Man fishing in a lake with sunset

Siv Tom throws a fishing net at sunrise in the Cambodian village of O Kroich. The people of this village are from the Kouy indigenous group.


The People’s Water Forum has been convened every three years since 2003 in conjunction with the World Water Forum, offering as an alternative space for water justice movements to gather.

Dinesh Suna, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Water Network, underscored the foundation of why the People’s Water Forum exists: “We promote water for life, as opposed to water for profit,” he said.

Recently, organizers of the People’s Water Forum found their planned venue—the Indonesia Institute of Arts—suddenly canceled, and then an alternative venue was canceled without notice as well.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, who traveled to the forum as a major presenter, was barred by para-military security from entering the venues. Other People’s Water Forum participants were physically intimidated, and their belongings confiscated.

In a public letter, academics and human rights defenders supporting the People’s Water Forum denounced effort to suppress the forum, particularly through cancellation of event venues and the interrogation and intimidation of local organizers.

“The cancelation of our events at an academic institution through coercion and restriction by law enforcement constitutes a violation of the UN Principles for Implementing the Right to Academic Freedom,” reads the letter. “Since 2013 protests against the state have been restricted.”

Responding to the intimidation and attack on participants in the People’s Water Forum by the group Patriot Garuda Nusantara (Garuda Nusantara Patriots), the executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, Usman Hamid, said: “The intimidation and violent attack on the organizers and participants of the People’s Water Forum is a serious attack on a peaceful assembly.

“The repeated repression of government critics raises serious concerns about the Indonesian authorities’ commitment to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Suna expressed gratitude that, with international support, the People’s Water Forum was able to receive unprecedented  visibility in the media that helped communicate its key messages across to a wider audience.

“We got so much positive publicity from our friends, partners, and the media,” said Suna. “Our network became even more popular among those who would not otherwise have known about it. I think that’s a good thing, even if we had to go through a difficult time.”

The WCC Ecumenical Water Network is a founding member of the People’s Water Forum. “We cannot deliberately keep civil society voices outside of these discourses,” said Suna. “The People’s Water Forum will continue and be stronger and more visible than ever.”

Learn more about the People's Water Forum

 WCC Ecumenical Water Network