In a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that “It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America.” This is in response to the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur’s report, published May 4, 2018, that addresses the disturbing trends in the United States regarding extreme poverty, infant mortality, relatively low lifespans and quality of life, and the world’s highest incarceration rate.
Given the severity of these conditions, the report comes to a troubling conclusion: “The cornerstone of American society is democracy, but it is steadily undermined.” The U.S. Ambassador shames the Special Rapporteur for focusing on the United States, which she describes as “the wealthiest and freest country in the world.”
The U.N. report does not dispute the wealth of resources in the United States. Rather, the report addresses wealth inequality, calling the U.S. “a land of stark contrasts … its immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live.” Haley’s letter never addresses wealth inequality. She does remind the Senator that things are much worse in the Congo and Burundi.
This is not the first time Ambassador Haley has clashed with her colleagues at the United Nations. At the beginning of June, Haley found herself embarrassed and isolated in the Security Council, when not a single country would vote for her resolution blaming the Palestinians for the nurses and journalists killed by the Israeli army. Then last Tuesday, June 19, Haley withdrew the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council, calling it a “cesspool.” The HRC is made up of 47 countries which are elected to the council by a majority in the U.N. General Assembly, the world’s largest and most representative deliberative body.
Two days after deriding the human rights community, on Thursday Ambassador Haley sent Sanders the letter dismissing the U.N. report on poverty, which primarily wanted to examine the causes behind the 40 million people living in poverty in the United States. The report offers a few solutions that directly respond to the problems raised: 1) decriminalize being poor by ending mass incarceration; 2) pass universal healthcare; 3) increase taxes.
In reply, Haley claimed that the report “purposely used misleading facts and figures in its biased reporting,” though she does not refer to any specific examples nor does she criticize any of the experts individually. She did say that the report was a “wast[e] of time and resources.” She also admonished the Senator, “There is dignity in work.”
Senator Sanders responded to Nikki Haley’s letter on the same day: “You are certainly right in suggesting that poverty in many countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi is far worse than it is in the United States. But what is important to note about poverty in America is that it takes place in the richest country in history of the world and at a time when […] income inequality is worse than at any time since the 1920s.”
Despite her criticism, Haley did say that poverty is something that “the Trump Administration takes very seriously.” Given her own record as governor of South Carolina, it’s hard to know what she means by that. Haley was governor of the state from 2010 to 2017. By the end of her tenure, 10% of South Carolina households’ were hunger and food insecure; almost 25% of South Carolina’s children were living in poverty; only 73% of low-income students were graduating from high school; 16% of women lived in poverty; and 1 out of every 10 South Carolinians endured “extreme poverty,” a condition that entails the severe deprivation of food, water, sanitation, and shelter. While the U.N. believes these problems are worthy of investigation, Ambassador Haley maintains that concentrating on such people is “ridiculous.”