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The Human Rights to Water and Sanitation in Courts Worldwide: A Selection of National, Regional and International Case Law

February 22, 2016

This compilation of case law shows that judges are increasingly willing to apply the human rights to water and sanitation. In doing so, the judiciary may base judgments explicitly on the rights to water and/or sanitation. In other cases, judges arrive at the conclusion that other human rights are rendered meaningless without at least minimum levels of water and sanitation services.

This publication contains cases where rights to water and sanitation are derived from the rights to education, health and housing – none of which can be effectively realised without adequate water and sanitation services. Other cases speak to the importance of controlling pollution of the environment to safeguard human rights, including particularly the rights to health and water. The rights of indigenous peoples are dependent on both accessing water resources and their protection from contamination. The impact of extreme poverty on the realisation of rights to water and/or sanitation also becomes apparent in judgements which expose problems with affordability of services or a general neglect by the state to provide minimum levels of service. Last but not least, a number of cases concern racist practices where minority communities received inferior services or, in South African Courts, where the long-term impacts of apartheid still result in major inequalities in service provision.

This publication thereby shows that all human rights are interdependent, interconnected and indivisible. This gives the judiciary scope to base their judgements not only on the rights to water and/or sanitation, but also on other human rights.


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