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UN expert welcomes recognition as a human right of access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation

GENEVA (30 July 2010) - “Recognizing water and sanitation as a human right, this resolution is a breakthrough for the United Nations General Assembly,” said the UN Independent Expert on human rights, water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, on the landmark resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 28 July 2010.

“With almost a billion people suffering from lack of access to an improved water source, and 2.6 billion without access to improved sanitation, recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is a positive signal from the international community and shows its commitment to tackle these issues,” she added.

The resolution, an initiative of Bolivia, “recognizes 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”. It was supported by 122 States voting in favour, while none voted against and 41 States abstained.

Ms de Albuquerque underlined that “the fact that the right to water and sanitation was recognized, demonstrates that the General Assembly, instead of creating a new right rather formally acknowledged its existence. Hence the existing human rights framework, in particular the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, fully applies in this context.”

“This is particularly welcome when the world is preparing to meet in New York in September to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. I hope that the adoption of this resolution by the GA will ensure that sanitation and water are not forgotten at the September Summit,” emphasized Ms. de Albuquerque.

The resolution reinforces the mandate of the Independent Expert, as she is asked to report to the General Assembly on challenges regarding the realization of the right. “Focusing on the outstanding challenges in the realization of the right highlights that all stakeholders – States, NGOs, International Organizations among others – have to move from words to action and that all face a greater responsibility in making the right a reality for the billions who still do not have access to water and sanitation. This is where we must concentrate our efforts and resources,” she concluded.

Catarina de Albuquerque is a Portuguese lawyer currently working as a senior legal adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law (an independent institution under the Portuguese Prosecutor General’s Office) in the area of human rights. She has extensive experience in economic, social and cultural rights and holds a DES in international relations with a specialization in international law from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. She was appointed as Independent Expert in September 2008 and took up her functions in November 2008.

Learn more about the Independent Expert’s mandate and work, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/water/iexpert/index.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Lucinda O’Hanlon (Tel.: +41 22 917 96791 / e-mail: lohanlon@ohchr.org) or write to iewater@ohchr.org