The Human Right to Sanitation

83 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2016  

Inga Winkler

NYU School of Law

Date Written: February 4, 2016

Abstract

Sanitation is a very personal and private matter, inextricably linked to human dignity. At the same time, sanitation has an important public health dimension. In this regard, sanitation is not only about an individual’s right to have access to a toilet or latrine. Inadequate sanitation leads to contamination of the environment, of public spaces and water bodies through feces and wastewater and therefore has a negative impact on public health and the life and well-being of everyone in the community, affecting their human rights to health, life, food, and a healthy environment. This multitude of rights concerned makes sanitation complex to understand and address through the lens of human rights.

The Article provides background on the lack of access to sanitation faced by billions of people and highlights, in particular, inequalities in access to sanitation. It discusses how sanitation has long been, and continues to be, a neglected issue and how it is slowly gaining more and more attention, including in the context of human rights. The Article traces the steps that led to the political recognition of the human right to sanitation, and then discusses the legal status of the right to sanitation: is sanitation a “new” human right? Or has it rather been an implicit component of existing human rights guarantees that has only recently started receiving increasing attention? The Article argues that sanitation has a legal basis in existing human rights law and is best understood as a distinct human right (also distinct from the human right to water) as a component of the human right to an adequate standard of living. It provides clarification on the definition and specification of the right to sanitation through the criteria of availability, accessibility, affordability, quality and hygiene, and acceptability.

Finally, the Article discusses the complexity of realizing the right to sanitation and related human rights combining the aspects of individual dignity and public health. It acknowledges that sanitation is largely a matter of individual responsibility, but argues that states have a significant role to play in creating the environment that enables individuals to practice adequate sanitation as well as in ensuring public health.

Keywords: human rights, sanitation, WASH, public health, human dignity

Suggested Citation

Winkler, Inga, The Human Right to Sanitation (February 4, 2016). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2016; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2728068

Inga Winkler (Contact Author)

NYU School of Law ( email )

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20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

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