Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Take action now: just two weeks to persuade governments to approve UN Human Rights Council resolution

On 8 September 2010, the Spanish and German delegation raised a resolution on the Rights to Water and Sanitation at the  UN Human Rights Council which builds on the recognition of these rights several weeks ago at the UN General Assembly.At the previous resolution where the rights to water and sanitation were affirmed, the U.N. General Assembly acknowledged the work of the U.N. Independent Expert on human rights related to water and sanitation and called for this work to continue in Geneva.
This coming resolution is an opportunity for the Human Rights Council to respond to this call by the General Assembly, build on the momentum that the UN General Assembly resolution created and to bring clarity to what the affirmation of these rights means in practice – for example that these rights are derived from the right to an adequate standard of living contained in Article 11 of the ICESCR and Article 25 of the UDHR.Things are suddenly moving very quickly! Action by you and your country’s government is needed to see that this resolution is adopted this month.

Advocacy resources
Download an example letter (that you can tailor to send to your country representative but, BECAUSE TIME IS SHORT, it is best to send this in addition to calling or speaking to them face to face

Votes on Human Right to Water at General Assembly

Draft Human Rights Council Resolution on the Right To Water and Sanitation – also available in Portuguese – Os Direitos Humanos à água e ao saneamento and in Spanish – Propuesta d resolución derecho humano al agua

See also:

>>Priority States for Lobbying

>>Background info

>>Action at the 15th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Key notes

Many countries matter even if they do not currently have a seat on the Human Rights Council as they exercise influence regionally and internationally with other members (ie Netherlands, Canada, Nigeria). Please speak to them and ask them to advocate for this resolution. A list of priority states for lobbying is below. The members of the Council are in bold.

If your country is supportive of this resolution, please emphasize that it is important that they are vocal about this throughout the process this month and that they attend the ‘open informal’ sessions that will be scheduled to discuss the text. At the moment, it sounds as if there will be one in the middle of next week (Wednesday or Thursday).


In 2008, the Human Rights Council established a three year mandate for an Independent Expert whose responsibility involves ‘elaborating on the content of human rights obligations in relation to access to safe drinking water and sanitation’. The sponsors of the resolution establishing the mandate intended for this process to lead to recognition of the rights to water and sanitation by the Human Rights Council. The Independent Expert has released a series of country reports, a report in 2009 focusing on human rights obligations related to sanitation and a report in 2010 year on non-State provision of water and sanitation.

In July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proposed by Bolivia that “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as ahuman right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” The resolution was adopted by 122 votes, none against, 41 abstaining and 30 absent from the vote. This resolution was a significant achievement, but did not specify the legal basis of the rights and did not achieve overwhelming support. The primary reason given by States who abstained on the resolution  was that the resolution should have followed the ongoing process at the Human Rights Council to elaborate these rights. The US and Uk indicated that the right to water and sanitation was not legally binding.

Action at the 15th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

At the 15th session of the Council, the Council will consider affirming the recognition of the rights to water and sanitation, and possibly go further to clarify that the rights are implicitly contained in Article 11 of the ICESCR. The resolution is likely to also address the issue of non-State provision of water and sanitation, in reaction to the Independent Expert’s recent report on this subject.

Please call on all States to support a resolution recognising the rights to water and sanitation and specifying that these rights are derived from Article 11 of the ICESCR and Article 25 of the UDHR, as set out in the attached model letter. As with the above-mentioned July 2010 GA Resolution, the September resolution at the HRC will involve a vote.

It should not be taken for granted that States will vote precisely the same manner as they did at the General Assembly. Some States that voted in favour at the General Assembly may have been influenced by the fact that the resolution was sponsored by Bolivia, whereas at the Council the resolution will be sponsored by Germany and Spain. Some of the States that abstained or did not vote at the General Assembly may have done so due to the unexpected nature of the resolution there, which did not allow for sufficient time for them to establish their position. However, at the Council, the resolution recognising the rights is part of an ongoing process and, particularly following the General Assembly resolution, will not be unexpected.

Priority States for Lobbying

The following States are those that may be influenced to support the recognition of the rights and/or to actively lobby other States to recognise these rights. The list is limited to States that have previously participated in negotiations at the Council or the GA on this issue and/or have a vote on the current Council (Current HRC members indicated in bold):

Priority States that voted in favour of the GA Resolution:
Algeria, AngolaArgentinaBahrainBelgium, Brazil, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, ChileChina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, CubaDjibouti,Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, FranceGabon, Germany, GhanaGuatemalaHungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, JordanKyrgyzstan, Lebanon, LibyaMalaysia, Maldives,MauritiusMexico, Montenegro, NigeriaNorway, Pakistan, Portugal, Qatar, Russian FederationSaudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka,Switzerland, Syria, ThailandUruguay, Venezuela, Yemen.

Priority States that abstained on the GA Resolution:
Australia, Austria, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ethiopia, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand,Poland, Republic of KoreaRepublic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Zambia.

Priority States that did not vote on the GA Resolution:
Mauritania, Philippines, Uganda

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