Pedro Arrojo-Agudo was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2020 and started his mandate last November. His role is to monitor, advise, and report on issues pertaining to the human rights to water and sanitation.
Previously, from 2016 to 2019, Arrojo-Agudo served as an elected member of the Spanish Parliament. In 2002, Arrojo-Agudo co-founded the New Water Culture Foundation, an Iberian non-profit organization with more than 200 members from academia, public administration and stakeholders in the water sector, which aims to promote a change towards a new water culture.
What is the key difference between acknowledging water and sanitation as basic human needs and ensuring them as human rights?
By declaring drinking water and sanitation as human rights, a legal obligation is established for all states to guarantee these rights to all people on their respective territories and elsewhere they may have jurisdiction. Conversely, this means that people can claim the effective fulfilment of these rights from the respective governments.
Unfortunately, we have not provided the necessary tools for the United Nations to effectively monitor and enforce this area of international human rights law and therefore it is the governments that must ensure that human rights obligations are implemented and enforced at the domestic and international level, under the moral and political pressure of the United Nations and the demands of the respective populations.
As the newly appointed special rapporteur, what are your goals and what is of particular importance to you?
I have multiple concerns that I want to work on throughout my tenure, including the empowerment of women as promoters and defenders of the human rights to water and sanitation, the fulfilment of these rights for indigenous peoples, and reinforcing the support for human rights defenders who are often threatened and even killed, like my friend Bertha Cáceres in Honduras.
The situation of climate migrants and refugees in refugee camps and the suburbs of big cities is something I want to address as a challenge for a future which we are already starting to experience. I am also deeply concerned about the commodification of water, especially after knowing that water recently started trading in Wall Street’s futures markets. Last but not least, I want to draw attention to sanitation in impoverished rural areas, especially for women and girls.
One of my goals will be to empower movements, giving them the greatest possible visibility in their concrete struggles for the human rights to water and sanitation.
Is there a unique role of faith and faith-based organizations in promoting the human rights to water and sanitation?
I think that religious beliefs have much to contribute to the fight for the effective implementation of human rights in the world, insofar as they are based on the transcendent defence of ethical principles. In particular, I believe that the management of water, as the blue soul of life, and the management of rivers, aquifers, lakes and wetlands as the arteries and veins that give life to territories, demand an ethical approach that preserves the health and sustainability of these ecosystems.
Water is also the basis of the social cohesion of communities. In fact, the key factor of any human settlement is the proximity of a river, a lake, a source or the possibility of wells that offer water from aquifers. Again, from this social perspective, water management must be based on ethical principles that make it possible to guarantee solidarity, public health and social cohesion.
Faced with the simplistic vision generated by the financialization of life, and the commodification of water, the enhancement of spirituality and the values and ethical principles cultivated by the different religions can have an enormous social projection, and more so if we are able to project an inter-religious message.
What message do you have for the members of the WCC Ecumenical Water Network for their endeavour as promoters of the human right to water?
My proposal is in this question: How could we promote a joint interreligious appeal in favour of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and denouncing the financialization of life and the commodification of water?