Ecumenicals on Rio 20: Human Rights Positives Despite Overall Disappointment

(UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata)Some of the flags of United Nations Member States fly before the General Assembly building at the headquarters site in New York.

Despite a negative overall assessment, a joint statement by governments at the Rio 20 sustainability conference in Brazil last month includes positive aspects, such as human rights guarantees to water and sanitation entirely missing from a 1992 declaration, ecumenical advocates say.

Dr. Guillermo Kerber, a WCC executive on creation and climate justice issues said governments missed some major opportunities by reaching for the lowest common denominator.

"The outcome document of Rio 20 does not reflect the urgency of threats to life on earth as presented by the scientific community," Dr. Kerber said in a statement.

"The international community, having been unable to reach a consensus, opted for the lowest common denominator, avoiding any controversial issues. As a result, the earth loses, and the poor and vulnerable lose," he said, referring to why religious groups mostly rejected the final document as an effective instrument of change.

Ecumenical advocates say an affirmation of human rights guarantees to water and sanitation are bright spots.

"In the original 1992 Rio conference outcome, human rights were entirely lacking", Peter Prove, executive director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) told the World Council of Churches. "But this time the text is full of rights language, covering the rights to food, to health – including sexual and reproductive health, to water and sanitation, to education, to social security, labor rights and the right to development."

The document's stance on food and agriculture issues were "generally better than feared," said Christine Campeau, EAA Food Campaign Coordinator.

She said that "explicit commitments concerning smallholder farmers, traditional seed supply systems, empowering rural women, addressing food price volatility, increased investment in sustainable agriculture and reducing post-harvest losses and food waste, as well as affirmations of the human right to food and of the role of the Committee on World Food Security - it gives us something to work with."

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