PBI highlights the importance of the human rights to water and sanitation during COVID-19 pandemic

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Various Peace Brigades International entities have highlighted in their social media posts the importance of upholding human rights during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of those posts have drawn attention to the rights to water and sanitation.


On March 22, PBI-Mexico shared this post from Onudh Mexico that states, “Washing your hands is essential to contain the spread of #COVID19 and many other infectious diseases. Unfortunately, almost three billion people in the world have no way to wash their hands against coronavirus.”


On March 23, PBI-Colombia posted, “Since the 21 March in prisons across Colombia inmates have been protesting demanding better conditions, particularly in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and the control measures being put in place within penitentiary centres by the government.”

Along with that post it shared this Open Letter to President Iván Duque from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), an organization it accompanies.

That letter states, “Many prisons do not have a constant water supply, which prevents routine cleaning of the body, common spaces and cells.”

On March 25, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated, “Authorities should examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders.”


On March 23, PBI-Guatemala shared this message from imprisoned human rights defender Bernardo Caal Xol who says, “Guatemalan families must have plenty of water so they can prevent this pandemic, also because it is a human right to have the vital liquid. Water is not business.”

PBI-Guatemala also shared this post from Colectivo Madreselva that says, “COVID-19 is leaving us great lessons as a society. One of them is the need to prioritize access to water for all people. …Let’s demand the role of environmental defenders, prioritize the human right to water for all, let’s boost solidarity and collective care.”


On March 24, PBI-UK posted, “Our friends at the Social Justice Centre Working Group point out ‘that the government’s measures to tackle the coronavirus do not take into consideration the varying levels of need, especially those of vulnerable populations in’ Kenya.”

Among the measures the Social Justice Centre Working Group is seeking at this critical time is for “the government to restore water supply to all slums and to crack down on water cartels that extort Kenyans.”

PBI-UK comments, “PBI will always support human rights defenders standing up for the basic rights of vulnerable communities to water and sanitation.”

Human rights defenders at continued risk

PBI-Honduras posted this UN statement that states, “[Emergency declarations] should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders.”

And PBI-Mexico shared this post that says, “Without losing sight of the importance of adopting measures to contain the virus, the Inter-American Commission informs that it will continue to [monitor] the human rights situation in the region [while conforming to new guidelines].”

But at least four human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia in recent days, including Marco Rivadeneira in Putumayo.

In response, PBI-Colombia has tweeted, “We express our concern about the murder of defender Marco Rivadeneira and about the serious risk situation experienced by communities and social leaders in Putuymayo, and Colombia. Our solidarity with your family.”

Deepening this concern, The Guardian has reported, “Activists fear that a nationwide quarantine – to be imposed on Wednesday [March 25] – has put them in a deadly bind. Moving around puts them at risk of infection, but staying in one place makes them sitting targets.”

Additionally, our Canadian ally the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network has tweeted, “We remain greatly concerned for Guatemalans, including our organizational partners. The 4pm curfew, for instance, has already led to 1500 being arrested in Guatemala.”

At this time, PBI-Canada reiterates the message from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights who stated on March 6, “COVID-19 is a test for our societies, and we are all learning and adapting as we respond to the virus. Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought.”

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