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Statements Special Procedures

For World Toilet Day, "Sanitation is a Human Right" on 19 November

16 November 2017

Statement by Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller

On the World Toilet Day, I would like to remind:

The human right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.

A long time before the human right to sanitation was explicitly recognized by the United Nations, Mahatma Gandhi already knew how critical sanitation and hygiene were for people’s lives. And he did not stop there and demanded equality in access to sanitation and hygiene, be it a minister or a sweeper.

Recently, “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation” was adopted as one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goals. “Perfect sanitation” may have been a dream of a leader who fought for human rights back in 1930s, but adequate sanitation is a human right of everyone and a human right obligation of every State in the world we are currently living in. It is time to make Gandhi’s vision a reality by striving harder for human rights.

The world has made undeniable progress in expanding access to sanitation for billions of people in the past decades. However, the daily life of many individuals who I met in my recent country mission to India, as well as to other countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, was far from what the world leaders committed themselves to fulfil.

Sanitation is personal, collective and a common good. Sanitation is not only about constructing toilets or sewerage. It is about understanding people’s needs and finding safe and sustainable solutions that ensure everyone’s dignity. Therefore, realizing the human right to sanitation is not a simple task. There is no short cut. We need to keep openly talking about sanitation and working on it with strong commitments from all actors. We have only 12 years left until the deadline of the world Sustainable Development Goals.