following his visit to El Salvador, and the recognition of the considerable efforts by the country to increase safe water coverage.  El Salvador still had outstanding issues in relation to water and sanitation; it had started the reform in the water area, and in 2012 had drafted three bills in consultation with various bodies involved in water management, including on drinking water and sanitation, on agricultural and livestock water use, and on the national irrigation systems.  El Salvador had approved a standard-setting framework for the integrated management of water resources in its efforts to strengthen the climate change policy.  Gender inequality was widespread in all stages of women’s lives, and inequality in access to water and sanitation affected the human rights of women in many other areas.  El Salvador was working to achieve the right to water and sanitation in all areas of the country; although water coverage now stood at 94 per cent and sanitation coverage at 75 per cent, more needed to be done to ensure equal access in rural areas.

Tajikistan, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation for visiting, and said that the report focused appropriately on the existing situation in Tajikistan.  Agreement was expressed with the view that Tajikistan had achieved concrete results regarding water supply and sanitation, but that there were still issues where further work was required.  In Tajikistan, there were limited land resources.  Proper water management was a crucial element.  Tajikistan would continue its efforts to create an appropriate environment for safe drinking water and sanitation.  It was noted that a department dealing with water supplies had not been privatized, as the report had stated in an addendum.

Malta, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Working Group’s visit formed part of a move toward the improvement of public policy.  As noted in the Working Group’s report, full freedom and access were enjoyed in Malta.  There had been positive steps taken by the Government for the reception of asylum seekers.  Malta wished to underline that although progress had been noted, the visit of the Working Group had been carried out before reforms had been implemented.  Migrants requesting asylum were now only detained on an individual basis.  The revised policy had been published.  Children were not detained.  The Government would continue building on the system.
 
Clustered Interactive Dialogue

Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reiterated the request to States to take appropriate measures to look at the situation of those deprived of liberty and inform the Working Group of the steps taken.  The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States agreed that women had an additional burden in caring for others, and for domestic work, which highlighted the importance of extending water and sanitation coverage.  Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Water Vision recognized challenges that Member States faced in providing their populations with water and sanitation, and encouraged them to engage in technical cooperation on the issue.  The Organization would continue to extend its support to the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the proposal to nominate 5 March as the International Day against Arbitrary Detention. 

European Union agreed that fair and equal access to water and sanitation was crucial to achieving gender equality and asked how those could be attained in a most cost effective way in developing countries.  Arbitrary detention was unfortunately a wide spread human rights violation and the European Union was concerned about the lack of response to the Working Group’s urgent appeals.  South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, reiterated the call of placing the needs of women and girls, especially those with disability, at the forefront of water and sanitation measures, and said that the recently adopted Dar es Salaam roadmap aimed at achieving water security and sanitation for the continent by improving transparency efficiency and integrity of institutions, and the coordination of policies, including on gender equality.  Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Blue Group, agreed that additional measures were needed to prevent and respond to gender inequalities, gender-based violence and different barriers to the realization of the human right to safe water and sanitation, and asked the Special Rapporteur about the next steps to achieving the objective of the full and universal enjoyment of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.  Peru said that access to drinking water and sanitation for all its citizens was a priority, and agreed that empowering women in the society would also lead to better access to water and sanitation for women and girls.

Statement by the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom

BARONESS ANELAY, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, noted that modern slavery was one of the most important problems of the day, which was why the United Kingdom was investing money in high risk countries from which victims were trafficked.  The international community had to act urgently to stop slavery.  The Government of the United Kingdom welcomed the efforts to end hostilities in Syria and remained committed to improve the dire human rights situation in that country.  It supported the United Nations’ effort to facilitate a political solution to the conflict, and would focus on bringing justice for the survivors of the violence perpetrated by Da’esh.  The United Kingdom’s Government also condemned the human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian Government, and the dire humanitarian situation where those most in need had to no access to humanitarian assistance.  The Syrian people needed justice and stability. 

