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Indigenous peoples and local communities' water rights, international law and water security

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
4. Water policy and governance
Author(s): Alexander Otte
Blanca Jimenez-Cisneros
Mona Polacca
Darlene Sanderson
Mara Tignino

Alexander Otte
Division of Water Sciences, UNESCO
Blanca Jimenez-Cisneros
Division of Water Sciences, UNESCO
Mona Polacca
Indigenous World Forum for Water and Peace, Tucson, USA
Darlene Sanderson
Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, Canada
Mara Tignino
Geneva Water Hub/University of Geneva, Switzerland

Keyword(s): Indigenous peoples, local communities, water rights, international law, water security
Article: Oral:

Alexander Otte, Division of Water Sciences, UNESCO; Blanca Jimenez-Cisneros, Division of Water Sciences, UNESCO; Mona Polacca, Indigenous World Forum for Water and Peace, Tucson, USA; Darlene Sanderson, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, Canada; Mara Tignino, Geneva Water Hub/University of Geneva, Switzerland
The paper examines examples of current declarations and recommendations pertaining to salient water issues voiced by indigenous peoples and local communities and informed by indigenous and local systems of water-related knowledge, rights and obligations. This includes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007) and several non-governmental statements adopted at local, national or international level, among them
• Water is Life! Protect Water Now! Indigenous Declaration on Water, July 8th, 2001 Musqueam Territory.
• Indigenous Peoples Kyoto Water Declaration, Third World Water Forum, Kyoto, Japan, March 2003.
• Tlatokan Atlahuak Declaration, Declaration of the Indigenous Peoples Parallel Forum of the 4th World Water Forum, Mexico City, Mexico, March 17-18, 2006.
• Recommendations for the World Peace Forum, Vancouver, Canada, July, 2006.
• Declaration of the Peoples World Water Movement New Delhi, India January 2004.
• Several statements of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The paper analyzes those statements in the light of the human right to water, as recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2010, and takes into consideration the international development agenda, such as the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The sustainable development agenda strives to ensure, inter alia, water security for future generations. Indigenous and local systems of water-related knowledge, rights and laws have often helped to ensure sustainability of water use over long periods of time and continue to do so in diverse regions of the world. This inherited sustainability is presently not appropriately taken into account in current scientific, legal, economic and political approaches to sustainable development.
The paper examines the legal implications of statements and claims and their relation to principles and norms of international law enshrined in relevant conventions. It also compares key elements of values and practices that are rooted in the culture and language and the perceptions of water that they convey, in contrast to hegemonic practice and international discourse.
The weak recognition of indigenous rights constitutes a bias related to a twofold problematic. First, it contributes to maintaining many indigenous peoples and local communities in a state of marginalization often associated with poverty and lack of access to human rights, contradicting the SDGs' pledge to “leave no one behind”, guided by the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination. Second, by foregoing the diversification of knowledge platforms and institutions, mainstream water-related science, economic, legal and political practice often deprive the international action for water security of important means to better apprehend the complex dynamics of natural and social systems and to create more equitable and sustainable solutions.
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