Over 100 civil society organizations stand behind UN Special Rapporteur Léo Heller, denounce private water industry interference

21 October 2020
Declaration

We, the undersigned, express our strong support for the ​report​ on “The Privatisation of Water and Sanitation Services” of the United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller. He will present the report to the U.N. General Assembly today. We also express deep concern about the attempts by a group of private water operators to undermine the independence of the Special Rapporteur and his work.

This new report is an important contribution to a debate that is crucial in current times. The role of private actors in the delivery of public services, including water and sanitation services, has been increasing in the last decades. In recent years, at least four other U.N. Special Procedures ( extreme poverty and human rights, education, housing, and debt) have written on this topic in their respective reports. Just this week, eight current and former U.N. Special Rapporteurs and independent experts met at a ​major event on privatisation​ gathering hundreds of people online, and five of them released an ​op-ed​ published worldwide on the importance of the issue of privatisation and human rights.
 
Mr. Heller’s report is balanced and acknowledges the diversity of context. His report is the result of his work over the last six years and, remarkably, it was prepared through ​several consultations that go far beyond what is expected or what is the usual practice under U.N. Special Procedures. The consultations included a wide range of stakeholders, including States and the private sector, and were transparently shared on the mandate’s ​website​.

Yet, despite the importance of this issue and the measured and constructive solutions offered, the Special Rapporteur has faced considerable pushback from Aquafed, a lobby group for private water companies such as Veolia and Suez​. We are aware that Aquafed wrote to the President of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to States. These letters personalised the issue, questioning Mr. Heller’s impartiality and respect of the applicable rules. The concerns they raise are however unfounded; they aim at silencing and discrediting him, rather than debating substance.
 
This interference is a transparent and unacceptable attempt to protect the industry’s profits from exposure to the reality of the lived experience of far too many who have had their human rights violated under privatisation.
 
We would like to express our thorough support to Mr. Heller’s rigour and professionalism. Despite limited resources, he has consulted widely for this report, and for his previous reports.
Throughout his six-year mandate, he paid attention to affected communities and families who do not enjoy the rights to water and sanitation. In strict adherence to the rules of conduct and the mandate of the Human Rights Council, he has conducted quality, evidence-based, thoughtful research. He has taken into consideration the views he received through consultations, but acted independently from States, the private sector, and other stakeholders, which is the pillar of the United Nations special procedures mechanism. ​There is no doubting his integrity, professionalism, or commitment to human rights.
 
The signatories would like to express our recognition for the work that the Special Rapporteur has undertaken in the last six years and in particular, we underline the importance of his work on privatisation. Mr. Heller makes recommendations for States, private actors and international financial institutions, which we believe merit due attention and action.  
 
We urge States, as duty-bearers, to continue placing their obligation to fulfill the human rights of all people above the financial interests of any private actor.

Sincerely,

Convening partners: Corporate Accountability Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Public Services International The Transnational Institute
 
Signatories: ActionAid, African American Center for Global Politics and Human Rights,  Aigua és Vida,  Al-Haq Alliance of Government Workers in the Water Sector (AGWWAS),  ALTSEAN-Burma Amnesty International Australia,   Amnistía Internacional Mexico,  AOSED,  AöW - Allianz der öffentlichen Wasserwirtschaft e.V. , Asociación Ecos El Salvador,  Asociación Naturalista de Aragón,  Associação Água Pública,  Association for Culture and Art Crvena,  Associació de Municipis i Entitats per l'Aigua Pública (Assotiation of Municipalities for Public Water), BLABLA,  Blue Planet Project,  Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education, BUND / Friends of Germany,  Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice,  CeVI - Centro di Volontariato Internazionale,  Closing the Water Gap Working Group,  Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach,  Comisión Multisectorial de Uruguay,  Comisión Nacional en Defensa del Agua y la Vida,  Comitato Italiano Contratto Mondiale sull'acqua (Italian Commettee for Global Water Contract ),  Coordination EAU Île-de-France,  Corporación Ecológica y Cultural Penca de Sabila,  Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA),  CYDET Earth Ethics, Inc, Ecumenical Water Network,  Educar Consumidores,  End Water Poverty,  Enginyeria Sense Fronteres Catalunya,   ENVJUSTICE Project, at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona,  Eurodad,  European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU),  European Services Strategy Unit,  EYATH's Trade Union,  Federación de Organizaciones de la Sociedad civil del Guayas,   FENTAP,  Flint Rising,  Food & Water Action Europe,  Food & Water Watch,  For Love of Water (FLOW),  Franciscans International,   Fresh Eyes,   Fundación Abril,  Fundacja  Zielone Światło,  GCE-US,  German NGO Forum Environment & Development,   Global Social Justice,  Griechenland Solidaritätskomitee Kön,  Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights,  Hope Spring Water,  Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, City University of New York School of Law,  IATP,  IHE Delft,  IHE Delft Institute for Water Education - Water Governance Department,  IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education , Indian Institute of Youth And Development,  Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ),  Initiative for Social and Economic Rights,   Institute of Management Sciences,  Integrated Regional Support Programme,  Koalisi Rakyat untuk Hak atas Air (KRuHA)/People's Coalition for the Right to Water,  Koordination Blue Community Deutschland,  Life Health Education Development Foundation,   MAPID,  Media for Community Empowerment,  Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network,  Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation,  MISEREOR,  Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens,  Mujeres en Reistencia Chile,   Muslim Family Counselling Services,   National Welfare Rights Union,  National Association of Youth Organizations (NAYO),  Newark Water Coalition,  Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, Inc,  OBCCD (Observatorio Boliviano de Cambio Climático y Desarrollo) ,  Observatorio Ciudadano de Servicios Públicos,   Observatorio DDHH de los Pueblos,  Observatório Nacional dos Direitos Humanos à Água e ao Saneamento - ONDAS,  ONGAWA,  Oxfam,  Pantau Foundation,  Parable of the Sower Intentional Community Cooperative,   Partners for Dignity and Rights (formerly NESRI), Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance,  PIVJET International,  Plataforma contra la privatización del Canal de Isabel II, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) , Public Water Now,  Real Food Generation , Red Agua Publica,  Red Naciona de Acueductos Comunitarios de Colombia,   Red Regional No Más Mineras en la Patagonia,   Red Vigilancia Interamericana para la Defensa y Derecho al Agua, Red VIDA,  Right to Education Initiative,  Río Santa Cruz Libre Rural Area Development Programme (RAPD),  Scottish Water,  Seke Rural Development Platform (SERDP),  Small Planet Institute,   Social Eco Education (SEE-LA),  Society for International Development,   Socio Economic Rights Institute South Africa,   Solidaritas Perempuan,  Stichting Wireless Leiden,  SUTEPSAR,  SustainUS,  Taula de l'Aigua de Terrassa,  The Truth Telling Project,   Thomas Merton Center,  Union of Kenya Civil Servants,  UNISON,   UNISON Southern Counties Water Branch,   UNISON United Utilities Branch,  Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sussex County,   United Utilities,  Water Grabbing Observatory,  We the People of Detroit,   Women Empowerment Against Poverty of Nepal