CORDIS - EU research results

Water/human rights beyond the human? Indigenous water ontologies, plurilegal encounters and interlegal translation

Project description

Water as a human right

The neoliberalisation of nature, and water in particular, has triggered protests among indigenous peoples worldwide, accompanied by a looming human rights debate. In 2010, the UN recognised water as a human right. New Zealand, India and Colombia granted legal rights to rivers in 2017, setting pioneering legal standards. The EU-funded RIVERS project will research whether international human rights law can effectively address pluri-legal water actualities. It will analyse diverse realities of indigenous people's relations with water and will discuss inter-legal applications at various water sites at local and international levels. RIVERS will research indigenous people's perception of water as a natural resource and human right, and the related UN human rights system, towards new ways of conceptualising water and human rights.


RIVERS’s main challenge is to produce ground-breaking knowledge, from an empirical, interdisciplinary and dialoguing perspective, about the contentions and challenges intrinsic to reconceptualising human rights with different ways of understanding and relating to water. Worldwide, indigenous peoples are mobilising against the neoliberalisation of nature, demonstrating radically different ways of knowing, being and living. At the same time, in 2010 the UN acknowledged water as a human right, while in 2017 New Zealand, India and Colombia established ground-breaking legal precedents by granting rivers human rights. RIVERS’s overarching research question is: To what extent can international human rights law come to grips with plurilegal water realities? This project engages with one of the most pressing questions of this century: the relationship between humans and nature. RIVERS tackles two intertwined core objectives: 1) analysing different ways of knowing and relating to water and life among indigenous peoples and their understanding of its (potential) violation by extractive projects; 2) discussing the contributions, challenges and pitfalls of interlegal translation of differing water natures in plurilegal encounters at domestic and international levels. RIVERS will develop a multi-sited analysis and empirical case-studies in three contexts: Colombia, Nepal and the UN human rights protection system. Through the lens of legal pluralism, this will foreground competing political and legal water realities that interrogate dominant understandings of the modern world. RIVERS will address two interrelated research challenges: 1) indigenous visions/practices: beyond water as a natural resource and human right; 2) the UN human rights system: towards counter-hegemonic water knowledge production. This project will pioneer new ways of thinking about water beyond the modern divides of nature/culture, providing clues about future paths towards reconceptualising human rights.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 498 446,00
28903 Getafe (Madrid)

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Comunidad de Madrid Comunidad de Madrid Madrid
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 498 446,00

Beneficiaries (2)