Rights breakthrough: legal recognition of water and sanitation affirmed by UN

Nov 28, 2011

The UN Human Rights Council, responsible for mainstreaming human rights within the UN system, adopted by consensus a resolution affirming that water and sanitation are human rights.

Recalling the recent adoption of a similar resolution by the UN General Assembly, the resolution now adopted by the Human Rights Council took an important further step in affirming that “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity.”
“This means that for the UN, the right to water and sanitation is contained in existing human rights treaties and is therefore legally binding,” commented UN Independent Expert on human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. “The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable.”
Danielle Morley, Executive Secretary of Freshwater Action Network, a Global NGO network, says: ‘We’ve been working towards this moment for a decade. This is a fantastic development and will have a huge impact on the water and sanitation sector. In 160 countries in all regions of the world, governments can no longer deny their legal responsibility to ensure that water and sanitation services are provided to the billions of poor people lacking access”
While about 41 States had abstained from the resolution that was passed by the General Assembly in July, the resolution now passed in the Human Rights Council was adopted by consensus with no member State to the Council requesting a vote.
Various State delegations expressly welcomed the resolution. The United States highlighted that it was “proud to take this significant step of joining consensus on this important resolution regarding the right to safe drinking water and sanitation which is to be progressively realized.”

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