General Comments No 15

General Comment No. 15 on the right to water was adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at its Twenty-ninth session in November 2002.

The Comment provides guidelines for states on the interpretation of the right to water under two articles of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – Article 11 (the right to an adequate standard of living) and Article 12 (the right to health).

General Comment 15 affirms that:

the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses“.

It notes that the right to water has been recognised in a wide range of international documents and reaffirms the fundamental importance of the right stating:

the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights“.

The General Comment clarifies the normative content of the right to water by articulating the individual elements of the right, such as ‘availability’, ‘quality’ and ‘accessibility’. It also outlines the associated state obligations and certain international obligations. These include obligations to:

  • Respect the right to water by refraining from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right
  • Protect the right to water by preventing third parties from interfering in any way with enjoyment of the right to water
  • Fulfil the right to water by adopting the necessary measures directed towards the full realisation of this right

The General Comment also stresses that states are obliged to ensure that the right to water is enjoyed without discrimination and on the basis of equality between men and women.

For further interpretations of the obligations within the General Comment, and how the right has progressed from here, please see the international timeline.

Access to sanitation was not adequately covered in General Comment No. 15, other than clarifying the need for safe sanitation to ensure water quality. This omission has been addressed in other human rights instruments since General Comment No. 15 was adopted, but certain aspects of sanitation as a human right, such as definition of standards, do still need to be clarified. To see how sanitation can be defined in legal terms and what actions need to be taken by governments and civil society groups to strengthen this right, see the right to sanitation.