Today is a day worth noting in human history. I have long been an advocate for declaring safe water as a basic human right; along with the other two necessities for sustaining life- safe food & safe air. It’s the trinity of survival; Air, Water, Food; everything else is non-essential. I believe that as a species this trinity of survival should be an inalienable right for all human beings; regardless of cost or degree of challenge.
41 county’s chose to abstain. I am eager to hear the reasoning behind the decisions. I would venture to make an educated guess and preempt the coming disclosures as being politically motivated on behalf of the citizens. They will proclaim inadequacies and lack of clearly defined rolls and responsibilities governments. The reasons will be relative to potential liabilities, costs and burdens. What you won’t hear is how they don’t want to loose their rights to sell water or relinquish control of it for profit and power.
UN record of vote and comments:
Introducing a draft resolution on the human right to water and sanitation (document A/64/L.63/Rev.1), the representative of Bolivia said that human right had not been fully recognized, despite
references to it in various instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and others. Each year, more than 3.5 million people died from diseases spread by contaminated water, he said, pointing out that the lack of access to water killed more children annually than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. One of every eight people lacked access to drinking water, and each day, women spent more than 200 million hours on transporting water.
Meanwhile, lack of sanitation affected 2.6 billion people, or 40 per cent of the global population, he continued, stressing that, more than any other human rights issue, sanitation raised the concept of human dignity. Proper sanitation could reduce by more than one third the number of children’s deaths from diarrhoea. Half of all hospital beds were occupied by people suffering from diseases caused by a lack of water and sanitation, he said, adding that the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Summit must provide a clear signal that water and sanitation were human rights.
The draft resolution urged States and international organizations to provide resources and to foster the transfer of technology to developing countries, with a view to providing access to water and sanitation, he said, pointing out that the heart of the text lay in operative paragraph 1. The right to drinking water and sanitation was essential for the full enjoyment of life. It was not enough to urge States to comply with their obligations; they must be urged to protect the right to drinking water and sanitation. With that, he proposed an oral amendment to paragraph 1, changing the word “declare” to “recognize”.
The representative of Germany, speaking ahead of action, said that some 884 million people worldwide had no access to clean water and some 2.6 billion lacked access to adequate sanitation. Germany was committed to the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation by 2015, he said, adding that the right of access to both was recognized in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, alongside the right to food and others. Germany would vote in favour of the text and regretted that consensus had not been achieved, necessitating a recorded vote.
Unlike some, Germany saw the text not as a threat to the European Union-led “ Geneva process” on water and sanitation, but rather as another component of that process, he stressed. At the same time, Germany would have preferred that the text include more language proposed by the European Union. It nevertheless included important elements of the work going on within the Human Rights Council and that of the independent expert on the subject. Germany invited delegations to support and participate actively in the Geneva process in order fully to understand the right to water and sanitation.
The representative of Spain said his delegation had hoped that the suggestions proposed by the European Union would be included in the text, and that it would subsequently be adopted by consensus. Spain was pleased with the oral amendment put forward by Bolivia, which made it possible to better link the resolution with the work of the independent expert. Still, water and sanitation were components of the right to a suitable life under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, he said, expressing regret that proposals to include language on the independent expert’s work had not been taken into account. Nevertheless, Spain would vote in favour of the text, he said.
The representative of Hungary said her Government considered access to water and sanitation to be part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and that was why the Hungarian delegation would vote in favour, despite concerns about how it had been negotiated. The Geneva process should clarify States’ human rights obligations vis-à-vis water and sanitation, he said, adding that the overall aim of the Geneva process would indeed have been better served if the text had been adopted by consensus. Regrettably, it had provoked division, despite awareness of the importance of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, she said, reiterating the important role of the Geneva process and urging all States to participate actively in it.
The representative of the United States expressed his Government’s deep commitment to finding solutions to global water challenges, noting that water and sanitation would be an important focus at the upcoming Millennium Development Goal Summit. Safe and accessible water supplies furthered the realization of certain human rights, he said, noting that his country supported the work of the Human Rights Council’s Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The United States looked forward to receiving her next report, and to a more inclusive, deliberative approach to such vital issues in Geneva than had been seen in New York.
He said his delegation had hoped to negotiate and ultimately join the consensus on a text that would uphold the process under way at the Human Rights Council. Instead, the text fell far short of enjoying unanimous support among States and might even undermine the work under way in Geneva. It described the right to water and sanitation in a way not reflected in existing international law since there was no “right to water and sanitation” in an international legal sense, as described by the resolution.
