On Monday, May 11, the U.N. Human Rights Council reviewed the U.S. for compliance with its human rights obligations as part of the U.S.’s second Universal Periodic Review raising concerns about the criminalization of homelessness and poverty as well as the lack of adequate housing in the U.S.
Under the Review procedure, every country in the world is reviewed every 4 years for their compliance with all the human rights treaties they have ratified as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Right. 116 countries signed up to ask questions and make recommendations to the U.S. during a 3-hour session, and the U.S. had a brief time to respond.
Echoing the recent calls from other human rights monitors, Egypt recommended amending laws on criminalization of homelessness that are not in conformity with human rights standards, Serbia and Cuba called for reducing neighborhood poverty and ensuring access to adequate housing, Sudan specifically called for addressing discriminatory housing conditions, and numerous countries called for ratification and implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, including the right to housing, and addressed police targeting and brutality against homeless, poor, and minority communities.
Bryan Greene, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development responded to the international concerns. With regards to discrimination, he noted the increased enforcement of fair housing laws at the federal level. He discussed the federal plan to end homelessness, noting recent progress in decreasing chronic and veterans’ homelessness, and a commitment to working on the issue of criminalization, noting Housing First is the best way to prevent police interactions with homeless persons.
“Today’s review shows the whole world sees the connection between the criminalization of poverty and the underlying conditions of lack of adequate housing, healthcare, and education in our communities,” said Eric Tars, Senior Attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which submitted a report in preparation for the Review. “As acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we cannot make progress on civil rights without addressing economic rights as well.”
The U.S must formally accept or reject the Review’s recommendations at the next Council session in the fall.
“The U.S. holds itself up as a leader on human rights, and we must walk the walk as much as we talk the talk,” said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at the Law Center, said, “The Law Center looks forward to meeting with the U.S. government to ensure it adopts the recommendations regarding housing and homelessness and sets concrete targets to implement them.”