Naomi Fowler ■ UN rights experts on Leaks: What else do we need to know to take action?

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UN Human Rights experts have released a statement reacting to the latest leaks scandal, and calling for world governments to act together to establish a United Nations body that will work to end tax haven secrecy and offshore tax avoidance and evasion. This follows UN recommendations in the summer to enact legislation to create a charter on the rights of whistleblowers and adopt a “protected disclosure defence” to protect whistle-blowers and witnesses.

We support their call for a global tax body, not least because it is so important that all countries have a seat at the table, especially countries in the Global South. As the saying goes, ‘if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu’ and we have long criticised the slowness of the OECD, the ‘rich country club’ of interested parties nations in really addressing the problem. As these UN experts say: What else do we need to know to take action?

UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky said:

“Thanks to the work of investigative journalists, the taxpaying public is now aware of these immoral and illegal strategies, and understands how tax abuse undermines economic, social and cultural rights. States must prove they take seriously the interest of billions of people all around the world who suffer from the erosion of public services owing to massive fiscal misconduct.”

The statement goes on:

“When individuals and corporations hide unreported assets abroad to escape taxes or launder money, they are effectively stealing from the public. The proceeds from these illicit activities could and should be devoted to funding public services, such as health care, housing, schools, transportation infrastructure, social security, law enforcement and courts.”

Quite so. In fact the the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is investigating the way financial secrecy and permissive rules on corporate tax are undermining the proper resourcing of human rights.

It has drawn on a joint report by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Tax Justice Network and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law to call on the single largest financial secrecy jurisdiction in the world – the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies – to account for the human rights impacts of its unjust tax policies at home and abroad, which you can read more about here.

Also Switzerland, top of our Financial Secrecy Index may soon face scrutiny from the United Nations over its role in facilitating cross-border tax abuse. Earlier this year a coalition of civil society bodies (including ourselves) filed a submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW,) the UN body mandated to oversee compliance with women’s human rights – focusing specifically on the extra-territorial impacts of Switzerland’s opaque financial legislation on women’s rights and gender equality, particularly in developing countries. We argue that Switzerland’s opaque finance and tax policies may contravene its obligations under Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

We believe that when countries sign up to convenants designed to protect the rights of their citizens, that should mean something. The United Nations clearly agrees. And Switzerland and the UK (and its satellite havens) won’t be the last countries to be the focus of this kind of essential scrutiny.

 

 

 

 

 

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