Expressing regret that the text had diverted the Assembly from the serious international efforts under way to promote greater coordination on water and sanitation issues, he said it attempted to take a short cut around the serious work of formulating, articulating and upholding universal rights. It had not been drafted in a transparent, inclusive manner, and neither the Assembly, nor the Geneva process had yet considered fully the legal implications of a declared right to water. For those reasons, the United States had called for a vote and would abstain in the voting, he said.
The representative of Brazil said the right to water and sanitation was intrinsically connected to the rights to life, health, food and adequate housing. It was the responsibility of States to guarantee those rights to all citizens, and Brazil had been working within and outside its borders to promote access to water and sanitation, especially in low-income communities. Pointing out that treaty-based and non-treaty based human rights bodies were based in Geneva, she said the United Nations headquarters there was the best forum for the current discussion. Nevertheless, Brazil would vote in favour of the text.
The representative of Turkey, recalling that the Human Rights Council had recently created the mandate of the independent expert and passed a resolution on the same subject, said the matter was before the Council and the Geneva process was ongoing. The text prejudged the outcome of those discussions and Turkey would therefore abstain from the vote.
The Assembly then adopted the resolution by a vote of 122 in favour to none against, with 41 abstentions.
Immediately after the vote, the representative of Portugal pointed out that three countries were missing from the voting board.
A Secretariat official said Portugal’s remarks would be reflected in the records.
The representative of Portugal pointed out that his country had not been mentioned in the vote.
The Secretariat’s official said he would check on Portugal’s request, and then asked the three States not reflected in the voting how they had voted. According to their respective representatives, Portugal and Togo had voted in favour while Luxembourg had abstained. The official then recalled that the text had been adopted as orally revised.
The representative of Argentina, speaking in explanation of position after the vote, said the main human rights treaties were pillars of his country’s legal order. The importance of drinking water and basic sanitation had been recognized by many instruments supported by Argentina, he said, stressing that it was the main responsibility of States to ensure that people had access to safe drinking water and sanitation. As such, Argentina had voted in favour.
The representative of Norway said his delegation gave high priority to the right to water and sanitation and had voted in favour of the text. Norway regretted that it had been impossible to achieve a consensus, but hoped discussions would continue in Geneva, and that Member States would support the work of the independent expert.
The representative of Guatemala welcomed the efforts of Bolivia and other co-sponsors to come up with a text that was acceptable to the majority of Member States. While Guatemala would have preferred consensus because it agreed with the essence of the text, if not its overall content, the right of access to clean water and adequate sanitation was in line with its efforts to address the needs of its citizens, and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Guatemala understood that the adoption of the resolution did not lead to any right or obligation at the international level.
The representative of Egypt’s said he had voted in favour based on the understanding that the resolution did not create new rights or sub-categories of rights, other than those contained in internationally agreed human rights instruments. States had the obligation of ensuring the full enjoyment of basic human rights, he said, adding that doing so depended on the varying capacities of States, and that such a task was not expected to be achieved overnight.
Acknowledging the need to set aside controversial questions of international water sources and transboundary water, he expressed regret that the resolution had been put to a vote. The Government of Egypt was mindful that certain human rights obligations relating to access to safe water and sanitation had yet to be studied. Hopefully, the resolution would bring such questions to the fore and add impetus to the Geneva process, with a view to achieving consensus.
The representative of New Zealand, explaining her delegation’s abstention, said she appreciated that access to safe water and sanitation was related to development and realization of the Millennium Development Goals. However, it was also concerned that the text had been tabled before the delegation had had an opportunity to consider its provisions. New Zealand supported the Human Rights Council’s independent expert’s efforts to clarify the content of human rights obligations relating to safe water and sanitation, she said.
The representative of Chile said his delegation had voted in favour because it considered that the aim of the text was to provide impetus to the relevant Millennium Development Goals. It also understood that the resolution was not an attempt to prejudge the way in which States handled their own water and sanitation legislation.
The representative of Australia said access to water and sanitation was linked to a range of civil rights, and noted that more than half the people in the Asia-Pacific region lacked access to water and sanitation. Despite having increased its development assistance, Australia nevertheless had reservations about declaring new human rights in a General Assembly resolution. Indeed, when new rights were recognized, consensus was essential. Australia had followed the work of the independent expert, who should have been able to report on it before the text was tabled.
