Philip Alston10.19.17 — When the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, makes his official visit to the United States in December 2017, he will be drawing on five submissions prepared by students in Professor Martha Davis’ seminar on Human Rights Advocacy in the United States. Students prepared these submissions on behalf of the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy and five community partners: the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Maryland Legal Aid, New Mexico Legal Aid and the Color of Water in Boston.

“With the students’ help, organizations that otherwise would not have the resources to submit input to the Special Rapporteur were able to highlight a number of important human rights issues for his visit,” said Davis, an expert on US human rights. She added, “this is an excellent example of experiential education in action, with students interacting directly with their partner organizations to prepare submissions that will have a real-world impact when the Special Rapporteur prepares his final report on human rights and extreme poverty in the US.”

Topics addressed in the submissions include water unaffordability and the tax lien system in Baltimore, Maryland; racial impacts of water unaffordability in Boston; the new water affordability plan in Philadelphia; the impact of lack of access to justice on children in New Mexico; and the need for broader rights to counsel in civil matters.

“Affordability of, and in turn access to, water is a basic and fundamental human right, yet too often, that right is compromised for our Baltimore city client population, often elderly homeowners on fixed incomes, said Shawn Boehringer, chief counsel of Maryland Legal Aid. “We greatly appreciate Northeastern reaching out to Maryland Legal Aid to assist in bringing this important issue to the attention of the Special Rapporteur. The research and writing of the students assigned to the project was top notch, and hopefully a continuing advocacy partnership has been forged between our firm and the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy.”

The submission on behalf of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Council addressed the civil counsel issue, noting that “access to justice is a critically important human right” and focusing on several key areas where lack of civil counsel has a devastating impact: domestic violence, debt collection, and immigration. The submission cited a recent data from the Legal Services Corporation and National Opinion Research Council at the University of Chicago concluding that in 2016, 86 percent of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans were met with inadequate or no legal help.

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. He will hold a press conference at the conclusion of his US visit on December 15, and then issue his final report to the Council in the first half of 2018. UN independent experts visit countries around the world to report on their human rights situation. In recent years, the Special Rapporteur has undertaken country visits to Chile, Romania, Mauritania, China and Saudi Arabia.

The Special Rapporteur invited all interested parties in the United States, including, but not limited to, NGOs, activists, academics and other individuals and organizations working on issues related to poverty and human rights, to provide input for the preparation of his forthcoming visit. Approximately three dozen organizations submitted letters. For more information and to follow the Special Rapporteur’s U.S. visit on twitter, visit

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students an unparalleled full year of practical legal work. All students participate in four, full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 900 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education for the past 45 years, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.