Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, will visit Alabama on Thursday and Fridayto investigate poverty, inequality, and barriers to "political participation" in the midst of a hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate.  Alton's visit is part of a 15-day junket through the United States that includes visits to California, Georgeia, Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and West Virginia. In a statement, Alston said, "Some might ask why a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States. But despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality."

The tour began on December 3, when Alston had what he said was a productive day of meetings with federal officials, discussing such programs as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which was formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, and Medicare.

Alston will spend Thursday in Lowndes County to examine issues such as access to potable water, sanitation, and health care. The Guardian newspaper of the UK reported in September that a small number of people in Lowndes County tested positive for hookworm - a parasitic disease found in poor countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

Alston also will investigate political participation and voting rights, as well as what the UN termed the "government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, and how they relate to US obligations under international human rights law." On the second day of his visit to Alabama, Alston will go to Montgomery to meet local civil service and civil rights groups. "I would like to focus on how poverty affects the civil and political rights of people living within the US, given the United States' consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Alston said.

Alston will meet "government officials, people living in poverty, civil society organizations and academic experts to address a wide range of key areas including the criminal justice system, welfare and healthcare, barriers to political participation, homelessness, and basic social rights such as the right to social protection, housing, water and sanitation."

Alston visited Orange County, California, and met with civil rights and homeless advocates on Monday. The groups have claimed that the treatment given to homeless people by local governments constitutes a violation of international human rights. Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, UC Irvine, and the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center wrote Alston letters in October that alleged that anti-camping ordinances and other laws criminalize homelessness. He agreed to meet them to hear their evidence. 

On December 15, Alston will hold a press conference in Washington D.C. to discuss his observations and his preliminary recommendations. A final report is expected in the spring of 2018, which will be presented before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June. A native of Australia, Alston is a professor at the New York University School of Law.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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