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UN General Assembly Recognizes Right to Water as a Human Right

Yesterday, on 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution introduced by Bolivia on the human right to access to clean water and sanitation. The Resolution was adopted by 122 in favour, no votes against and 41 abstentions (for the press release of the UN General Assembly see here, for the text of the Resolution see here).

In the key provisions of the Resolution the General Assembly:

“1. Declares the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights;

2. Calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through international assistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all;“

The Resolution’s first Article notably highlights the interconnectedness of the right to water and sanitation with other human rights. That said, it remains vague as to what this right actually comprises and what exactly the respective States’ obligation are. While the Resolution is not legally binding on the UN Member States as international treaties are, its adoption may have wide-ranging political (and indirectly also legal) implications and will hopefully help to raise awareness for the grave lack of clean water from which more than 800 million people suffer.

It should be noted that while the right to water is not explicitly laid down by the UN Human Rights Treaties, it is arguably covered by these treaties to the extent that it is necessary for the respect of the right to life and personal integrity as well as for the realisation various other human rights. States have, hence, already an obligation to provide access to water to the people in their jurisdiction. In this regard, it may also be interesting to note that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has interpreted the right to life as encompassing a right to a life in dignity which also extends to certain basic needs.

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