UN Declares Access to Water and Sanitation a Human Right

While 122 of the 192 member states voted in favor of the resolution, the U.S. abstained.

Water and Sanitation a Human Right

Photo creative commons by The National Labor Committee

UPDATE FROM JULY 28, 2010: The United Nations General Assembly declared today that clean drinking water and sanitation are human rights.

Rights to water have been included in conventions on the rights of women, children and those with disabilities, but never as a general human right.

Of the 192 member states: 122 voted in favor of the non-binding resolution, zero against and 41 abstained, including the United States.

John F. Sammis, Deputy Representative to the Economic and Social Council, explained in a statement that the U.S. felt the resolution potentially undermines work being done by the Switzerland-based Human Rights Council to situate a right to water within the body of international law. For the same reason, a 2008 council resolution was stripped of references to water.

According to Sammis’ statement: “The United States regrets that this resolution diverts us from the serious international efforts underway to promote greater coordination and cooperation on water and sanitation issues. This resolution attempts to take a short-cut around the serious work of formulating, articulating and upholding universal rights. It was not drafted in a transparent, inclusive manner, and the legal implications of a declared right to water have not yet been carefully and fully considered in this body or in Geneva.”

The U.S. mission to the U.N. declined to elaborate on the statement.

In 2008 the High Commissioner for Human Rights appointed an independent expert, Portuguese lawyer Catarina de Albuquerque, to investigate and clarify international human rights obligations pertaining to the rights to water and sanitation and to document best practices. Submitted last year, De Albuquerque’s first report focused on sanitation.

Read more from Circle of Blue about past water rights resolutions.

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