The United Nations is weighing whether to insert itself in the probe into contaminated drinking water for residents of Flint, Michigan, after a trio of U.N. human rights experts in Switzerland said that racism and class discrimination may have played a key role in the scandal.
The U.N. human rights office in Geneva called on authorities to draw up a “human rights complaint strategy” to address the crisis, a day ahead of a planned visit by President Obama to the Michigan city to talk with residents and local officials.
Experts in the U.N. office say the human rights complaint could be lodged in order to ensure that other U.S. municipalities don’t make the same mistakes that local, state and federal officials made in handling Flint’s water supply needs, which has left residents dealing with the health impact of lead-contaminated water.
“Decisions would never have been made in the high-handed and cavalier manner that occurred in Flint if the affected population group was well-off or overwhelmingly white,” Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said in a statement Tuesday.
“Elected officials would have been much more careful, there would have been a timely response to complaints rather than summary dismissals of concerns, and official accountability would have been insisted upon much sooner,” he added.
“The fact that Flint residents have not had regular access to safe drinking water and sanitation since April 2014 is a potential violation of their human rights,” warned Leo Heller, the office’s top expert on the right to save drinking water. “Serious problems reported on water quality, particularly high concentrations of lead, are also concerning human rights issues.”