UN rights experts condemn Detroit water cut-offs

[JURIST] Three UN rights experts on Wednesday condemned [press release] the city of Detroit's Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) [official website] disconnection of water services for failure to pay due to lack of means as a violation of human rights. The experts' criticism comes in response to a report [text, PDF] submitted by the Detroit People's Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch [advocacy websites] describing the water crisis the city of Detroit and its people are facing. Because of the unusually cold winter suffered in the US, DWSD temporarily halted its program of shutting off water for families who have failed to pay their water bills. However, since DWSD resumed its program in the spring, it has shut off water for up to 3,000 homes a week [Detroit Free Press report]. Approximately 30,000 homes are expected to be disconnected from water services over the next few months.

The on-going water shut-off by Detroit's heavily-indebted water and sewer system has been linked to Detroit's broader bankruptcy proceedings [ThinkProgress report]. When the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy [JURIST backgrounder] last July the city gained the dubious honor of becoming the largest bankruptcy by a local government in US history. In February Michigan Governor Rick Snyder [official website] unveiled [JURIST report] a new state budget that would allocate state funds to be used to cover Detroit workers' pensions. Also in February Detroit filed [JURIST report] a lawsuit to invalidate $1.44 billion of pension debt. A judge for the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in January rejected [JURIST report] a proposed $165 million settlement agreement for the city of Detroit to pay off UBS and Bank of America. In December a judge ruled that Detroit is eligible and authorized [JURIST report] to file for bankruptcy, declaring the city insolvent because it owes approximately $18 billion to more than 100,000 creditors, which is harming the city's residents and making it essentially impossible for the city to negotiate with creditors. Detroit's bankruptcy matter has been controversial and has sparked debate on the surrounding issues [JURIST op-eds].

 

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