The United Kingdom’s Government also raised concern over the situation in Yemen, regretting the failure to reach a political agreement.  It thus urged all parties to cease hostilities and to find a path towards peace.  The United Kingdom remained fully committed to finding a solution to the crisis.  Furthermore, the United Kingdom celebrated the role of civil society as the “oxygen of democracy.”  The ability to understand problems and find solutions was enhanced by the engagement of civil society.  It was therefore counterintuitive to label civil society activists as “foreign agents.”  The United Kingdom was concerned that certain countries tried to limit the activity of civil society.  It was particularly important that women and girls were heard because a country could not achieve its full potential when a half of its population was excluded.  The United Kingdom supported hundreds of human rights initiatives worldwide, as part of belief that human rights should be enjoyed everywhere and by everyone.  The United Kingdom had always been a strong advocate of the Human Rights Council’s mandate.  It promoted universal human rights as a foundation for development and an antidote to conflict. 

Clustered Interactive Dialogue

Germany asked the Special Rapporteur about concrete examples of the successful participation of women in the formulation and implementation of government budgets, and about best practices and promising strategies in the participation of women in all stages of planning, decision-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation regarding water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.  Maldives, as a small island developing State and a large ocean State, was very aware of the importance of water security in order to sustain its people and industries.  Maldives took violations of individual liberty very seriously and had a functioning independent mechanism in place to hold such violations accountable.  Saudi Arabia had enacted new legislation and amended existing laws in order to combat arbitrary detention so that it could ensure protection and dignity for all.  With regard to the report on drinking water and sanitation, Saudi Arabia was a sovereign Muslim country based on Islamic Sharia law and it rejected all forms of violence based on religion, ethnicity or gender.

Statement by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia

DARJA BANDAŽ KURET, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, said that Slovenia advocated a human rights-based approach, and that the Human Rights Council was an important tool in that endeavour.  One of the crucial tasks of the Council was to consider the deteriorating human rights situations around the globe, including as an early warning sign of possible atrocity crimes.  It was positive that the Council would hold discussions on several such situations, and hopes were expressed that the Council’s debates would result in something meaningful for people at risk.  2016 was a year of significant anniversaries, including of the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council, the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, and the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Slovenia was determined to defend all human rights and fundamental freedoms vigorously, and had organized a panel discussion on achievements and challenges of the Council after a decade of that work. 

Despite setbacks and challenges, the Council remained the main United Nations body in the field of human rights.  If the Universal Periodic Review was to remain a successful story, the international community needed to make dialogues with countries under review more interactive and less repetitive.  Every person should be educated about the value of respecting human rights and human dignity, and for more than 10 years, Slovenia had been conducting a human rights education programme for children on the basis of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child.  Some 185,000 children in 26 countries on all continents had taken part in that educational project.  Such activities were a sound investment in the future.  On the issue of the rights of the elderly, it was noted that that group faced challenges to the enjoyment of almost all their human rights.  The international community should work toward achieving sufficient international standards in that area. Slovenia believed the Human Rights Council was at the heart of the United Nations and placed great faith in its potential.

Clustered Interactive Dialogue

Ecuador drew attention to the case of Julian Assange, to whom Ecuador had granted asylum and who could not leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom, reminding that the Working Group had qualified his case as one of arbitrary detention.  It thus urged Sweden and the United Kingdom to respect their international obligations.  Japan noted that ensuring access to safe water and basic sanitation facilities was fundamental to women’s empowerment in developing regions.  It also expressed concern at reports of human rights defenders being subject to threats, harassment and arbitrary detention in certain countries.  Libya remained committed to the fundamental principles of ensuring fair trial to persons deprived of liberty, despite the current challenges in the country.  The National Consensus Government was working to restore control over all places of detention in the country.  It emphasized the importance of access to water in times of conflict. 

