On Wednesday 16 Nov 2011 a Panel convened by Stakeholder Forum met to discuss the relationship between Human Rights-Based Approaches (RBAs) and the Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus.
The panellists were Manfred Konukiewitz, (Deputy Director General, Global and Sectoral Policies and Commissioner for Climate Policy, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development), Shanta Sheela Nair (Vice Chair, State Planning Commission in the Department of Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India), Danielle Morley (Executive Director of Freshwater Action Network), and Sena Alouka (Executive Director of Jeunes Voluntaires pour l'Environnement). This session followed a "Question Time" format where the panel responded to questions from the floor and online (via live stream and messenger module) and was moderated by Richard Black, BBC Environmental Correspondent.
The panel discussion touched upon a range of issues, chief among them the yawning gap between entitlements embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the situation on the ground in developing countries. Both a lack of resources and an absence of appropriate policies and political will were blamed for the inability of individuals in developing countries to retrieve their rights, while the point was also made that human rights are typically equated with 'negative' entitlements such as protection from violence and discrimination rather than demands for direct, 'positive' government intervention. At the same time, it was discussed that a very important element of RBAs is to empower individuals to take action themselves by making rights claims. This includes having governance arrangements that allow them to adequately participate and access justice and remedy for economic, social and cultural rights.
The panellists sought to emphasise the importance of participatory and democratic decision-making, while stressing that people should be empowered to exercise ownership over their own resources. Working through a RBA means that the focus will be primarily on the people who are most disenfranchised and poor, therefore decisions need to be made prioritising their needs.
The issue of who should bear responsibility for rights claims was frequently returned to, with the potential obligations of transnational corporations explored; while the difficulties of calling transnational entities to account was acknowledged, the consensus was that while not the only entity commonly to infringe upon individuals' rights, the private sector should shoulder a significant part of the burden.
Above all, it was stressed that successfully negotiating the tradeoffs involved in guaranteeing water, energy and food security will necessarily require extensive stakeholder engagement and dialogue, and that RBAs can function as a key driver of participation by empowering communities and creating partnerships. In this sense, RBAs are more than just a mechanism for legal redress, and can work to strengthen the capacity for water, energy and food security alongside investment and alternative forms of capacity development.