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.
Thank you for this succinct and important analysis.
For those interested in the application of this developing human right norm it is useful to look at the recent work of the Human Rights Committee. An example of this, in the case of Israel, is recalled in an press release by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) available here: http://www.cohre.org/view_page.php?page_id=434. An excerpt follows:
“Israel: UN set to quiz government on violations of right to housing and water
8 July 2010 – Israel was today accused of serious human rights violations in the area of housing and access to water – including war crimes.
The accusations came as Israel prepares to be examined by the UN Human Rights Committee, a body that scrutinizes government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee will be quizzing Israel at a hearing in Geneva on 13-14 July.
The claims are contained in a report filed with the UN Committee by two independent human rights organizations – the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international housing rights watchdog based in Geneva, and Al-Haq, a non-governmental human rights organization based in Ramallah, West Bank.
In the report, the organisations say that Israel has violated its commitments under international law by demolishing the homes of Palestinians, forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes, and denying Palestinians access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
It is the first time that the UN Human Rights Committee is looking at access to safe water as a human right. ”
and the Committee notes in its Concluding Observations (recently released), inter alia:
“While recognizing the State party’s recent ease of the blockade with regard to the entry of civilian goods by land, the Committee nevertheless is concerned at the effects of the blockade on the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, including restrictions to their freedom of movement, some of which led to deaths of patients in need of urgent medical care, as well as restrictions on the access to sufficient drinking water and adequate sanitation.
The Committee is concerned at water shortages affecting disproportionately the Palestinian population of the West Bank, due to prevention of construction and maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as the prohibition of construction of wells. The Committee is further concerned at allegations of pollution by sewage water of Palestinian land, including from settlements (arts. 6 and 26).
The State party should ensure that all residents of the West Bank have equal access to water, such as in accordance with the World Health Organization quality and quantity standards. The State party should allow the construction of water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as wells. Furthermore, the State party should address the issue of sewage and waste water in the occupied territories emanating from Israel.”