Fiji shared the concern of the Special Rapporteur on placing strong focus on the access of women and girls to water and sanitation.  It encouraged the Special Rapporteur to give renewed focus on the effects of natural disasters on small island developing States.  Bolivia underlined that the right to water could not be privatized, which was why the Government had increased its investment in the provision of safe drinking water.  Women played a central role in Bolivia in fighting multinational companies from increasing the cost of water.  Cuba stressed that the Working Group should incorporate in its work the principles of the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures mandate holders.  It also noted that any effort to eradicate inequality in access to water and sanitation had to include women.  Austria voiced concern over the increasing number of arrests, detentions and prosecutions of journalists.  It welcomed the recommendations on how to respond to gender-based restrictions in access to water and sanitation, and asked how businesses could work toward enhanced access.  Brazil shared concern that the lack of adequate access to water and sanitation experienced by women and girls was exacerbated by other forms of discrimination and disadvantages.  It welcomed the Working Group’s proposal to establish an international day against arbitrary detention. 

International Committee of the Red Cross agreed that in armed conflict, inequalities in access to water and sanitation could mean life and death, and called attention to the desperate water and sanitation situation in places of detention because of overcrowding, and to the need for multi-year investment and constant humanitarian access in order to support and maintain urban water and sanitation services in protracted conflicts.  Russian Federation asked the Working Group about the steps it intended to take in relation to the case of Julien Assange, whose stay in the Embassy of Ecuador could be considered arbitrary detention.  Sierra Leone said that in many parts of the world, women and girls did not have safe and affordable access to water and sanitation, and this was one major point on Sierra Leone’s Agenda for Prosperity.  

Greece considered the fight against arbitrary detention to be of pivotal importance as individual liberties presented a pillar of democracy.  Greece supported the call for the establishment of an international day against arbitrary detention.  Senegal regretted the allegations contained in the report of the Working Group claiming that Senegal had not provided responses to the demands by the Working Group; therefore the report was based on the false information.  Denmark was a staunch and active supporter of the global fight against torture, which was closely related to the efforts to protect everyone against arbitrary detention, as torture was most prevalent in the early stages of detention, also because of a lack of judicial overview.

Malaysia recognized the pivotal role of women as providers and users of water, and the need to equip and empower them to ensure their full access to safe drinking water.  With regard to the report of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, a paragraph selectively picked up only one point of the reply from the Government of Malaysia.  Spain said that the gender focus was always relevant, and asked if the Special Rapporteur knew of any good practices to overcome taboos that involved men and women.  Venezuela said that the working group on arbitrary detention had devoted sections of its report exclusively to Venezuela, and that the allegations were entirely false, giving details of specific cases. 

Slovenia asked how governments and other stakeholders could best promote the equal participation of women in water and sanitation-related decision-making, and asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how achieving the water-related Sustainable Development Goals could boost economic growth and related targets.  India welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s focus on gender equality, and also gave details of a national project aimed at clean water under which women-headed households were eligible for additional financial incentives.  Morocco said that greater attention should be accorded toward strengthening cooperation with the Working Group, noting that it did not publish addenda submitted by States; ignoring States’ requests could not encourage trust.  With regard to the issue of drinking water, Morocco recognized the importance of a participative gender approach.

United States commended the Working Group’s opinions and conclusions, which although not legally binding, had the potential to serve a useful and important function in drawing attention to situations of concern.  Egypt regretted that the Working Group had rejected the information provided by the Government and regretted negative opinions adopted by the Working Group on Egypt’s communications and explanations.  It was concerned over the increasing trend of the political use of Egyptian cases.  Egypt supported the Special Rapporteur’s focus on the gender dimension of access to water and sanitation.  China opposed unlawful detention, which was clearly prohibited by China’s laws.  The country had improved mechanisms that rectified the misuse of justice in that respect.  As for access to water and sanitation for women, it was necessary for achieving the right to development and gender empowerment.