The representative of Costa Rica said her delegation had voted in favour because access to water was an inalienable right. Every State had the primary responsibility to provide its citizens with access to water and sanitation, and Costa Rica supported the Geneva process, as well as the work of the independent expert on the subject. She said the Geneva process aimed to provide a better understanding and she would have hoped that the resolution would have included language on the work under way in Geneva. Costa Rica was also concerned about the absence of consensus, especially when the international community was about to undertake an assessment of the status of the Millennium Development Goals.
The representative of Botswana said his delegation had been unable to vote in favour of the text in its present form, and voiced regret over the absence of consensus. The Geneva process should been given time to mature, and the work on water and sanitation should have continued under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, he added.
The representative of the United Kingdom said her delegation had abstained for reasons of substance and procedure. Concerning substance, there was no sufficient legal basis for declaring or recognizing water or sanitation as freestanding human rights, nor was there evidence that they existed in customary law. As for procedure, it was disappointing that the text pre-empted the work going on in the Human Rights Council, she said, noting that the United Kingdom had supported the resolution establishing the independent expert, as well as the text on human rights and access to safe water and sanitation, adopted in 2009. Indeed, the work in Geneva had been progressing, she added.
Expressing concern about the resolution’s impact on the full enjoyment of human rights, she warned that if current trends continued, the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation might not be met until 2049. She then described her country’s efforts, saying it had helped 1.8 million people in Africa and 25.5 million more in South Asia gain access to basic sanitation. It was to be hoped that the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Summit would pay much-needed attention to that and other Millennium targets. She expressed regret that today’s initiative had not been pursued with consensus in mind.
The representative of Colombia said his country had voted in favour and would interpret the resolution in line with its domestic legislation and obligations under human right treaties. He expressed hope that the Geneva process would continue in line with the technical and legal approach, but Colombia did not agree with certain aspects of the negotiation process. It did not know why the co-sponsors had not accepted certain proposals, and there had been a lack of opportunity to discuss that issue, he said, adding that the vote had established an unsuitable precedent in human rights matters.
Moreover, operative paragraph 1 did not identify the basic constitutional elements around the right to water and sanitation, he continued, pointing out that the uses of water should include a definition of its characteristics. Nor did the text refer to aspects deserving immediate attention, like the non-discriminatory nature of water, he noted, stressing that States should interpreted it in line with relevant human rights instruments. The Assembly understood the right to water and sanitation as having been derived from other rights, while the jurisprudence applied by Colombia’s Constitutional Court noted that water only had character when used for drinking. The Court had indicated that protecting the right to drinking water was not suitable in situations upon which human life was not dependent, he said, pointing out that States were obliged only to ensure delivery of public services.
The representative of France expressed regret that a resolution on the basic right to water and sanitation had not been adopted by consensus. At the same time, he welcomed the work undertaken in Geneva to ensure that the right was fully implemented. France called on all Member States to come together in addressing such rights, especially in light of the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Summit.
The representative of Japan expressed regret that the resolution had not been adopted by consensus, recalling that for decades, the Japanese Government had been the largest bilateral donor to the water sector worldwide. Japan also supported the Geneva process, and deeply regretted that an exhaustive discussion on the right to clean water and adequate sanitation had not been held before the resolution had been tabled. Japan had therefore abstained, she said, adding that her country would continue to support the process while sparing no effort to help all countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the resolution raised important issues, especially in light of the upcoming review of the implementation status of the Millennium Development Goals. Still, the Russian Federation was concerned that the text had not been adopted by consensus, and hoped discussions would continue.
The representative of Peru said he had voted in favour of the resolution with the understanding that its aims were carried out in respect of the territorial order and sovereign resources of States.
The representative of Singapore said her country was a small island without natural resources, including water. Nevertheless it carried out national efforts to deliver that crucial resource to all its citizens, she said, adding that she had voted in favour while believing that discussions on the right of access to clean water and adequate sanitation should continue, and the scope of obligations should be clarified.
The representative of Belgium said he had voted in favour and appreciated the efforts of Bolivia and others in crafting the text. Regrettably, no consensus had been reached and some important suggestions by the European Union had not been included in the text.
The representative of Pakistan said he had voted in favour to help ensure access to clean water and good sanitation for all people, but emphasized that the situation of developing countries must be taken into account in implementation.
