Elevating water rights to human rights: Has it strengthened marginalized peoples’ claim for water?

Project Team: Bruce Wilson, Lara Côrtes, Camila Gianela, Malcolm Langford, Siri Gloppen, Daniel Brinks, Jackie Dugard, Namita Wahi

Timeframe: 0000-00-00 - 0000-00-00

Abstract: Water scarcity remains a huge problem in many countries, especially where a growing population compete with demands for water from industry and agriculture. In 2010, a United Nations General Assembly resolution recognised the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right. However, the actual impact of this relatively new human right to water remains unknown. The project will analyse the effects of the 2010 UN resolution and establish how it has affected social movements and legal approaches to the right to water.

Background and purpose:

The main objective of this project is to understand the potential of rights-based strategies to secure access to clean water for marginalised populations. The project investigates whether states have become more accountable to their populations in providing access to clean water and protecting water sources. The Human Right to Water will be analysed to see whether it prompted a shift in law and policy towards water for human consumption, health and employment.

The team will examine whether the UN resolution has changed how water-related cases are taken to court and whether they now use the right to water as a main argument. The framing and interpretation of the UN resolution by the different courts will be researched. The social movements in each country will be examined to see how they have changed their approach after the UN resolution. The team will look at the strategies used by these movements, including media and online campaigns, marches and protests, and will assess whether they lobby politicians for their cause.

A multidisciplinary team, with expertise in law, political science, economics, anthropology, psychology and water resource management, will conduct five specific case studies (Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Peru and South Africa). As each selected case is different, the methodology will be adapted to fit the case. The team will undertake interviews and examine court cases and media coverage of water rights.

The project team aim to engage with the public, practitioners and scholars interested in water rights. This is reflected in the intended outputs of the project, which encompass news op-eds, public events, peer-review articles and policy briefs. The project will produce eleven articles for peer-reviewed international journals and an edited book on the human right to water. Team members will participate in panels at conferences, and organise public events and seminars, both in Norway and internationally. The project team will develop an open-access database of water rights related court cases in domestic and international tribunals.

Project outputs

Recent Publications:

For a full list of related publications, see here.

Public events:

E. Villarreal F, B. M. Wilson, K. Chacón Araya, A. R. Cover, A. Gutiérrez Arguedas, L. Merino Trejos, L. Heller, N. Hernández López. (2022). Book launch in Costa Rica (in Spanish). El agua como derecho humano: Reconocimientos y disputas en Costa Rica. Programa Estado de la Nación. 2022.

A. Restrepo-Mieth, A. M. Paez, A. Singh, B. M. Wilson, I. Winkler, Ch. Epp, N. Kovac, M. Pinzon. (2022). World Water Day: Stories of Local Water Governance. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2022.

A. M.  Paez Murcia, N. Wahi, A. Singh, R. Shiel. Elevating water rights to human rights: World Water Day. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2021.

M. Loen, I. Winkler, L. Côrtes. The Right to Water in National Constitutions. Master’s week. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2021.

B. M. Wilson, D. Brinks, C. Gianella, A. Singh, M. Langford, I. Winkler, R. Schiel, M. Loen. Water, Inequality, and Rights. Bergen Exchanges 2020. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2020.

L. Heller, B. M. Wilson, L. Côrtes, N. Wahi, E. Villareal, M. Langford, R. Schiel. The human right to water as a governance mechanism and political tool. Bergen Exchanges 2019. Keynote and roundtable discussion. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2019.

D. Brinks. Legal opportunity structures and the right to water. A Pokemon theory of rights effectiveness. Bergen Exchanges 2018. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2018.

For a full list of public events, see here.

Conference papers/presentations/lectures: 

  • K. Hamann, C. Faulkner. Women’s Political Representation and the Human Right to Water. Law and Society Association Annual Conference, Lisbon, Portugal. July 2022.
  • K. Hamann, C. Faulkner, and B. M. Wilson. Women’s Political Representation and the Human Right to Water. SPSA Annual Conference. San Antonio, TX, January 2022.
  • K. Hamann, C. Faulkner. Women in Elected Office and the Human Right to Water. American Political Science Association, Montreal, September 15-18, 2022.
  • A. M. Páez. Regulatory governance, human rights and the case of community-run water   plants in Colombia. Presentation at the Centre of Policy Research (CPR) – state Capacity Initiative. 2022. 
  • D. Brinks, B. M. Wilson, A. Singh. The Decentered Construction of Global Rights: Lessons from the Human Right to Water. American Political Science Association Annual Meeting. 2021.
  • D. Brinks, A. Singh. Right to Water. Meet the Author session. PhD Course: Effects of Lawfare. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2021.
  • J. Dugard. Water rights struggles in Johannesburg and Detroit revisited: Looking beyond courts at the politics and power of rights-based legal mobilization. EADI ISS Conference 2021: Solidarity, peace and social justice. The European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes Opens external (EADI) and the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) General Conference on Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice. Virtual.  5-8 July, 2021.
  • J. Dugard. Water rights struggles in Johannesburg and Detroit revisited: Looking beyond courts at the politics and power of rights-based legal mobilization. Law and Society Association Annual Meeting. 2021.
  • J. Dugard. Water scarcity – the ethical challenge: A perspective from Cape Town’s Day Zero crisis (2017-2018). Expert Workshop on Professional Ethical Judgment. 2021.
  • I. T. Winkler. The Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Lecture for the UN Audiovisual Library (A virtual training and research centre in international law). 9 June, 2021. Virtual.
  • I. T. Winkler, J. K. Ward. The human right to water in the US. Global Leadership School of Indigenous Women, Program on Human Rights and International Advocacy Skills. 2021.

For a full list, see here.

Other outputs:

  • E. Villarreal F. Podcast “El agua como derecho humano: reconocimientos y disputas”. Podcast 5 en 10 del Programa Estado de la Nación. 2022.
  • A. Singh. Water and Federalism: Working with States for Water Security. World Bank. 2020.
  • K. Obando, E. Villarreal Fernandez. Extracción textual automatizada de la jurisprudencia de la Sala Constitucional: el derecho al agua. Base de datos de jurisprudencia de la Sala Constitucional relacionada con conflictos por el agua. Programa Estado de la Nación. 2020.

Project workshops:

  • Project Virtual Writing Retreat, August 2-6. 2021.
  • Book Project Workshop, part. 1. Water Rights as Social Construction. 2020.
  • Book Project Workshop, part 2. Water Rights as Social Construction. 2020.
  • Book Project Workshop, part 3. Water Rights as Social Construction. 2020.
  • Project workshop. Bergen Exchanges 2019. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2019.
  • Project workshop. Bergen Exchanges 2018. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2018.
  • Project inception workshop. Bergen Exchanges 2017. CMI-UiB Centre on Law and Social Transformation. 2017.