After eight years of litigation, on January 27, 2011, the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana won the right to access borehole water in their ancestral lands located in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The victory came when a court of appeals unanimously struck down a lower court ruling that had previously denied the Bushmen access to the borehole (Court’s Decision).
Although the decision was not predicated on a human right to water, the court referred to General Comment 15 of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (here), and the 2010 UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation (here) (which the court misidentified as a UN General Assembly document) to address the Botswana constitutional issue of whether the Bushmen had been “subjected … to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment” as a result of the denial of access to the borehole. The court ruled that by prohibiting the Bushmen from using, at their own expense, borehole water for domestic purposes, the Botswana government had violated the Bushmen’s constitutionally protected rights.
Accordingly, the court ordered that the Bushmen have a right at their own expense to re-commission the contested borehole and to sink new boreholes in the Reserve so long as the water is used for domestic purposes.
The full text of the final appellate judgement can be found here.