Singapore reminded that it strongly advocated a stand-alone goal on water and sanitation in the negotiations leading up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and that it had initiated the General Assembly resolution on “Sanitation for All.”  Benin underscored the suffering and hardship of peoples subject to arbitrary detention.  As for water and sanitation, water was a precondition for food production, which was why governments, local communities and international organizations had to continue efforts to make water safe, available and affordable.  Haiti emphasized that the right to water and sanitation was an urgent issue for women and girls living in rural areas, and to that end the Government had made efforts to create equitable access to drinking water.

Switzerland encouraged the international community to follow the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, and to tackle gender-related challenges in an open and transparent manner: gender equality could not be achieved without addressing the deep causes of inequality and the elimination of stereotypes, taboos and social norms on which discrimination was based.  Portugal was preparing for the Special Rapporteur’s upcoming visit which it hoped would be fruitful.  The actions of the Working Group had allowed for disclosure of many cases of arbitrary detention and Portugal asked how the Working Group would be able to strengthen the provision of assistance to victims.

Belgium agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the specific needs of women and girls were often not taken into account in humanitarian aid and asked him to elaborate on the recommendation concerning measures to eliminate gender inequality in development  cooperation.  Belgium urged States to respond to the Working Group’s communications and expressed support for the extension of its mandate.  In Sudan, no one could be deprived of liberty without the compliance by authorities with the strict legal framework.  Sudan rejected all attempts to justify arbitrary detention.  The report by the Special Rapporteur had underlined specific difficulties experienced by women and girls in accessing water and sanitation, said Togo, which had increased access to drinking water in the country from 50 per cent in 2006 to 68 per cent in 2015.

Remarks by the Mandate Holders 

LÉO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that he would focus his remarks on Tajikistan, Botswana, and El Salvador.  There was room for improvement in those countries but also strong support in the governments for integrating the human rights framework.  He said he had taken note of the observation of Tajikistan regarding the nature of the department of rural water supplies.  Amendments were needed on what was said in the report.  Regarding the other contributions, some had asked for examples, good practices, and concrete measures.  Some members, particularly Pakistan, had asked questions on how to address the gender gap on the access to water and sanitation and the impact on men and girls.  It was a very cross-sectional issue, he said, adding that he thought the best way to go in that direction was to think about human rights-based laws, policies and practices.  The question was how to frame development and cooperation to meet the challenges of gender inequalities.

SÈTONDJI ROLAND ADJOVI, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, stressed that having an appropriate legal framework in place was not a guarantee against arbitrary detention.  Prolonged detention was not the only form of arbitrary detention, there were several other forms, including where the fair trial principle was not respected.  For the Working Group, its mandate dealt with torture in the context of using torture to force confessions, and in that case the confession could not be used in the trial and the case was closed.  Torture allegations were often referred to the Special Rapporteur against torture; while the Human Rights Council could mandate the Working Group to refer torture allegations to the Committee against Torture, this might raise some serious legal issues because of the conventional nature of the Committee.  The Working Group had produced its opinion on the Assange case and there were no other options available apart from the follow-up which the Working Group was pursuing.  On the obligatory character of the Working Group’s opinions, Mr. Adjovi asked the States what the value of the procedure for the victims was, if the opinions were not considered obligatory.

Clustered Interactive Dialogue

Kyrgyzstan said it was establishing a legal and regulatory framework in water and sanitation sectors and was currently implementing the Framework to 2026; despite this, the percentage of the population with access to safe drinking water and sanitation was relatively low.  Iraq continued to implement measures aimed at improving access to water and sanitation for its population, including to control and improve water quality.  Iraq called for international assistance to improve access to water and sanitation for internally displaced persons.  Since 1967, Israel had detained more than 850,000 Palestinians, and was today holding more than 7,000 persons in arbitrary detention, including 750 in administrative detention, said Palestine

The sanitation crisis for women could be summed up in one word – dignity, said Iran and stressed that sanitary protection was a matter of individual choice in line with cultural preferences.  Italy said that the collection of gender disaggregating water indicators was essential to measure the progress made in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and asked about positive practices in this regard.  Indonesia said that efforts must be made in understanding local customs and wisdom in access to water and sanitation.  Which steps could be undertaken to increase the responsiveness of States to communications by the Working Group on arbitrary detention?

