Explanation of Position on A/C.3/72/L.39/Rev.1 on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Mordica Simpson
ECOSOC Advisor
United States
New York City
November 17, 2017


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. The United States is committed to addressing the global challenges relating to water and sanitation and has made access to safe drinking water and sanitation a priority in our development assistance efforts.

In voting yes on this resolution today we reaffirm the understandings in our statement in New York at the UN General Assembly’s meeting on this topic in 2015, as well as in our explanations of position on the Human Rights Council’s September 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016 resolutions on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The United States joins consensus on the understanding that this resolution does not imply that states must implement obligations under human rights instruments to which they are not a party. The United States is not a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, ICESCR, and the rights contained therein are not justiciable in U.S. courts. We interpret references to the obligations of states as applicable only to the extent they have assumed such obligations, and with respect to States Parties to the ICESCR, in light of its Article 2(1). We also note that water resource management is a technical function that is distinct from international human rights law and underscore our view that preambular paragraph 21 of this resolution should not be understood as creating any international legal obligations.

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.

In addition, while the United States agrees that safe water and sanitation are critically important, we do not accept all of the analyses and conclusions in the Special Rapporteur’s reports mentioned in this resolution. We would also note, with respect to preambular paragraph 25, that although climate models project that there may be changes in the patterns of natural disasters in the future, at this time there is no consensus within the scientific community on the presence of an observable trend in key types of sudden onset natural disasters.

Finally, we regret that the United States must dissociate from operative paragraph 2 of this resolution. The language used to define the right to water and sanitation in that paragraph is based on the views of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Special Rapporteur only. That language does not appear in an international agreement and does not reflect any international consensus.