Stay tuned - The Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure


Noting the devastating consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Secretary-General has appealed to all warring parties around the world to commit to “global ceasefire”. To contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, the United Nations General Assembly also adopted a resolution calling for international cooperation, among other things, to improve access to clean water and sanitation. As attacking water infrastructure is attacking an entire way of life, the centrality of water and water infrastructure to combat such pandemic could not be overstated. In particular, the World Health Organization recommended that the provision of water, sanitation, and health services (WASH) is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its report “A Matter of Survival”, the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace underlined the adverse consequences of armed conflicts on water resources and infrastructures. In collaboration with other actors, the Geneva Water Hub developed the “Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure”. It is the first of its kind in systematizing and formulating the main rules applicable to the protection of water infrastructure during armed conflicts, as well as pre- and post-conflict situations in a single document. The Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure followed a holistic approach in integrating relevant rules and principles from different branches of international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law, international environmental law and international water law. Thus, the Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure restates the binding rules of international law on both states and non-state actors as parties to a conflict. It addresses the protection of water resources and infrastructures, humanitarian personnel working therein, and also portrays links between water, health care, environment and post-conflict peacebuilding. It is meant to serve as a reference for parties to armed conflicts, international organizations and other practitioners.

The current phase of the project aims at assessing how the principles identified are operationalized in national legal frameworks; what mechanisms are in place to monitor the enforcement of the rules; and what accountability mechanisms, if any, have been used to address violations thereof at the national level. Since January 2020, the Geneva Water Hub has started follow-up activities of the Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure which focus on the ‘Promotion of respect for and implementation of international law in relation to water during and after armed conflicts’. It explores how water, water infrastructure and water-related infrastructure, damage thereto and protection thereof, are taken into account in the decision-making process during the conduct of hostilities. And, also how we could improve their protection, including through facilitating the implementation of the Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure. To that end, a thorough examination will be made into national legal frameworks including legislations, regulations, military manuals, domestic case laws, and as available, measures taken by armed groups towards the protection of water resources and water infrastructure.

(Photo credit: Catholic Agency for Overseas Development)