UN Special Rapporteur Léo Heller, under attack from industry, gets support from many NGOs

October 22, 2020

Over 100 civil society organizations (for the names, click the link at the end of the post) published a joint letter on 21 October 2020 to express their 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. They 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. Programmes.

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
 
https://www.tni.org/en/article/over-100-civil-society-organizations-stand-behind-un-special-rapporteur-leo-heller-denounce

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