Brussels,March 21, 2013 (PPI-OT): International Council for Human Rights (ICHR) and International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) in association with Phil Bennion MEP hosted an interactive dialogue and roundtable discussion entitled Thirsting for Justice at the Residence Palace.
The roundtable explored the prevailing situation and approach of the international fraternity towards the environmental concerns and human rights in relation with the water disputes.
It cited the existing lacunae and also posited the vitality of ensuring the human rights and quality environment. In this respect, the roundtable focused on the Indo-Pak water dispute and the Kashmir issue and the Israeli-Palestinian water dispute.
Wide range of participants included diplomats, personnel from the European Commission and the Parliament, UN representatives, NGO representatives, civil society leaders, human rights defenders and other interested parties.
Speakers included Barrister Abdul Majeed Tramboo, Chairman of ICHR and IHRAAM’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr. Phil Bennion, Member of the European Parliament, Ms. Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Helmut Scholz, Member of the European Parliament, Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl, Chairman of the International Chamber of Peace and Conciliation, Professor Ashok Swain, water expert from Uppsala University, Dr. Undala Alam, Indus Water Treaty expert from Warwick University, Dr. Nidal Salim, Director and founder of the Global Institute for Water Environment and Health (GIWEH), Mr. Almotaz Abadi, Special Advisor to the Palestinian Minister of Water Authority, Professor Haim Gvirtzman, the Institute of Earth Science at Hebrew University, Ms. Josephine Barbas, Legal Researcher in the Legal Research and Advocacy Department at Al-Haq Organisation, and Mr. Frank Schwalba-Hoth, Political Strategist and former Member of the European Parliament.
Chairing the first part of the event, Mr. Phil Bennion MEP thanked Barrister A. Majid Tramboo and ICHR for organising the event. He stated that the importance of water lies not only on its use in agriculture but also in washing, sewage, cleaning and in it is use for everyday activities.
He stressed that it is necessary to acknowledge the importance of cooperation when dealing with water resources given the existence of many cases where there are political problems between neighbouring countries sourced on the management of transboundary water. He affirmed that it is important to realize that water management can also mean an opportunity to increase collaboration.
In his opening remarks and moderating the roundtable, Barrister Tramboo thanked all the guests for participating in the event and invited the speakers to suggest recommendations for the situation of water in conflict.
Barrister Tramboo underlined that despite complex situations, record shows that water disputes can be handled diplomatically. Nevertheless, he accentuated that treaties still reveal significant weaknesses since it is countries themselves whom, at the end spell out the applicability of the conventions on their watersheds, so is the case of Pakistan and India and the overlooked role of Kashmir over the water dispute within the region.
Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl opened his intervention by affirming that, despite decades of attention, the Kashmir dispute remains one of the most persistent and heated conflicts in international relations.
He further elaborated on the current situation stating that water emanating from Kashmir has been gravely misused; more than 67 dams and barrages have been constructed by India in Indian Held Kashmir for the purposes of hydro electrical power generation; this has created many problems for Kashmir and Pakistan.
Prof. Shawl emphasized that Kashmiris have been deprived from their own resources by the limitations of the Indus Water Treaty and the desired flow to Pakistan is also threatened. He went on saying that Jammu & Kashmir has been stuck in a development rut that is largely responsible for the lack of stability and security that could play a critical role in the conflict resolution.
Professor Ashok Swain highlighted that despite the lack of trust between Pakistan and India there has been an agreement for more than 52 years. On the other hand, the treaty is 53 years old and it no longer takes the current reality into account.
He then stressed on the need to move forward onto a treaty that takes into consideration the Kashmiri needs and demands. He elaborated on how the damns can and are used for geo-strategic purposes but reminded that they also should be used to benefit the region as a whole.
He concluded that both India and Pakistan should come forward to renegotiate the Indus Water Treaty Agreement into a comprehensive and integrated form of basin management and establish a joint and independent river basin organisation, the benefit sharing of it will not be limited only to water resources; it might have other peace-enhancing effects and significantly contribute to the regional security and development.
