UN official attacks Nikki Haley over Human Rights Council withdrawal as he presents damning report on US poverty

'Human rights promotion requires robust engagement, not behaving like the kid who takes his football and goes home,'  UN special rapporteur Philip Alston tweets about US decision to pull out

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Friday 22 June 2018 19:17
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United Nations extreme poverty official Philip Alston slammed US Ambassador Nikki Haley for leaving the Human Rights Council just days before his US poverty report was presented
United Nations extreme poverty official Philip Alston slammed US Ambassador Nikki Haley for leaving the Human Rights Council just days before his US poverty report was presented

A United Nations human rights expert has hit out at the US decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council as he presented a damning report into how Donald Trump's administration is failing to tackle poverty across America.

Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, criticised the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley's for declaring the 47-nation council was a "cesspool of bias" as part of the withdrawal announcement, saying that she be paying attention closer to home.

“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,” he told the council in Geneva. He had visited the US for the report at the end of last year.

High US income inequality “can only be made worse” by the Trump administration's policy of cutting taxes, Mr Alston - who was hired by the Human Rights Council - said.

iI a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders and 20 other members of Congress sent the day before Mr Alston's address, Ms Haley called the report “false and politically motivated”. The Congress members had called on the administration of Mr Trump to draft a plan to address poverty.

“It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” Ms Haley had written. She also called the US the “wealthiest and freest country in the world” and took the chance to say the report is an example of the need for the efficiency and reform she has been pushing at the UN since becoming ambassador last year.

US withdraws from UN Human Rights Council

Ms Haley announced the withdrawal from the human rights group earlier this week, calling it “an organisation that is not worthy of its name". The US accusing the Council of a “chronic anti-Israel bias” for having a permanent calendar item to address any alleged abuses in areas like Gaza and the West Bank.

Ms Haley also said the Council is a "protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias" for allowing countries like Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo to have seats in the group. Although, this has also been a criticism echoed by activist groups and smaller nations since the formation of the group in 2006.

Mr Alston dismissed the suggestion that his office was singling out the United States, saying it had examined the issue of poverty in other countries as well and cited a recent report on Venezuela.

“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,” the expert said.

“Indeed, the US economy is currently booming, but the question is who is benefiting. Last week’s official statistics show that hourly wages for workers in “production and non-supervisory” positions, who make up 80% of the private workforce, actually fell in 2017,” Mr Alston said in his presentation in Geneva.

Mr Alston, originally from Australia and now a law professor at New York University, continued on Twitter later: “Human rights promotion requires robust engagement, not behaving like the kid who takes his football and goes home”.

Israel has seemingly also reduced its participation on the rights council for now. Rolando Gomez, a spokesman for the council, confirmed that Israel was not participating in the council plenary on Friday, where its seat sat empty. Israeli diplomats have not participated since a council discussion about discrimination against women on Thursday.

The damning poverty report authored by Mr Alston found that “40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million of those live in extreme poverty. In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense”.

Mr Alston also referenced the “steadily diminishing” number of Americans without access to affordable health insurance in the wake of President Trump's and Republicans’ attempts to dismantle former president Barack Obama's signature healthcare policies.

Just one day before Mr Alston’s presentation, House Republicans in the US Congress passed a bill that would place more strict requirements to work on receipts of government food assistance. “Presumably this would also affect the tens of thousands of serving military personnel whose families need to depend on food stamps, and the 1.5 million low-income veterans who receive them,” Mr Alston noted.

The US withdrawal from the rights council comes amid a massive public outcry about the Trump administration policy to separate children from their families for crossing into the US illegally. The "zero tolerance" policy means all adult illegal entrants are referred for prosecution, meaning that children are taken into the care of the government

The policy of separation was reversed in an executive order signed by Mr Trump earlier this week, as both domestic and international condemnation continued to build. However, the immediate fate of the more than 2,300 children who have been separated between mid-April and early June is still unclear.

In a statement issued by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, experts said the president's recent executive order failed to resolve the problem and "may lead to indefinite detention of entire families in violation of international human rights standards".

“This executive order does not address the situation of those children who have already been pulled away from their parents. We call on the government of the US to release these children from immigration detention and to reunite them with their families based on the best interests of the child, and the rights of the child to liberty and family unity,” the group of 11 experts said.

“Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture,” the experts said. “Children are being used as a deterrent to irregular migration, which is unacceptable.”

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