The representative of the Netherlands said he had abstained although his country recognized the right to clean water and good sanitation, as reflected in its assistance promoting access for 50 million people by 2015. However, the text placed insufficient responsibility on national Governments, upon which citizens must be able to rely and from which they must obtain redress. In addition, it would make reports of the Human Rights Council’s independent expert counter-productive, he said, adding that he was also not happy with the General Assembly’s “ad hoc” declaration of the right since the resolution had unnecessary political implications.
The representative of Mexico said he had voted in favour because his country acknowledged the right of access to clean water and good sanitation as already extant in international documents. Mexico would continue to make the necessary efforts to increase access, within its constitutional requirements and international obligations, he said, stressing, however, that it was up to national Governments to provide access, and necessary to continue in-depth discussions in order to move forward on the very important issue.
The representative of Ethiopia said he had abstained although access to clean water was a natural right. States had the sovereign right to their own natural resources, according to the United Nations Charter, and that principle should have been included in the text, he noted.
The representative of Canada said his delegation had joined the consensus on the resolution that had created the mandate of the independent expert. The work of that mechanism was expected to further promote study of the issue of access to water and sanitation as a human right and, as such, the text was premature. The non-binding resolution appeared to determine that there was indeed a right without setting out its scope. Since there was no consensus on the matter it was premature to declare such a right in the absence of clear international agreement, he said, adding that he had abstained from the vote.
The representative of Switzerland said that while her delegation supported the process of ensuring access to water and sanitation for all, it did not generally support repetitive or competing resolutions, and hoped that in the future, that would be taken into consideration. Switzerland had proposed that the text include language on the recognition of water and sanitation under international instruments, but to no avail, she said, adding that she had nevertheless voted in favour.
The representative of Liechtenstein said he had voted in favour of the text because he agreed with its essence. However, it was regrettable that a vote had been called, and that such an important issue had been dealt with in a “simplistic manner”. There were explicit rights recognized in international human rights law which implied many others, and that was true of water and sanitation. At the same time, Liechtenstein understood that the resolution did not create a new right and that its aims fell under existing international human rights law.
The representative of Equatorial Guinea said his delegation supported the resolution and was pleased that no Member State had voted against it. Water and sanitation were matters of national sovereignty and Equatorial Guinea was carrying out massive projects to ensure access to clean water and adequate sanitation.
The representative of Albania said he had not been present for the vote and wished to place on the record that he would have abstained.
The representative of Yemen, as a co-sponsor of the resolution, stressed the importance of water for life, which led to its being a natural right. Water was one of the greatest challenges of modern times — the oil of the twenty-first century. He thanked delegations that had voted in favour, calling the resolution a major step forward, although Yemen would have preferred unanimity.
The representative of Cuba said the adoption was an historic moment, stressing the immense need for clean water and sanitation services around the world. Cuba, which had realized the Millennium Development Goal on access to water in 1995, affirmed the right to access, and welcomed the fact that the universal representative body had adopted the resolution after an inclusive process. The text took into account the concerns of many delegations and complemented the discussion in the Human Rights Council, he added.
The representative of Nicaragua also welcomed the adoption as an historic milestone after some 15 years of discussion at the global level. It was particularly important ahead of the review of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, he said, describing access to water and sanitation as crucial for the dignity and health of people all over the world.
The representative of Venezuela said the adoption was a fitting response to the 1.2 billion people lacking access to drinking water, the billions more without access to proper sanitation, and the millions who died every year as a result. Since water was a necessity for life, Venezuela emphatically rejected its transformation into a commodity, he stressed.
The Observer for Palestine welcomed the adoption and affirmed the right of access to clean water and sanitation as universal human rights that should be enjoyed by all people, including those living under occupation. Indeed, access to water and sanitation was a key final-status issue with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian question. Israel’s ongoing violations of the Palestinian people’s access to water hampered their enjoyment of other rights, he said, noting that, among other grievances, Palestinians were only allowed access to 10 per cent of their own water. He called on Israel to comply with its international obligation to ensure access to water, as well as its other international obligations.
Vote on Human Right to Water
The draft resolution on the human right to water and sanitation (document A/64/L.63/REV.1) was adopted by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to none against, with 41 abstentions, as follows:
In favour: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
Abstain: Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Greece, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Zambia.
Absent: Albania, Belize, Cameroon, Chad, Fiji, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Swaziland, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan.