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

by | Oct 21, 2020 | News

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. H e 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.


Corporate Accountability
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Public Services International
The Transnational Institute
African American Center for Global Politics and Human Rights
Aigua és Vida
Alliance of Government Workers in the Water Sector (AGWWAS)
Amnesty International Australia
Amnistía Internacional Mexico
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
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)
Earth Ethics, Inc
Ecumenical Water Network
Educar Consumidores
End Water Poverty
Enginyeria Sense Fronteres Catalunya
ENVJUSTICE Project, at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)
European Services Strategy Unit
EYATH’s Trade Union
Federación de Organizaciones de la Sociedad civil del Guayas
Flint Rising
Food & Water Action Europe
Food & Water Watch
For Love of Water (FLOW)
Foundation Trust
Franciscans International
Fresh Eyes
Fundación Abril
Fundacja Zielone Światło
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
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
Media for Community Empowerment
Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network
Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
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
Nyahunure community trust
NYU Law Human Rights and Privatization Project
OBCCD (Observatorio Boliviano de Cambio Climático y Desarrollo)
Observatorio Ciudadano de Servicios Públicos
Observatorio DDHH de los Pueblos
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
Small Planet Institute
Social Eco Education (SEE-LA)
Society for International Development
Socio Economic Rights Institute South Africa
Solidaritas Perempuan
Stichting Wireless Leiden
Taula de l’Aigua de Terrassa
The Truth Telling Project
Thomas Merton Center
Union of Kenya Civil Servants
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