Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

UN passes historic resolution making water and sanitation a legal human right

Human Rights Council logoToday, on 30 September 2010, the UN passed a resolution affirming that access to water and sanitation are human rights.

For the first time in history, the Human Rights Council, the most expert human rights body in the world, has recognized that the rights to water and sanitation are legally binding in international law by nation states. 

Danielle Morley, Executive Secretary of Freshwater Action Network, a Global NGO network, says:

'We’ve been working towards this moment for a decade. This is a fantastic development and will have a huge impact on the water and sanitation sector.

"In 160 countries in all regions of the world, governments can no longer deny their legal responsibility to provide water and sanitation to the billions of poor people lacking access.”

In an incredible turn around, the US made a huge and fundamental shift in position and recognised the rights.  Only the UK continued to take a hard line on sanitation, refusing to go with the consensus. 

Danielle continues:

"The inconsistency with the UK position is no less than shocking. Only last week David Cameron said that the coalition government have made water and sanitation a high priority and will continue fully to support this important commitment.  At the MDG summit in New York, the UK reaffirmed their commitment to the MDG goal on sanitation.  With regards to rights, they claim there isn’t a clear definition. Whilst the UN Independent Expert on the Rights to Water and Sanitation has made it clear that, at a minimum, the most important part of the definition is that everyone has access to a clean toilet, the UK's opposite stance on this issue is at best ambiguous."

New research, published by the BBC yesterday, shows that that 80% of the world's population lives in areas where the freshwater supply is not secure*. Latest research also shows that diarrhoea has become the biggest killer of Africa's children.

Now that the rights to water and sanitation have been fully affirmed by the Council, attention can focus on the implementation of these rights and stop the needless deaths of more than 4,000 children every day.

Further information

At the session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) in Geneva today, it was recognised that the rights to water and sanitation are derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. The resolution was adopted by consensus (UK disassociates from it but USA joins it with explanation) The UK's 'disassociation' from consensus is a way of saying that the country reserves its position to disagree with the contents of the resolution. 

Read the resolution (i.e. the tabled  version) (available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian)

This resolution builds upon progress made in July when the General Assembly recognized water and sanitation as rights by putting the rights into operation throughout the UN human rights system.

*Read the article on the BBC website

You can listen to the actual statement by clicking on the file called 10:00 - 13:00 - Opening of the session - 31st Plenary Meeting on the Human Rights Council website 2 hours 8 minutes

Watch video clips of the explanation of votes

An unofficial summary of the proceedings will be shortly available on the UNOG site