Category: ICESCR

Unsafe Drinking Water Muddies the Water on US Human Rights

Unsafe Drinking Water Muddies the Water on US Human Rights

Unsafe Drinking Water Muddies the Water on US Human Rights

The impact of dwindling water supplies on humankind is evident worldwide.[1] Still, most presume that citizens of the United States live with close to universal access to potable water, sanitation, and safe drinking water.[2] While this is not true, I think the United States could do better. In the past, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the United States a “C-” or below for wastewater infrastructure in their annual “Infrastructure Report Card[3] but I think the United States could improve its score.

Before we get to that, its important to state that The Natural Resources Defense Council released a report demonstrating the disproportionate impact on people of color posed by safe drinking water and clean water regulatory burdens which built on similar peer reviewed findings.[4] According to professors Mueller and Gasteyer, “clear household water access represents an ongoing environmental injustice in the United States.” Their research also found that millions of Americans live in counties where more than 1 out of 100 occupied households lack complete plumbing[5] and live in places with chronic Safe Drinking Water Act violations and Clean Water Act non-compliance.[6]

Access to Clean Water

The muddy water crisis in the United States is a growing concern for human rights activists. For example, organizations found Black and Hispanic individuals continue to be disproportionately affected by paying some of the highest water bills for unsafe water they cannot drink. Janene Yazzie, community activist, further asserts, the water crisis has become a public health, a rights, an equity, and a survival issue.

Is Access to Water a Human Right?

The Economic and Social Council has held “the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.”[7] The legal basis for the right to water is found in Article 11, paragraph 1, of the ICESCR. While the US has not ratified the ICESCR, it still has an obligation under A/RES/64/292. Additionally, the Council made clear the right to water is “…inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of health (art. 12, para. 1) and the rights to adequate housing and adequate food (art. 11, para. 1).”[8] Here, the right to water, like any human right, imposes three types of obligations on the United States: the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill.[9] Unfortunately, the United States government has failed to take action. But I think frontrunners for the presidential race in 2024 can make clean water one of its campaign promises.

How Can the United States Raise its Score?

To raise the United States’ grade, it should develop and fund affordability programs to ensure that low-income and vulnerable communities do not bear a disproportionate burden of rate increases.[10] Lastly, the United States’ national water strategy and plan of action should be based on the principles of accountability, transparency and independence of the judiciary, since good governance is essential to the effective implementation of all human rights, including the realization of the right to water.[11]


[1] Niazi, T. (2008). Water Sources. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd edition. The Gale Group.

[2] Mueller, J. T., & Gasteyer, S. (2021). The widespread and unjust drinking water and clean water crisis in the United States. Nature Communications12(1)., p. 2.

[3] Infrastructure Report Card. (2021). United States. Available at:

[4] Supra, note 2, p. 2.

[5] Id, p. 5.

[6] Id.

[7] U.N. Economic and Social Council. (2003). The right to water (arts. 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). E/C.12/2002/11

[8] Id., para. 3.

[9] Id., para. 20.

[10] Supra, note 3, p. 8.

[11] Supra, note 7, para. 49.

Opinion: President Joe Biden Should Use His Executive Privilege to Make it Easier for Americans to Reintegrate

Opinion: President Joe Biden Should Use His Executive Privilege to Make it Easier for Americans to Reintegrate

Opinion: President Joe Biden Should Use His Executive Privilege to Make it Easier for Americans to Reintegrate.

The World Prison Brief puts the U.S. at number one at incarcerating the most people in the world. With over 2 million Americans incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, approximately 70 million are left with criminal records, raising the question as to whether there is a fresh start for incarcerated Americans.

Vox’s Senior Policy Reporter, Rachel M. Cohen, expressed that job applicants with criminal records are half as likely as those without them to get a callback or job offer. Moreover, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo found “about 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed after a year of their release.” These views are consistent with Gabriel Chin’s research, who found that a conviction can restrict one’s ability to live in public housing; to obtain government licenses and permits, and to receive other benefits.

The denial of employment and housing opportunities, and the deprivation of privileges and rights due to a past criminal conviction is often referred to as collateral consequences. That is to say, collateral consequences are legal disabilities imposed by law as a result of a criminal conviction, regardless of whether a convicted individual serves any time incarcerated.

“One of the things I never been accused of is not caring for people.”

President Joe Biden

The secret nature of collateral consequences, as Chin asserts in Reforming Criminal Justice: Punishment, Incarceration, and Release, has resulted in a criminal justice system that is arbitrary, unpredictable, costly, unfair, and in some ways counterproductive.” For example, dozens of sites who publish booking photos in the U.S. are demanding payment for their removal. Third party individuals are also republishing the mugshots to cyberbully and shame those who were previously incarcerated. Although the alleged owners were eventually arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering, and identity theft in 2016, similar websites remain accessible online without constraint. 

President Joe Biden Should Use His Executive Privilege to Make it Easier for Americans to Reintegrate by Taking Most Mugshots Offline.

While mugshots are not considered public records at a federal level, the government’s position has precluded Americans from successfully claiming infringements on their private life against private media reportings. To illustrate this point, one need only refer to the government’s statement in Google Spain, where it ridiculed the European Court of Justice’s recognition of the right to be forgotten, arguing that such right remains inapplicable in the nation. 

Joe Biden Should Use His Executive Privilege to Make it Easier for Americans to Reintegrate May 23, 2023 by Quianna Canada
Courtesy of Quianna Canada

It is worth stating at this point that the judicial branch has held collateral consequences are not punishment. Therefore, collateral consequences do not come within the gambit of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, or the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy. 

President Joe Biden Should Use His Executive Power to Expand Automatic Sealing Eligibility for PIAs.

When previously incarcerated Americans (“PIAs”) cannot reintegrate into society, they are likely to recidivate to support themselves and their families. That is why, in my opinion, President Joe Biden should use his executive power to expand automatic sealing eligibility for PIAs. How would this look? An examination of Durazo’s bill, if passed, would give all PIAs, except registered sex offenders, the opportunity to have their convictions sealed. PIAs with violent, serious felony records would not be offered the automatic “clean slate.” However, they could petition to have their records sealed too.

It cannot be denied that the respect of one’s private life finds no explicit direct protection in the U.S. Constitution. Be that as it may, it is settled law amongst human rights courts that even individuals with criminal convictions have a right to privacy, and the right to be left alone. The state of California has created a template; the only action for the Biden administration to take is directing federal officials and administrative agencies to expand automatic sealing eligibility for PIAs.

If one weighs the pros and the cons, one soon realizes that collateral consequences and the shaming of American citizens by publicizing their mugshots only compounds the problem. It is for this reason that President Biden should alleviate the expenditure of energy used to help PIAs reintegrate by making use of his Executive power to seal their felony convictions. This executive action will show both, the U.S. and other nations, that the administration truly cares about its people.

Originally published November 22, 2022.

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