It is high time now to move to the next stage in Indus river cooperation. Dr. Undala Alam emphasised that the Indus Treaty is the only one that has had the World Bank as signatory and that despite it being improbable it still is a remarkable treaty.
She particularized that the critical thing about water lies on the fact that it flows; hence water differentiates itself from gold, oil or coal because it cannot be contained, one can only have the illusion of containing it, it will always move on. She brought up the intergovernmental cooperation on the Senegal Basin as an example of outstanding cooperation.
Jean Lambert MEP referred to the 2007 European Parliament resolution on Kashmir and explained how it made reference to the Indus Water Treaty; it urged the Governments of India and Pakistan to resolve the crucial river issues affecting the use of the rivers flowing through Kashmir as swiftly as possible.
It also talked about water security and sustainable energy supply for the stability and growth of the region, and to consult the Kashmiri views over the river issues. She also addressed the issue from an ecological point of view stressing the effect pollution and climate change is having on the water conflict in South Asia. She also underlined the economic impact water and its quality has in cotton production, a huge sector in the region’s economy.
Helmut Scholz MEP began by giving the water dispute between Germany and the Czech Republic as an example of how cooperation on water is needed all around the globe. He highlighted that water is also highly important for transport and farming activities. As a member of the Committee on International Trade he remarked that, in relation to water, trade can offer a good opportunity to even economic differences between neighboring countries.
The roundtable discussed in its second part the Palestinian-Israeli water dispute and the human right to water and sanitation in the region. On behalf of the Palestinian Minister of Water, Mr. Almotaz Abadi gave the Palestinian official stand on water issues.
He stated that in the occupied State of Palestine severe water shortages and acute water quality problems continue to negatively affect the lives and livelihoods of more than 4.2 million of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He declared that without access to and control over their rightful share of the trans-boundary freshwater resources located in the occupied West Bank, and without an end to Israel’s punitive land, air and sea blockade over the Gaza Strip, Palestinians have little hope of improving their current economic situation and no hope of building a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.
Professor Haim Gvirtzman alleged that water supply under Jordanian Control over Palestine was far less developed than during Israel control. He elaborated on Israeli water control by declaring that 98% of Palestinian villages and towns are now connected to water supply provided by Israel’s water companies, therefore, water supply has tripled in comparison to Jordanian ruling.
Ms. Josephine Barbas gave a different approach to the discussion by addressing the topic under the terms of international law. She explained how the Oslo Accords of 1994 did not have the expected outcome since there was not any improvement of Palestinians access to water. She stated that 60% of the West Bank -thus the access to seawater- is controlled by Israel. She appealed that Palestinians have no access to their rightful water resources.
She further addressed the water dispute and Israel’s water control by analyzing it under 3 legal frameworks: the International Humanitarian Law, the International Human Rights Law and the International Water Law.
Dr. Nidal Salim described with figures how difficult it is to the Palestinians to access water and how the lack of accessibility is affecting their health.
He stated that destruction of water cisterns, wells and other essential water infrastructure, access to water has become a tool of disposition used by Israel to target some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the occupied Palestinian state resulting in forced displacement and that the current conflict is not between two equals but between one with all the power and another one who is not powerful and hence is being invaded.
Concluding the roundtable, Mr. Frank Schwalba-Hoth stated that development is one of the priorities of the EU over the last decades and indicates it clearly: in the fifties “water policy” was a non-issue, now it has become – in its different facettes – one of the key concerns of the EU.
We are confronted with armed conflicts as a consequence of water shortage and lack of respectful cross-border water arrangements; with a decrease of food production through depletion of aquafers; with health problems through water pollution; with social injustice through water privatisation.
What is needed is more regional cross-border water manangement and a push towards a new generation of desalinisation technology through decentralised units for local residents. He declared that the EU has to accept its leadership role in a sustainable water policy worldwide.
The roundtable panelists presented various recommendations which will be compiled in due course of time.
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