Introductory Remarks by Stephen C. McCaffrey

Article excerpt

It is well known that none of the major human rights instruments explicitly mentions a right to water, something that many lawyers and even laypeople find perplexing. It is also well known that an unacceptable number of people lack access to potable water and sanitation. Included in the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in the year 2000, was a goal to reduce by half the number of people without access to water or sanitation. Two years later, in 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment 15 on the right to water. The Committee observed in paragraph 1 that "[t]he human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights." You will hear more about General Comment 15 from our panelists.

Yet it is no secret that General Comment 15 seemed to unleash a storm of forces--political as well as legal--on both the pro and the con side of the right to water. Seeming anomalies were revealed, such as the fact that South Africa, a developing country, enshrines the human right to water in its constitution, while the state of California, with the world's seventh or eighth largest economy, has tried but thus far failed to pass legislation recognizing the right. The United States government has also been tepid at best about the human right to water. …