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UN Rapporteurs Investigating Water Shut-Offs in Detroit

UN Rapporteurs Investigating Water Shut-Offs in Detroit

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Teen Yazidi sex slaves under control of the Islamic State; North Korea’s torture camps for “re-education” of political dissidents; electric shock torture in the prisons of Uzbekistan— the world is teeming with a wide variety of human rights violations. But this week, the UN is in Detroit, to investigate individuals who have not paid their water bills.

In response to the city’s bankruptcy, city officials have begun striving to collect as much of the money owed to the government at a breakneck pace, leading many to receive astronomical water bills that they simply cannot pay. The result, CBS reports, is 26,000 individual cases of Detroit officials shutting off water to their homes. Many of these individuals are now borrowing water from neighbors or buying large water bottle crates to use in their toilets, to cook, and to clean.

The UN Rapporteur team investigating the issue has been in Detroit for three days, discovering people who owe thousands of dollars, and astronomical bills inflated by the number of people who are not paying. “People are living without dignity it’s a human rights violation. the city should restore water to those unable to pay,” a representative of the U.N. team told CBS.

UN Special Rapporteur on drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque said in a press conference this week that the UN team was “shocked” by what they found in the city. “I’ve been to rich countries like Japan and Slovenia where basically 99 percent of population have access to water, and I’ve been to poor countries where half the population doesn’t have access to water … but this large-scale retrogression or backwards steps is new for me,” she stated. She categorically described any “retrogression”– a refusal of services previously given– as a “human rights violation.”

As a result, the UN is demanding that water companies restore services to those unable to pay without receiving any compensation. They can called for “other levels of government” to come in and make the services available should the city not have sufficient funding.

The Detroit city government is responding with “disappointment” to the UN’s declarations. According to the Associated Press, the city has already placed 33,000 people whose service was originally cut off on payment plans which allow them renewed access to water, and many others are having their accounts negotiated with the city to come to a solution. Mayoral aide Alexis Wiley noted also that the UN rapporteurs had “never once (before Monday) reached out to the city for data” on how they are handling the crisis.


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