Statement on Agenda Item 70 “The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation”

Brian Kelly
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 18, 2019


Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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 joining consensus on this resolution today we reiterate the understandings in our statements in New York at the UN General Assembly’s meeting on this topic in 2015 and 2017, as well as 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.  Our previously stated concerns extend to Human Rights Council resolution 39/8 of 5 October 2018, which we do not affirm.

The United States joins consensus with the express 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.   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. As the ICESCR provides, each State Party undertakes to take the steps set out in Article 2(1) “with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights.” 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 Covenant, in light of its Article 2(1).

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 paragraphs 28 and 29, that the potential impacts from climate change are only one factor among many that affect access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The United States supports a balanced approach that promotes economic growth and improved energy security while protecting the environment.

With regard to this resolution’s references to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the outcome documents of ICPD and Beijing review conferences, the United States addressed its concerns in the statement delivered on November 7.  We restate our position here that the United Nations must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and must not involve itself in resolutions and actions in other forums, including at the World Trade Organization. The UN is not the appropriate venue for these discussions, and there should be no expectation or misconception that the United States would heed decisions made by the General Assembly on these issues. This includes calls that undermine incentives for innovation, such as technology transfer that is not voluntary and on mutually agreed terms.

Thank you.