Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice sets precedent on the human right to water and sanitation in Reynoso case


Mexico, Federal District, December 5,

• For the first time the Court establishes that the human
right to water is violated if a person receives less than 100 liters a day
• The Court finds
for the right to sanitation and defines the right according to international
human rights law

OnWednesday, November 26, the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico issued its
judgment in the Lidia Velazquez Reynoso case (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 the 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. The Fourth District Court, a
federal district court from the state of Morelos, held on January 6th 2014 that
the municipality had fulfilled the first ruling on 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 4th article 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 January 16th, 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, where 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 June 18th, 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 revokes the decision
from January 6th, 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
which (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

Maria Silvia Emanuelli (HIC-AL), 55 12 15 86 y, Mylai Burgos, 55540348 y and Rodrigo Gutiérrez
56227474 ext. 1212 and (Colectivo RADAR), Mario Mejía Kargl 55
52 86 65 78 and, Mercedes Irais Navarrete, Lenin Zabre Zuloaga 55 43 61 77 and