Progress so far

The rights to water and sanitation were already enshrined in international treaties, declarations, and instruments for many years. It however took until 2010 to gain full political recognition through resolutions by both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. Since then, the content of the rights has been further defined and developed. This takes place through inter alia UN resolutions, the work of the Special Rapporteur, international conferences, and international declarations.

Resolutions

The recognition of and support for the human rights to water and sanitation have developed significantly over recent years. Some of the international resolutions are listed below, which have further defined the rights over the last few years. These resolutions provide further detail on the content and obligations stemming from the rights, which helps support States to realise these rights nationally.

Through yearly resolutions on the rights, the recognition is reaffirmed, and the content continuously further defined.

Human Rights Council Resolutions

  • September 2010: Resolution A/HRC/RES/15/9 affirms that 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 resolution, adopted by consensus by the Human Rights Council, affirms that the right to water and sanitation are part of existing international law. This body has therefore confirmed that these rights are legally binding upon States. This is an important step, States parties to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights can no longer deny their responsibility to provide safe water and sanitation for all individuals.
  • September 2013: Resolution A/HRC/RES/24/18 for the first time lists all normative content categories of the rights to water and sanitation.

General Assembly Resolutions 

  • August 2010: Resolution A/RES/64/292 recognizes 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.
  • November 2013: Resolution A/RES/68/157 among other things, recalls that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and is inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as to the right to life and human dignity, and reaffirms the recognition of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

Click here for more Human Rights Council Resolutions in the human rights to water and sanitation.

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is the treaty body responsible for monitoring State compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The CESCR issues General Comments, which are authoritative interpretations of the Covenant; clarifying the content of human rights. General Comments are used to help monitor the compliance of States parties to the Covenant. The CESCR issued in General Comment No. 15 on the right to water in 2002 and the Statement on Sanitation in 2010, explaining the content and meaning of both the right to water and to sanitation.

Click here to find out more on the work of the Committee in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Work of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

The Special Rapporteur focuses on pertinent issues concerning the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation. She has issued detailed reports in which she clarifies issues with regard to the content and the means to realise the rights.

Click here for an extended overview of UN documents relating to the human rights to water and sanitation.

Commitments made at international summits, forums and conferences

Although policy commitments made at international summits, forums and conferences (often laid down in declarations) are not legally binding on States, they have a beneficial impact on the further defining and realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation, because:

  • Political commitments undertaken by individual states provide a basis for lobbying in that country and for mobilising community action.
  • They provide a basis for holding governments politically accountable for their action and inaction.
  • The adoption of a number of international policy commitments and declarations on water issues represents global consensus on agreed priorities.
  • As international events often focus on a certain topic, they lead to an increasing awareness of particular problems individuals and group face with regard to their rights to water and sanitation. Issues for example include the crisis of water resources in cities as a result of rapid urbanisation, gender inequalities and unequal cost burdens born by the poor.

For more information on international summits, forums and conferences, see International conferences.

Sanitation and Water for all (SWA)

SWA is a global partnership of developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners working together to catalyse political leadership and action, improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively.

Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) held it’s third global High Level Meeting (HLM) convened by UNICEF and hosted by the World Bank in Washington DC on 11 April 2014. The outcomes and content of the SWA High Level Commitments Dialogue and the April 2014 HLM meetings have provided high-level political guidance and encouragement on action. Ministers left the 2014 HLM with their own clear commitments and, having heard commitments of other countries, a refreshed understanding of global sector trends, achievements and challenges.

Want to know more about the High Level Meetings and what commitments are made? Visit the website of Sanitation and Water for All.