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UN and Human Rights Council Recognize
a “Human Right to Water and Sanitation” in 2010

On September 30, 2010, the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution on “The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.”1 In Resolution15/9, it affirmed that the human rights to water and sanitation derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and was 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 followed General Assembly Resolution 64/292 of July 28, 2010, in which the Assembly adopted an historic resolution recognizing access to clean water and sanitation as a human right by a vote of 122 in favor, none against, with 41 abstentions. The resolution 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.” These resolutions built on General Comment No. 15, The Right to Water,2 which stated that a human right to water existed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and that the right to water was “inextricably related” to the existing rights to an adequate standard of living and to health. Comment 15 also defined the right to water as every person's entitlement to “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.”3

In 2008, the U.N. appointed an Independent Expert, Dr. Catarina de Albuquerque, for a three-year term; her mandate was extended in 2011 for another three years and her official title is now Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.4      Find out more about Ms. de Albuquerque's mandate >


Why the “S” after Rights in
Human Rights to Water and Sanitation?

Most UN documents and legal texts use the phrase the “human right to water and sanitation.” However, the Carr Center purposefully employs the plural phrase, the human rights to water and sanitation. Under international law, there is no clear consensus on the relationship between the human right to water and that of sanitation; different texts describe sanitation as being derived from the right to water, as a co-right with water, or as a distinct right. (For more information on this topic, see the Special Rapporteur's report on the human right to sanitation, A/HRC/12/24, July 1, 2009). Carr Center Fellows Sharmila Murthy and Mark Williams are currently working on an article that explores the distinct legal histories of these rights and examines why they should be considered separate, i.e the rights to water and sanitation.

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