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UN expert to visit Charleston, study effects of effort to end poverty


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A United Nations expert on poverty and human rights will visit Charleston next month during a fact-finding trip to the United States.

Professor Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Professor Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, will travel to the United States during the first half of December to investigate government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, according to a statement from the U.N.

As special rapporteur, Alston’s role is that of an “independent expert designated by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to monitor, report and advise on extreme poverty and its intersection with human rights,” the statement said.

As a part of the trip, Alston will visit Charleston Dec. 13, when he will have a town hall-style meeting with representatives from nongovernment organizations, meet with government officials and possibly visit a health clinic, according to Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, which will be involved in the visit.

During his U.S. visit, Alston will also visit Washington, D.C., California, Alabama, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

“While some may wonder why an expert on extreme poverty and human rights visits a country as rich as the United States, the reality is that many individuals in the country are income-poor, or live in multidimensional poverty,” Alston said in the news release.

The visit is meant to provide Alston with information about on the situation of poverty in the United States. Alston has also received extensive input from civil society in advance of the trip, the U.N.’s statement said.

During the Charleston visit, Alston will focus on social protection and the criminalizing of poverty, poverty and health care, and rural poverty and its broader structural issues, Cohen said.

Cohen said with the focus on the criminalization of poverty, the visit is timely for Charleston as City Council plans to consider an ordinance that would require those who solicit for money to have a permit and would ban solicitation in certain areas of the city.

“I think it gives a really good opportunity to explore subject matter that is sometimes swept up under the rug a bit,” Cohen said. “[It’s] something that’s not necessarily in front of us all the time, that we’re not as a society considering.

“Having these outside international experts take a look at the processes and procedures that we have going on here in West Virginia and shining light on that can only be helpful, I think.”

After the visit, Alston will write a report about his findings about poverty in the United States and West Virginia.

“I think it’ll be extremely useful to all of us here in trying to make this a more livable place for everybody,” Cohen said.

Alston’s findings will be highlighted during a news conference Dec. 15 at the United Nations Information Center in Washington, D.C. The news conference will be live-streamed. The final report will be available in the spring and will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in June.

Reach Lori Kersey at [email protected], 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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