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U.N. Human Rights Council: Water, Sanitation Rights Binding

(Oct. 6, 2010) The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on September 30, 2010, that declares the right to safe drinking water and sanitation to be basic human rights contained in existing treaties and thus legally binding. Countries that are parties to the treaties have the responsibility to ensure these rights are realized. The U.N. General Assembly had determined this access to be a basic right on July 28, 2010, but did not state that the right was part of existing, binding conventions. Speaking of the new resolution by the Council, an independent, U.N. expert on these rights, Catarina de Albuquerque, said that it “has the potential to change the lives of the billions of human beings who still lack access to water and sanitation.” (Right to Water and Sanitation Is Legally Binding, Affirms Key UN Body, UN NEWS CENTRE (Oct. 1, 2010),; General Assembly Access to Clean Water and Sanitation Is a Human Right, UN NEWS CENTRE (July 28, 2010),
; UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Water and Sanitation (text of resolution as reported by,
(last visited Oct. 4, 2010).)

In a letter to Council President Sihasak Phuangketkeow and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a week before the resolution was adopted, a group of 18 non-governmental organizations from around the world had urged the Council to pass it. In addition to applauding the U.N. body's consideration of the resolution, the groups, which included the Alliance for Democracy from the United States, had commented on several provisions in the proposal. (Letter to the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council (HRC) (Sept. 21, 2010),

The United Nations reports that close to 900 million people lack clean water and over 2.6 billion do not have basic sanitation. The deaths each year of about 1.5 million children younger than five are attributed to illnesses resulting from these problems. (Right to Water and Sanitation Is Legally Binding, Affirms Key UN Body, supra.)