UN expert hits out at US for "widespread poverty" and decision to leave Human Rights Council

Nikki Haley has claimed it is "patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America"

UN expert hits out at US for "widespread poverty" and decision to leave Human Rights Council

Image: Philip Alston via Twitter

A UN expert has hit out at the Trump administration over 'widespread poverty' and 'growing inequality' in the US.

Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, addressed the Human Rights Council earlier today - only days after the US withdrew from the body.

Announcing the decision earlier this week, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley described the body as "a cesspool of political bias".

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Alston observed: "Speaking of cesspools, my report draws attention to those that I witnessed in Alabama as raw sewage poured into the gardens of people who could never afford to pay $30,000 for their own septic systems in an area remarkably close to the State capital.

"I concluded that cesspools need to be cleaned up and governments need to act. Walking away from them in despair, as in Alabama, only compounds the problems."

He also criticised the US decision to leave the Human Rights Council, suggesting that their position seems to be that the council "should do far more to hold certain states to account, but that it should exempt the United States and its key allies from such accountability".

'Perched on the edge'

On the subject of poverty in the US, Mr Alston pointed out that the US has the highest income inequality in the western world.

He argued: "This can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million of those live in extreme poverty. "

He also suggested that huge numbers of middle class Americans are "perched on the edge", highlighting that 40% of adults said they would be unable to cover "an unexpected $400 expense".

He added: "My report demonstrates that growing inequality, and widespread poverty which afflicts almost one child out of every five, has deeply negative implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights by many millions of Americans.

"I document the ways in which democracy is being undermined, the poor and homeless are being criminalised for being poor, and the criminal justice system is being privatised in ways that work well for the rich but that seriously disadvantage the poor. Underlying all of these developments is persistent and chronic racial bias."

He highlighted three recommendations to the US - to acknowledge their "vibrant democracy" is in peril unless changes are made; to stop "irrationally demonising taxation"; and to offer universal healthcare like "every other developed and many developing countries already do".

'Patently ridiculous'

Ahead of today's presentation in Geneva, Ambassador Haley had slammed Mr Alston's report - claiming Mr Alston had made "misleading and politically motivated" statements about US domestic policy issues.

In a letter to US Senator Bernie Sanders, she claimed: "It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America.

"The Special Rapporteur wasted the UN's time and resources, deflecting attention from the world's worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world."

Today, Mr Alston countered: "My view is that when one of the world’s wealthiest countries does very little about the fact that 40 million of its citizens live in poverty, it is entirely appropriate for the reasons to be scrutinised."