Explanation of Position for the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Resolution

Sofija Korac
Advisor for Economic and Social Affairs
New York, New York
November 15, 2021


The United States recognizes the importance and challenges of meeting basic needs for water and sanitation to support human health, economic development, and peace and security.

We reiterate the understandings in our statements and explanations of position on this matter at the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council, most recently in 2019 and 2016 respectively.

The United States joins consensus with the understanding that this resolution, including its references to human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, does not alter the current state of conventional or customary international law, nor does it imply that states must implement obligations under human rights instruments to which they are not a party. While we respect the importance of promoting access to sanitation and water and that efforts to do so can involve distinctive approaches, we understand this resolution’s references to human rights to water and sanitation to refer to the right derived from economic, social, and cultural rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United States is not a party to the ICESCR, and the rights contained therein are not justiciable in U.S. courts. With regard to this resolution’s references to the 2030 Agenda, economic, social, and cultural rights, and technology transfers, these issues are addressed in the United States’ general statement, to be posted online at the conclusion of this session.

We disagree with any assertion that the right to safe drinking water and sanitation is inextricably related to or otherwise essential to enjoyment of other human rights, such as the right to life as properly understood under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). To the extent that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, it is addressed under the ICESCR, which imposes a different standard of implementation than that contained in the ICCPR. We do not believe that a State’s duty to protect the right to life by law would extend to addressing general conditions in society or nature that may eventually threaten life or prevent individuals from enjoying an adequate standard of living.