UN Approves Water Rights Resolution, US Abstains

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Collecting water for drinking in Ethiopia / waterdotorg

The United Nations has declared access to clean and accessible water a fundamental human right. Apparently this is not the same as amending  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , making water the 31st on the list of fundamental human rights. The UN’s UDHR page has not yet been amended to show an Article 31.

A resolution on the matter was approved July 26, one year and seven months after the human rights declaration amendment was proposed, and a week after you read about it here and may have signed the international petition asking the UN to vote on it.

The resolution was supported by 122 member nations. None voted against it, but 41, including the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia,  abstained. According to the BBC.

Abstaining countries said the resolution could undermine a process in the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva to build a consensus on water rights.

Some countries said the resolution did not clearly define the scope of the new human right and the obligations it entailed…

Nearly 12 years ago, Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute, published an article entitled “The Human Right to Water,” in the journal Water Policy.  In a current Huffington Post article, he notes that the world had already

acknowledged rights to health, well being, food, freedom from political persecution, and much more. But not water and sanitation.

The United States, which has typically been a world leader on protecting and enhancing political human rights, has always had a flawed position on “economic and social” human rights, including the human right to water – a position characterized by bad logic and a narrow and inconsistent interpretation of human rights law.

Those flaws were evident again last week. The U.S. deputy representative to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, John Sammis, tried to justify the U.S. abstention, saying “This resolution describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law; as there is no “right to water and sanitation” in an international legal sense as described by this resolution.”

Abstaining can mean the voter hasn’t made up her mind, or doesn’t have the courage to say no.  The mind boggles at the thought that the United States, and the other countries that abstained, aren’t sure whether human beings have a right to clean and accessible water. And it absolutely balks at the thought these countries would say there is no such right.

Glieck writes,

Is it possible that that is the official position of the United States of America? That there is NO human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation? What kind of a position is that? And if the U.S. (and Canada, and Japan, and the other abstainers) believe there is a human right to water, but are concerned about working out the details on responsibilities and duties, they should say “We accept that there is a human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. We’re happy to say so, and work out the fine details later.” I’ve held my breath for over a decade waiting for the U.S. to say this. I’d rather not hold it much longer.

To which this scribe says, “Amen, brother.”

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2 Responses to “UN Approves Water Rights Resolution, US Abstains”

  1. [...] blogs about water on this site are here and here. Share and [...]

  2. I predict this may come out better in comparison with any are predicting. We don’t want to jinx it by being overly optimistic and the media would like to lower our expectations so that you can suppress the vote.

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