Pakistan stated that it was essential to create an enabling environment for women and girls to safely use water and sanitation facilities.  To that end Pakistan had undertaken efforts to ensure that gender-responsive water, sanitation and hygiene facilities were available in schools, hospitals, workplaces and other public spaces.  Bangladesh stressed that international cooperation was critical in ensuring safe, available, accessible, affordable and dignity-ensuring water and sanitation facilities for all individuals, particularly for women.  Tunisia stated that although the opinions and recommendations of the Working Group were only advisory, they could nevertheless play an important role in preventing arbitrary detention. 

Namibia reminded that in humanitarian situations, including in times of conflict or natural disaster, when water and sanitation sources were at a minimum, the specific needs of women and girls were often not taken into account.  Philippines clarified that the detention of the complainant in a case mentioned by the Working Group was a consequence of an ongoing domestic judicial process and that she had been released in July.  Ghana endorsed the view of the Special Rapporteur on the need for States to identify, repeal and reform national legislation that had both direct and indirect discriminatory consequences on the equal enjoyment of the right to water and sanitation. 

Uruguay spoke about national initiatives, such as a national water plan which was a technical and political instrument for managing water resources across the country, which started from the premise that water was a fundamental human right.  Burkina Faso said that in rural areas of the country, there had been growth of access to drinking water, and that access to sanitation had also grown.  One key challenge remained in the inequality between men and women in the enjoyment of those rights.  Bahrain took note of the report on arbitrary detention, adding that the country had attempted to protect all rights, taking proactive measures with the help of its constitution, including creating various bodies.  Bahrain had worked to promote human rights in a transparent and civilized manner and continued to work to realize universal principles in that area. 

Ukraine expressed extreme concern about disappearances in territories controlled by the Russian-backed illegal armed groups, and sought the advice of the Working Group on what mechanisms could be additionally used to facilitate the liberation of persons detained by the Russian authorities.  France commended the Working Group on arbitrary detention and noted that the large number of urgent appeals illustrated the fact that serious violations were not limited to conflict situations, calling on all States to cooperate with the Working Group.  El Salvador said that its Government had continued to underscore initiatives that served to reply to observations, noting that since 2009, the country had tried to reduce prison overcrowding through streamlining and building greater spaces.

Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme drew attention to the increased use of arbitrary detention against political opponents and human rights defenders, especially in the Republic of Congo following the latest elections.  It also addressed the issue of school dropout and illiteracy in connection with the lack of access to water and sanitation.  Alsalam Foundation, in a joint statement, raised concern over the remarkably high number of arbitrarily detained prisoners in Bahrain, particularly of prominent political and civil society figures.  CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation agreed that the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that met women’s and girls’ needs was due to the absence of their participation in decision-making and planning.  It also remained alarmed about arbitrary detentions in Ethiopia. 

Franciscans International emphasized the lack of high-quality water due to deforestation and industrial activity in El Salvador, as well as unequal access to water among different segments of the society.  What political initiatives could establish good management of water resources?  International Association of Democratic Lawyers underlined the case of Julian Assange, who was still confined in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.  Sweden and the United Kingdom had not only refused to enforce the decision of the Working Group, but had called the opinion of the Group ridiculous.  International Lesbian and Gay Association underlined the need for ensuring privacy in public toilets, detention centres, relief camps and schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  It asked the Special Rapporteur whether he agreed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons should be counted in any collection of disaggregated data in order to assess the impact of policies aimed at mainstreaming gender equality. 

