On Wednesday, 26 November, the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico issued its judgment in Lidia Velazquez Reynoso (Case No. 49/2014), determining that the constitutional and international obligations for the human right to water requires that each person receive “sufficient” water: 50–100 liters per person per day.
The decision followed international standards set by the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and best practices. The Court also found that each person has a right to sanitation.
In its decision, the Court considered the serious grounds presented by a team of pro bono lawyers coordinated by the Habitat International Coalition, Latin America Office (HIC-AL) and the amicus curiae of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico. The Reynoso case is a series of decisions before the Court presenting the question of whether a lower court’s decision on the fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation obligations was correct.
On 6 January 2014, the Fourth District Court, a federal district court in the State of Morelos, had held that the municipality had fulfilled the first ruling on the human right to water and sanitation in 2012 (revision 381/2011).
In the ruling of April 2012, the Second Collegiate Tribunal of the 18th Circuit determined that the human right to water and sanitation acknowledged in the Article 4 of the Constitution of Mexico is violated by the absence of water mains, water facilities and sanitation in the community of Ampliacion Tres de Mayo, Alpuyeca (Xochitepec, Morelos). The Second Collegiate Tribunal of the 18th Circuit with the authority to enforce the decision, ordered the constitutional protection be fulfilled and required the responsible authorities to comply with the right to access drinking water and sanitation of the complainant, Miss Lidia Velazquez Reynoso.
As a result, the Drinking Water Supply utility of the municipality then installed a poor-quality service line (with characteristics of that of a single, over ground small volume plastic hose). The utility delivers the “vital liquid,” in a limited way, only once per week at an undetermined time, and for only three hours in a variable flow. This practice occurs in various parts of the country and other parts of the state of Morelos.
Notwithstanding these facts, the Fourth District Court of the State of Morelos determined that the human right to water of Miss Velazquez Reynoso was fulfilled with this insufficient level of service. However, the Court’s decision in January 2014 failed to establish a legal minimum standard for the human right to water to implement this right as established in the Constitution and in the international human rights law. The Constitution and international law requires that drinking water be “sufficient, salubrious, and affordable.” The January 2014 decision also made the mistake of confusing the right to sanitation and the quality of water as being the same.
Following January 2014 Fourth District Court’s decision, Miss Velazquez Reynoso filed her case on 16 January 2014, contesting the decision’s lack of conformity with constitutional and international law.
Lawyers for Miss Velasquez Reynoso argued that a Court charged with protecting human rights cannot find that the human right to water is “being complied with” when a family of four receives water approximately three hours a week, since that level of service does not provide the family with even 750 liters in total. The Court found that the town of Xochitepec, the municipality, holds a grant of the right of exploitation of subterranean waters with an annual volume of 505,402 cubic meters and, according to the Statistic, Geographic and Computer Science Institute (INEGI), the town has a population of 8,330 habitants, whereas each inhabitant should be able to count upon 166 liters of water per day.
Miss Velazquez Reynoso’s situation does not meet the demands of water being sufficient and available as established respectively by the Constitution and international law as defined in General Comment No. 15, adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations. Miss Velazquez Reynoso’s water service does not conform to the international standards for drinking water of the World Health Organization, which considers the minimum sufficient amount of drinking water as 50 to 100 liters of water per person per day.
On 18 June 2014, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice decided to take up the question presented by Miss Velazquez Reynoso’s case (5/2014). The ruling last week was written by Minister Cossío with the unanimous decision of the other ministers on the bench, concluding that the case filed by Miss Velazquez Reynoso was well founded.
The Court found that it is not enough simply to attest that a single faucet installed in the household of the complainant fulfilled the right, and that “it is illogical to say that the human right to water was met by only providing a minute of water a week,” and that “the [lower court findings were] to be analyzed to a much more profound level, in order to determine if the water distribution was effectively accomplished in an equitized matter and according to the standards of the World Health Organization and, departing from there, determine if the [right] was fulfilled or not.” In relation to the human right to sanitation and according to international human rights law, it was acknowledged by the Court that this should be understood as a system for the “gathering, transferring, treatment, and elimination or reusing of human excrement” and its respective component, protecting health and hygiene.
The Supreme Court ruling revoked the decision of 6 January 2014 and ordered the authority to comply with the decision and verify that the “vital liquid” is being granted to the complainant under the standards thus established.
The Supreme Court’s decision, like the ruling that acknowledged the violation of the human right to water and sanitation in 2012, benefits all of the families that live in Ampliacions Tres de Mayo, four of whom (including the complainant) had filed various law suits since 2010, demanding their human rights to life, health and shelter, which had been violated, and their right to safe drinking water and sanitation. This victory and its collective effects could benefit more people and families in similar situations in other parts of the country.
For more information contact:
Maria Silvia Emanuelli (HIC-AL)
Tel: +55 121–586
Email : email@example.com
Rodrigo Gutiérrez (Colectivo RADAR)
Tel: +56 227–474 ext. 1212
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mario Mejía Kargl
Tel: +55 52 86 65 78
Mercedes Irais Navarrete
Lenin Zabre Zuloaga
Tel: +55 436–177