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Principles on free expression and rights to water and sanitation launched on eve of World Water Day

A boy collects drinking water for his family in a slum on the outskirts of Lahore, 21 March 2014. World Water Day will be marked on 22 March
A boy collects drinking water for his family in a slum on the outskirts of Lahore, 21 March 2014. World Water Day will be marked on 22 March

REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

On the eve of World Water Day, ARTICLE 19 launches The Free Flow Principles: Freedom of Expression and Rights to Water and Sanitation. The Principles, developed in cooperation with experts and activists from around the world, provide guidance to policy makers and activists on how freedom of expression and information can help secure the rights to water and sanitation.

"While the rights to water and sanitation have been recognised in international law, much more work needs to be done if people across the world are to be able to realise those rights. Freedom of expression and access to information play a crucial role in claiming them," said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"Information and freedom of speech empower people. People must be given access to information about water and sanitation, water-related resources and management. They must be able to voice their concerns on these issues and be able to participate in water and sanitation related decision making," added Hughes.

The way forward

The Free Flow Principles makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • Public bodies and private entities must ensure that the public has access to reliable and accurate information about water and sanitation, as well as effective measures that facilitate the sharing of that information.
  • All decision-making relating to the rights to water and sanitation must be democratic and transparent and represent the needs of those affected.
  • States must create an enabling environment for individuals to realise their right to freedom of expression in relation to water and sanitation through a variety of means of communication. This includes traditional media, digital media, community media, social networks and mobile telephony.
  • States must ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and activists who raise issues relating to water and sanitation can work safely without the fear of physical violence, harassment or intimidation or indiscriminate abuse through criminal and civil proceedings.
  • States must ensure that individuals and groups are free to voice their opinions, concerns and demands relating to the rights to water and sanitation through peaceful protest.
  • States should support the active, free and meaningful participation of individuals and groups in decision-making processes at a national, regional and local level.0

The Free Flow Principles also makes a series of recommendations for other actors, including international bodies, media, donor agencies and private bodies active in water and sanitation sectors.

Reaction to the Free Flow Principles:

Experts and activists who participated in the drafting of the Principles comment:

Amadou Kanoute, CICODEV, Senegal:

"Two years ago we heard through the media about the government's plan to overhaul the institutional framework of the water delivery service in Senegal. The planned move from a service contract to a 25-year concession to a private company, would have meant a 41% increase on the tariff of water and would have made it difficult for disadvantaged consumers to access such an essential service. Just having that information and then being able to expose it pushed the government to revert. But what could have happened in Senegal has already taken place in many other countries in Africa, without notice and without people being given the opportunity to air their views. In our case we were lucky to have a free press to alert us. The Free Flow Principles – specifying obligations of states in regard to right to know, right to be heard, right to speak, public participation and transparency – will be useful to all advocacy efforts on rights to water and sanitation."

Vanessa Lucena Empinotti, Environmental Governance Research Group at PROCAM/IEE/University of São Paulo, Brazil:

"The Free Flow Principles will be instrumental in increasing transparency practices and access to information in the field of water resources. Particularly in Brazil, The Principles will reinforce the participatory and decentralized water institutions already in place and consequently increase their influence over the State and private sector. Access to information is critical to ensuring equitable access to water and sanitation."

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Coast Trust, Bangladesh:

"In Bangladesh, we are in the midst of a drinking water crisis in both coastal and urban areas, mostly due to climate change. The situation is particularly critical for women who, in carrying the burden of providing for their families, are the worst to suffer. These Principles will be an invaluable tool for communities and civil society activists advocating for better governance."

Mohamad Mova Al'Afghani, Center for Water Governance, Indonesia:

"In Indonesia, disclosure in water and sanitation sector is minimal. Contracts are often kept secret and water governance tends to be implemented in a highly technical, exclusive and elitist manner. Problems relating to water are not simply about pipes and infrastructures. They are about how people resolve disputes amongst themselves and how they are able to relate themselves to the environment. If water democracy is to be realized, the public must be enabled to participate meaningfully in the process. The Principles will help empower people to do so."

Scott Griffen, International Press Institute, Austria:

"These Principles reflect an increasing recognition of the link between development and freedom of expression. By assisting journalists to define those rights and seek to improve and promote journalistic coverage of development issues, The Principles will very much compliment our efforts to guide journalists in their reporting of development issues. We look forward to distributing The Free Flow Principles to our network."

Download the principles.
free_flow_principles_a19.pdf (124 KB)

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