12 May 2010

Human rights FAIL

I sent my human rights paper to UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights and got this reply from the Special Procedures Branch (Water and Sanitation):*
General Comment No. 15 [pdf] is the authoritative interpretation of what the human right to water is under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
So what does GC15 (2003) say?
Water is a limited natural resource and a public good fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. The Committee has been confronted continually with the widespread denial of the right to water in developing as well as developed countries. Over one billion persons lack access to a basic water supply, while several billion do not have access to adequate sanitation, which is the primary cause of water contamination and diseases linked to water. The continuing contamination, depletion and unequal distribution of water is exacerbating existing poverty. States parties have to adopt effective measures to realize, without discrimination, the right to water, as set out in this general comment.
Fine words, but how do you get it implemented? How do you get "States parties" to listen?

Well, first you sing Kumbaya:
Water should be treated as a social and cultural good, and not primarily as an economic good. The manner of the realization of the right to water must also be sustainable, ensuring that the right can be realized for present and future generations
Uh, ok, "make it cultural" -- but make sure that your culture is a sustainable one. You know, the ones that take care of the helpless, like...
States parties should give special attention to those individuals and groups who have traditionally faced difficulties in exercising this right, including women, children, minority groups, indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, migrant workers, prisoners and detainees
Ok, so we have to make sure that prisoners and refugees get water. Uh, fine. And how do we do that? By giving people water or...
The obligation to respect requires that States parties refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right to water. The obligation includes, inter alia, refraining from engaging in any practice or activity that denies or limits equal access to adequate water; arbitrarily interfering with customary or traditional arrangements for water allocation; unlawfully diminishing or polluting water, for example through waste from State-owned facilities or through use and testing of weapons
Wait a sec? We can't ruin water with weapons testing? Whose laundry list is this?

Ok, so let's get serious. How do we implement this? What's the plan of action?
The strategy and plan of action should be devised, and periodically reviewed, on the basis of a participatory and transparent process; it should include methods, such as right to water indicators and benchmarks, by which progress can be closely monitored; the process by which the strategy and plan of action are devised, as well as their content, shall give particular attention to all disadvantaged or marginalized groups;
I get it. Hire bureaucrats. Like the ones who wrote this 18 page, 8,000 word manifesto.

But what if we don't? Are there any consequences for failure to comply with this?
To demonstrate compliance with their general and specific obligations, States parties must establish that they have taken the necessary and feasible steps towards the realization of the right to water. In accordance with international law, a failure to act in good faith to take such steps amounts to a violation of the right.
And then what? The Swiss army invades? Seriously. That's where it stops. They never get to "...and then what?"

Bottom Line: I have never read such a load of shit (and I've read a LOT of shit!) This top-down, "if wishes were horses," sanctimonious, unrealistic, self-serving crap not only wastes time, but it distracts us from getting the job done. I don't know who paid for this meaningless drivel, but I sure hope that they got champagne and hookers on the side, cause it's a black-hole of nonsense. Can we PLEASE get a realistic plan, a plan that consists of more than 8,000 words -- 60 clauses! -- of "do what we tell you"! Damn.

* 007 must stop by every so often...


Justin Kraus said...

Its a good thing you are not in the development/aid industry. The amount of "shit" there would kill you. From my reading of UN documents (which I try to limit to a bare minimum to protect my sanity) the one you are quoting sounds pretty par for the course.

W.E. Heasley said...

Now, now! No reason to get frustrated with the UN (Unified Nonsense). You see, this is what happens when you dawn the smurf-blue helmet and act as if you have authority. An authority based on no authority.

David Zetland said...

MR emails: "I agree with the author, yet feel there is more to the discussion. As she alludes to in the final paragraph of the PDF, there needs to be a social contract around access that does not exclude--it can set up structure to incentivize conservation, but cannot exclude.

This article also ignores who owns water. And I think water needs to be managed as a public trust as noone can really own it.

Therefore the costs should be for processing it and infrastructure to bring it to people. No profit."

David Zetland said...

@MR -- We have shortages b/c water is sold at cost today. The price has to greater to stop shortages. The extra revenue can go to useful things.

Ownership is not the issue, but gov't control is often worse than
private control...


David Zetland said...

MR emails: "A colleague studying water committees in Nicaragua had this to add :

"Yes, I agree that water should not be a source of profit. I think the article was intentionally limited in length/focus to get the point across that it does have a "cost," though I agree that the issue of who owns and controls water sources is super important -- and likely in practice relates to how water will be paid for (and how much) and who will have access.

A big problem in many countries (would be curious to know how experts in the States would comment on this) is that many large water users (producers in agricultural and industry, for example) do not pay for their water b/c they take it directly from underground or superficial sources. I think in NIcaragua, for example, it's really problematic that many businesses can exploit water without cost and often degrade the environment in the process.

Meanwhile, communities are struggling to have sustainable and clean local water sources and to pay enough on a familial/individual level to have sufficient community funds to be able to maintain water systems. Community efforts can easily be undermined by just a few actors who have harmful practices."

For me, I find it hard to put corporate control over government control. Both have their issues. The principle that is important is that this is a public resource and needs to not be used for private benefit."

David Zetland said...

@MR -- Good comment. I agree that some groups take advantage of cheap access...

Property rights, NOT public trust, are the solution to to this, especially in LDCs where corruption is a bigger problem.

As for "public resource and not for profit," I disagree. It's basic resource economics...

Anonymous said...

On-topic, I got nothin'. But I just have to say, I hate that "song" (Kumbaya) more than almost any sound made in the world. Reading UN documents like the "General Comment" is pleasant by comparison - merely soporific, not infuriating.

DFB said...

In other words, the UN is saying that your paper, and what it represents, must be put forth by one of its member states before it will take notice. The UN was intentionally set up in this way.

You are better off sending this to the IMF and World Bank where economists reside. They often require specific actions by governments before they release money. Similarly, the U.S. has several agencies that dole out money contingent upon changes to local law/custom. Perhaps those agencies would be interested and would attach strings to their funds to exact the changes you suggest.

David Zetland said...

@DFB -- good suggestion!

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