Overview of the mandate
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation was initially established by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2008 as the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque took up the mandate in November 2008. As Special Rapporteur, Ms. de Albuquerque carries out thematic research, undertakes country missions, collects good practices, and works with development practitioners on the implementation of the rights to water and sanitation. Work on the rights to water and sanitation has been ongoing in the United Nations, among civil society, and at the national level for many years prior to the establishment of this mandate.
History of the Rights to Water and Sanitation at the United Nations
In 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment 15 on the right to water. This General Comment explains that the right to water is considered implicit in Articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights covering the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to health respectively.
In 2006, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights built on the work of the Committee, adopting the Guidelines for the Realization of the Right to Drinking Water and Sanitation. Continuing this momentum, in September 2007, the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented a study to the Human Rights Council on the scope and content of the relevant human rights obligations related to equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation under international human rights instruments. For further information on the process for preparing that study, please click here.
In the study, the former High Commissioner expressed her belief “that it is now time to consider access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, defined as the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses - drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene - to sustain life and health”.
She also lays out several issues requiring further study, and the Special Rapporteur has taken these as the starting point for her mandate. These issues include:
- the normative content of human rights obligations in relation to access to sanitation;
- the human rights obligations attached to the elaboration of a national strategy on water and sanitation (forthcoming 2011);
- the regulation of the private sector in the context of private provision of safe drinking water and sanitation;
- criteria to protect the right to safe drinking water and sanitation in case of disconnection; and
- the specific obligations of local authorities.
In July 2010, the General Assembly adopted a resolution, which “recognized the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights” (GA res 64/292). Subsequently, the Human Rights Council, in September 2010, affirmed this recognition and clarified that the right is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living (HRC res 15/9). Taking into account these developments, the Human Rights Council, in March 2011, extended the mandate on water and sanitation, and changed its title to Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation (HRC res 16/2)
Other Useful Links:
- Fact Sheet on the right to water
- UNDP, Human Development Report 2006: Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis