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UN Independent Expert on Water and Sanitation as a Human Right Deserves Criticism

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Recently, the UN Independent Expert on Water and Sanitation as a Human Right went on a fact-finding tour of the United States and released a press statement. "I call for legal action to change the status of unrecognized and terminated tribes to enable all American Indians to gain the respect, privileges, religious freedom, and land and water rights to which they are entitled," she stressed, calling on the US to ensure that water and sanitation are available at a price people can afford. said UN independent expert Catarina de Albuquerque, who is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to examine human rights obligations for access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

It is significant to see that the language of the California Green Party plank on Water Planning includes a declaration that the GPCA "Uphold the water and land rights established under the Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo and the sovereign claims of Native American bands, tribes, rancherias, reservations, Mission Indians, and non-federally recognized bands and tribes." The Green Party of California supports the efforts of all Native Americans to their claims and rights to land and resources as paramount in all water rights issues. Further, it proposes to cut through the legal and administrative processes of the Interior Department by acknowledging the rights of those bands and tribes who have made claims as remnant tribes and bands.

That being said, the Independent expert deserves criticism for lacking a substantial input process upon which to base her conclusion. She had 8-9 people in Sacramento testify. Her press statement did not reflect the limited input provided and the input provided did not justify the issue of discrimination being the sole focal point, as she raised it in her press statement. Green, Martin Zehr, testified and submitted a 7 page review of the relation between regional water planning and water as a human right. Included in the written review, it was noted that Greens in Detroit have also been active in opposing water shutoffs due to economic distress and the impact of the depression in Detroit.

Also testifying were representatives of the Unitarian-Universalists. Debbie Davis of the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water testified concerning the contamination of public water supplies in the Central Valley of California. The effort of the UN Independent expert pales in comparison with the recent publication of the Public Policy Institute of California of the study entitled: MANAGING CALIFORNIA'S WATER: FROM CONFLICT TO RECONCILIATION. I attended the release on the study in Sacramento on February 24th. It is a shame that these two events, that were held so close to each other in time and place, were not able to contribute to the efforts of the other.

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Chief Gary Harrison, who organized the Alaska leg of the Peace and Dignity Journeys, was also there to testify. Chief Gary ran with me in 1996 in the Peace and Dignity Journey, a Native American cross-continental spiritual run . He testified and submitted a paper to the UN Independent Expert on Water and Sanitation.

Traditional Chief Gary Harrison stated: "International standards like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognize our inherent sacred right to protect our water and keep it clean for the animals, fish and future generations of our Nation. Our right to water is the same as our right to life. We can't sit back and allow our human right to water to be violated again."


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I am a Green Party member who lives in San Francisco. I have been active in water planning in the Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico. I write political articles on the need for third parties, the contemporary failures of public education, the (more...)

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