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Partial Victory in Mexico on the Human Right to Water

October 17, 2011

The Habitat International Coalition (HIC-AL), a UUSC partner in Mexico, has won partial victory in one of the cases they brought to hold the government of Mexico accountable for violations of the human right to water. As a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Mexico has human-right-to-water obligations. However, many communities in Mexico lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation. HIC-AL brought three cases on behalf of residents — represented by three courageous women — of Ampliacion Tres de Mayo, a community that was cut off a water network by the local water authority. Because of this, residents of Ampliacion Tres de Mayo relied on bottled water for drinking and cooking, and spent a significant portion of their income on water.

In the decision, the first in the history of Mexico on the human right to water, the court agreed with HIC-AL that access to safe drinking water is a human right to which Mexico has obligations. However, the court tied the right to water to ownership of property, when it concluded that the applicant, Maria Carlota Guzman, does not have a legal interest in the property for which she sought a water connection. HIC-AL has described this as a very strange interpretation of the human right to water.

On our part, we believe that the court made the conclusion in error because every individual has a right to water whether they own property or not. Nonetheless, this is a partial victory for UUSC, HIC-AL, and the community, because we have obtained the first judicial recognition of the human right to water in Mexico. This comes ahead of a bill presently before local congresses in Mexico that seeks to make access to water and sanitation a human right. In addition, because of the pressure these cases brought on the local water authority, the municipality recently installed a water line in Ampliacion Tres de Mayo, and residents of the community now receive water twice a week. This is less than what HIC-AL and the community asked for, and it certainly does not fulfill the human right to water, but they are mindful of the fact that the community had no access to water when HIC-AL and UUSC intervened. Therefore, they are very proud of the progress they have made. HIC-AL is now working hard to make sure a decision that connects the human right to water to property ownership is not repeated as another case comes up for hearing this October. 

Meanwhile, HIC-AL is a member of the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (COMDA), which is working on the bill that will guarantee everyone in Mexico the right to water and sanitation. The bill recently passed the Mexican Senate and is now up for approval by local congresses. According to CODMA, more than 10 million Mexicans are not connected to a public water supply.

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