It is likely that most Americans have a difficult time comprehending what drives certain individuals to purposely create intolerable suffering for other human beings. In fact, the majority of Americans can hardly understand, much less tolerate, cruelty to animals and would rush to report animal abuse to groups like the Humane Society to intervene in the animals’ behalf. It is a sad fact of life that there is no humane society to report abuse of human beings, or the Republican Party would face investigations for a litany of human abuse complaints and it is likely why they blatantly abuse Americans with impunity. However, there is a world organization monitoring human rights violations and a group of Americans appealed to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights to intervene on behalf of poor American citizens who have lost a fundamental human right in any country in the world.
Last Wednesday, a coalition working working with organizations and activists the world over to promote water as a basic human right filed a report with, and appealed to, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on behalf of tens-of-thousands of poor Detroit residents who are being denied access to what any civilized human being would consider a basic human right; running water. The report filed with the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation alleges the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) shut off water for tens-of-thousands of residents who are 60 days delinquent on their bills.
It is important to remember that the purpose behind Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan’s Republican legislature in passing Snyder’s “emergency manager” abomination that was rejected by voters was to sell off Detroit to privatization. Despite voters’ abhorrence and rejection of Snyder’s plan to appoint dictators and abolish democracy in financially struggling areas, Republicans passed “emergency manager” legislation in a lame duck session less than three weeks after voters said rejected the idea at the polls. Snyder defended the move and said, “These new laws recognize and respect the needs of citizens and will deliver meaningful reforms to keep Michigan on the path to prosperity.” Apparently, access to safe water is not part of Michigan Republicans’ idea of the “needs of citizens,” especially poor citizens, but it is “the path to prosperity” for whichever corporation Detroit’s emergency manager gives the water delivery system to.
One of the groups lending their voice to the report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission noted that as Detroit’s poverty rate rose to 40%, water rates doubled and put the cost of basic running water out of the reach of tens-of-thousands of households. To make matters worse, the Detroit lawmaker just raised water rates by nearly 9% to both appeal financially to a private enterprise and affect even more low-income households, but not commercial clients. According to “The People’s Water Board,” businesses that are delinquent on their water bills “have not been targeted in the same way as residential users.”
The DWSD said they do not discriminate in terms of individuals or businesses, and boasted that “Last month we shut off about 3,600 accounts that were $150 or 60 days in arrears. That is our policy and we’re ramping up our enforcement of that policy.” However, out of 165,000 delinquent accounts facing the prospect of losing access to water, less than 11,000 are commercial or industrial clients that average more than $7,700 in arrears. Residential clients are losing their water over $150, or 60 days, delinquency. In fact, non-residential clients account for half of delinquent bills in spite of accounting for less than 7% of total delinquencies.
The city, or better yet, the emergency “manager” is aggressively seeking to privatize the water delivery system that was the drive to bankrupt Detroit in the first place. The emergency manager appointed by Governor Snyder, Kevin Orr began seeking private bids back in March with submission end date this month. Experts and analysts were stunned at the fast track to privatization they claim is too costly and too damaging to residents and cited examples of residents’ suffering higher water and sewer rates, poorer service, and the ill-effects of administrative dysfunction. It is what ALEC alumnus Snyder considers meeting the “residents’ needs” and “the path to prosperity” for the corporation that “buys” the right to deliver water to those who can afford it, and it appears more residents will lose the basic human right to water.
It is pathetic that the richest nation on Earth cannot provide all its citizens with a basic human right that is as key to sustaining life as nutrition. One of the coalition members that appealed to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Council of Canadians Maud Barlow said, “We are asking the UN special rapporteur to make clear to the U.S. government that it has violated the human right to water.” Barlow also said that besides creating international pressure to stop the Detroit dictator (emergency manager) from withholding water from residents, the United Nation’s intervention could lead to formal consequences for the United States. She said, “If the US government does not respond appropriately this will also impact their Universal Periodic Review when they stand before the Human Rights Council to have their human rights record evaluated.” Two months ago, the U.N. Human Rights Committee condemned (Section 19) the United States for criminalizing homelessness they called “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” and a violation of America’s obligation to adhere to international human rights treaties.
It is a deplorable state of affairs when the country most likely to condemn other nations for human rights abuses is once again the target of United Nations human rights violations. Having access to something as fundamentally basic as clean running water should not be determined by a family’s income level or rate increases meant to appeal to a prospective corporation’s bottom line. However, this is America and more specifically, it is an ALEC Republican-controlled state violating its own citizens most basic human rights.
This country was once a leader in human rights, but when Americans elected an African American man as President, Republicans made this country in the image of third world countries that treat their citizens like so much refuse. What is happening in Detroit portends the condition of the entire nation if Republicans, teabaggers, and libertarians have their way. Because if basic human rights are exclusive to those who can afford them, it will not be long until privatization-minded Republicans put water in the same category as basic healthcare on the national level; a privilege for those with the means to afford it when the rest of civilization considers it a fundamental human right.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.
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