Centre for Environmental and Management Studies noted that with over 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply largely devoted to agriculture, it was essential to have effective water conservation techniques.  In Pakistan, authorities were failing to protect human rights defenders from arbitrary detention by intelligence and military agencies.  International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations called upon the Working Group to make the procedure of receiving complaints of arbitrary detention more accessible for the people living under foreign and alien occupation, including in Indian-occupied Kashmir.  International Association for Democracy in Africa said that the Government of Pakistan pursued a policy of arbitrary detention of political opponents and last year, law enforcement authorities in Karachi had been involved in the arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings of political opponents and terrorism suspects. 

Arab Commission for Human Rights said that access to water and sanitation was an often denied right to women and girls, and underscored that the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur, especially those related to the  participation of women in decision-making, should be implemented rapidly.  Human Rights House Foundation said that the Working Group had observed that Azerbaijan continued to detain activists to silence them.  In the run up to the referendum, the authorities had unleashed a wave of arrests of activists and independent voices.  Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship, The was gravely concerned about the arbitrary detention of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, and called for the release of those arbitrarily detained in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran and Mexico.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that different categories of prisoners should be kept in separate areas, but authorities in Iran refused to do so, adding that prisoners of conscience were attacked by other prisoners.  JSSOR Youth Organisation drew the attention of the Working Group to the deterioration of security that came within the framework of the ongoing crackdown launched by the security forces in Bahrain against protestors holding a vigil in a village named Duraz.  Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy highlighted cases of arbitrary detention in India in the so-called disturbed area where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was being imposed since 1958, urging the Council to communicate with India for information about perpetrators of torture and arbitrary detention.

Concluding Remarks

LÉO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that one of the key points that several delegations raised in the dialogue was the linkage between the gender dimension of water and sanitation and other rights, which pointed to the crucial need to apply a cross-cutting view of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, as it was closely linked to a number of other Sustainable Development Goals.  Another important point raised today was how other human rights violations, such as in situations of armed conflicts, environmental destruction and degradation, internal displacement, epidemics, and others, could exacerbate violations of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.  The Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly this year would be devoted to issues of interest to the international community, and the links to the 2030 Agenda.  The report presented to the Human Rights Council today would lead the Special Rapporteur to learn more about the gender dimension of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, which he would explore systematically in his future work, including during country visits and in his interactions with a number of United Nations agencies which were carrying forward the work on the Sustainable Development Goals related to water and sanitation.

SÈTONDJI ROLAND ADJOVI, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said that there were alternatives to detention which could be a lesson for the entire international community to learn.  The comments from States were published if they were communicated in due time.  How the international community could improve State communication in procedures was a question, but it was up to the Council to hold States responsible for non-cooperation.  That was why a follow-up procedure had been adopted.  The international community needed to acknowledge that it could not force the will of a State to cooperate.  It was possible for States to bring complaints to the Working Group regarding another State.  It was rarely used in treaty bodies, but it was possible.  Regarding systematic arbitrary detention, if the Working Group was not aware of individual cases, it could not do a great deal.  For Kashmir, the Secretariat would check whether there had been complaints from individual victims.  Azerbaijan would be returned to in 2017.  The Working Group could only visit a country if it was invited.  A country visit was a constructive dialogue, and it was a dialogue that the Working Group gave priority to.  The Council was invited to consider whether it could do more.  

Right of Reply

China, speaking in a right of reply, strongly advocated for cooperation in the field of human rights and stressed the need for mutual respect and dialogue to resolve differences.  Resorting to naming and shaming and using double standards would poison the atmosphere in the Human Rights Council.  China was a country of the rule of law which prohibited arbitrary detention.  Ms. Phan-Gillis had been arrested and charged with the crime of treason and espionage; she was in good health and enjoyed her rights, including the right to legal defence and representation, and consular visits.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC16/119E