UN Recognizes Access to Clean, Affordable Water and Climate Justice as Civil Rights Under International Law

Washington, D.C. April 8, 2019 – Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) adopted language in its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights review that acknowledged the right to clean, affordable water and the “right to life” in the face of climate impacts.

In its “List of Issues Prior to Submission of the Fifth Periodic Report of the United States of America” – which is meant to assess U.S. compliance with the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights – the UNHRC is asking the U.S. government to:

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Please indicate what steps the State party is taking to ensure access to safe and clean water for its population. Specifically describe efforts to remedy the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as efforts to keep water affordable for low-income populations when publicly owned water services are privatized. Further clarify the State party’s initiatives to address significant threats to the right to life posed by impacts of climate change such as flash floods, coastal flooding, wildfires, infectious disease, extreme heat and air pollution.

In January, Food & Water Watch was joined by The Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, and In the Public Interest in asking the UN to include water privatization, affordability, and pollution from industrial activities as a civil rights issue under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, having been ratified by the Congress, is not only international law, but binding federal law.

“This is the first evidence we’ve seen that the UN is codifying not only clean, affordable water but also climate justice as civil rights issues,” said Maude Barlow, Board Chair of Food & Water Watch and former Senior Advisor to the UN on water issues. “This is a huge step forward for the UN-enshrined human right to water and a recognition that climate impacts are a human rights issue as well.”

“The United States, as a party to this covenant, has a legal right to ensure that its people have access to clean, affordable water,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “It also has a legal obligation to not only recognize climate change is a threat, but to also do something swiftly to address it. Yet Trump and many in Congress continue to enable industry to use and abuse the planet that sustains us for profit. Federal policy must do a complete U-turn to keep us in compliance with international human rights law. Congress must pass legislation that swiftly moves us away from fossil fuels and provides public funding to upgrade our water systems to ensure the human right to water.”

Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests. www.foodandwaterwatch.org