The Court’s first ruling on Roma’s access to safe water and sanitation in Hudorovic et al. v. Slovenia: reasons for hope and worry

This blogpost is written by Valeska David who is an Affiliated Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University and Assistant Professor of International Law at University of Navarra. She has recently published the book ‘Cultural Difference and Economic Disadvantage in Regional Human Rights Courts: An Integrated View’ (Intersentia, 2020).

On 10 March 2020, the Strasbourg Court delivered its judgment in Hudorovic et al. v. Slovenia (App. nos. 24816/14 and 25140/14). The case deals with two complaints from Roma families who have been living in informal settlements without access to water, sanitation, sewage, and electricity for decades. The Court has previously dealt with the living conditions of Roma irregular settlements (e.g. Winterstein and Yordanova) as well as with the contamination of water resources resulting in health and environmental risks (e.g. Dzemyuk and Dubetska). This is the first time, however, that it has to examine whether the right to access safe drinking water and sanitation is protected by the Convention (particularly under Article 8 ECHR). This important question is furthermore posed in relation to the social group most affected by inequality in access to water in the first European country to make water a constitutional right. The case understandably attracted third party interventions from the European Roma Rights Centre and the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, the latter available here.

Access to clean water and sanitation might sound too basic to be an issue in today’s Europe. But the truth is that securing universal access to such essential goods continues to be a pending challenge, especially for Roma people. At a time in which the European Parliament and the Council are discussing the adoption of a so-called Drinking Water Directive,[1] the Strasbourg Court is being called to play its part. The Court can significantly contribute to develop common minimum standards to ensure that everyone, especially those historically discriminated against can effectively enjoy water rights in Europe. From this perspective, however, this post argues that the judgment in Hudorovic offers a mixed picture, one of both hope and worry. Before explaining why, I shall briefly summarise the facts of the case and the Court’s findings.   Continue reading