Not until the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ('CESCR') issued General Comment No 15 on the human right to water in 2002 was access to drinking and sanitation water authoritatively defined as a human right. The CESCR carved the right to water out of other related rights, an approach that has been criticised as 'revisionist'. Some argue that the CESCR went beyond state practice, inventing a previously non-existent right in an attempt to remedy a gap that states should have filled through treaty amendment. This article contends that the CESCR has in fact articulated a pre-existing right that had a prior autonomous, if latent, existence in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ('ICESCR'). It also suggests that the CESCR approach to the analysis of the human right to water grounded the right on a narrowly defined legal basis, and that the CESCR inadvertently limited the scope of its scrutiny to the mainstream human rights regime. The article further argues that a meaningful analysis of the normative basis of the human right to water should read the ICESCR in conjunction with rules and principles of international environmental law and international water law. The combined use of these three legal regimes reveals that the right is not so much an 'invention' as a 'discovery', since it has been recognised in the relevant rules of international treaties and is supported by growing state practice.
|Melbourne Journal of International Law
|Published - 2011