Capitalism vs. Water Rights in Detroit City


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:45 p.m. DST, 26 June 2014

Hotel Granwood, Detroit, Michigan, Photo by  无忌 王伟

DETROIT, Michigan -- Despite numerous plans initiated by Detroit to encourage its residents to remain in the city, the once great Midwestern city of Detroit has done an about face.

In an otherwise tragic situation, some might say that rapacious forces now endeavor to further disenfranchise the hardscrabble, poorest of the poor who have toughed out the deteriorating living conditions in what was once known as Motor City.

In recent months the City of Detroit has gradually cut off public water access to its most impoverished and vulnerable residents. Since the water was shut off, "sick people have been left without running water and working toilets, and people recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages, nor can parents prepare food for their children to eat."

Water rights groups are calling the move calculated and designed to enable the city to shed its books of impoverished consumers who are unable and likely for the foreseeable future, remain unable to pay their water bills.

Technically, the Detroit Water Department is within its legal right to disconnect service for non-payment, but many of the people who have been impacted were not given notice of their impending water disconnection. The net effect was that thousands of people have lost access to public water.

In May and June when the disconnections began and water dried up around the city, a collective of human rights and water rights activists began to protest for Detroit to open up water pipelines, calling the move an attack on basic human rights. Multiple organizations in the community appealed to the United Nations to condemn these practices and bring international attention to the plight of these citizens.

Their efforts bore fruit, when news reports announced today that the U.N. has condemned the city of obstructing water rights which is a human rights violation. This is a clear cut case of blocking fair access to water rights by the poor, and puts America on par with other countries that have chosen to 'commoditize' water thus making it cost prohibitive and unaffordable for its poorest citizen.

Examples include, Bolivia, India, and Tanzania among others as detailed in an article by Anup Shahin, titled Water and Development. The statistics on this global problem of inadequate access to water and corporate greed is one that will only worsen.

Clearly, water termination disrupts basic health and wellness at a fundamental level. That an American city is subjecting its citizenry to these horrendous conditions is at odds with the perception that is promoted about the United States, both internationally and domestically. One which promulgates an image of equality for rich and poor, and that this country is free from many of the ills which plague developing nations.

This paradoxical move to cut water when the city is engaged in a campaign to encourage inbound migration, gentrification, and renovation of the iconic city only highlights the fact that its interests lies not with the populace but with the privileged. The infusion of millions of dollars into the city coffers from corporate developers as the city seeks to move out of bankruptcy, makes Detroit's squabbling over a few unpaid months of water bills all the more ludicrous.

Although, around 5,000 Detroiter's water has been cut off already, the city has plans to cut water access to 30,000 more households this year. Like so many cases in American politics and economics, the people at the top are quick to look down on the people at the bottom and assign blame and inflict upon them an untenable burden.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

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Muslim Brotherhood & Vatican Condemn UN Efforts to Eliminate Violence Against Women


Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 02:37 a.m. DST, 19 March 2013

Muslim women in burqas navigate a set of stairs at the Al-Ghouri complex in Islamic CairoEGYPT -- The battle between cultural and universal human rights has resurfaced at the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held their 57th conference from March 4 - 15th to approve the declaration that would work toward the elimination of violence against women and children.

The declaration passed on March 15, despite the objections from the Muslim Brotherhood, conservative Muslim countries, and the Vatican. The text of the declaration has not yet been published.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood criticized the document, claiming it was “deceitful” and clashed with Islamic principles about family, community, and Islamic societies. Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Honduras, and the Vatican, though having expressed reservations about the declaration, did not block the adoption of the declaration.

CSW was established in 1946 for the advancement of women and gender equality. The declaration is non-binding, however, Aljazeera reports that diplomats and rights activists say that the declaration carries “enough global weight to pressure countries to improve the lives of women and girls.”

Prior to the passing of the declaration, a participant in the negotiations said that Egypt will seek out an opt-out clause, which would allow countries to implement the declaration according to their own traditions. However, Egypt’s motion failed, several countries saying that this clause would undermine the entire document.

According to the Muslim Brotherhood, the declaration is destructive to the institutions of family and community, and that the declaration calls for the return for the early Jahiliyyah. Jahiliyyah is the Islamic concept of “the state of ignorance of the guidance from God,” referring to the time period prior to the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.

The Brotherhood also decried the declaration’s defense of homosexual rights, declaration of equality in inheritance, the use of contraception and abortion under the name of sexual and reproductive rights, and to cancel the obligatory authorization of the husband in travel, work, going out, or use of contraceptive.

The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the largest political forces in Egypt, and the group won Egypt’s presidency and controls the parliament. Its credo is, “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”

The Brotherhood calls upon rulers of Islamic countries, their Foreign ministers, and their representatives in the UN to reject the declaration. Further, according to the translation of the Arabic statement by Jee Paules, the Muslim Brotherhood “call[s] for women’s organizations to adhere to their religion and the morals of their communities and the elements of our social life and not to be seduced by the deceptive, misleading and destructive calls for urbanization.”

The Associated Press said that even Libya’s top cleric raised similar concerns, saying that the document violates Islamic teachings.

However, according to Aljazeera, Egypt’s delegation said “it would not stand in the way of the declaration for the sake of women’s empowerment.”

The duality between universal and cultural human rights has been long debated. Cultural relativism asserts that human values are far from universal, and vary according to cultural perspectives. Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood argue that human rights are culturally relative and should be subject to State discretion rather than international legal imperative. If the UN were to take the cultural relativism as their stance, States could then use this as a way to declare that their cultural norms were above international law.

Universal human rights suggest that regardless of culture, that there is a baseline of rights assumed for every human being. However, what is considered “universal rights” are constantly changing. Ultimately, the continuation of the fight for finding a medium between universal and cultural rights over time will allow for the opening of avenues for human rights in the international arena.

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki