At its last session, the UN Human Rights Council affirmed that the right to water and sanitation is legally binding: “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”.
The Council’s resolution (A/HRC/15/L.14) is available here:
The Council stated that several international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), entail obligations for States parties in relation to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
While this is the first UN Human Rights Council resolution to affirm the right to water and sanitation, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has recognized in 2002 that the right to water derives from the right to an adequate standard of living (CESCR General Comment No. 15 (2002) – The Right to Water):
“Article 11, paragraph 1, of the Covenant specifies a number of rights emanating from, and indispensable for, the realization of the right to an adequate standard of living “including adequate food, clothing and housing”. The use of the word “including” indicates that this catalogue of rights was not intended to be exhaustive. The right to water clearly falls within the category of guarantees essential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly since it is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival. Moreover, the Committee has previously recognized that water is a human right contained in article 11, paragraph 1, (see General Comment No. 6 (1995)).”
The UN Human Rights Council in its resolution thus reiterates the CESCR’s recognition and, additionally, affirms the right to sanitation as also deriving from the right to an adequate standard of living.
On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/64/292) on the human right to water and sanitation, in which it recognized “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”. This resolution is referred to in the UN Human Rights Council resolution.
Today, 178 states from all regions in the world have now affirmed the right to water and sanitation in some international declaration or resolution.