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Convene world conference on abolition of tax havens, human rights expert urges the GA and next UN Secretary-General

GENEVA (13 October 2016) – The newly selected UN Secretary-General António Guterres should convene a world conference on tax avoidance and evasion, the abolition of tax havens and the protection of whistleblowers, the UN’s Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, said on Thursday.

“The choice of Mr Guterres as the next UN Secretary-General offers a unique opportunity to advance the fight against tax evasion and illicit financial flows, at a moment where the world is paying increasing attention to these crucial issues,” Mr. de Zayas said.

“I sincerely hope that the abolition of tax havens and the creation of a United Nations Tax Authority with a mandate to combat offshore tax avoidance and evasion, and to outlaw tax havens, will be among Mr Guterres’ priorities. Trillions of dollars necessary for combatting extreme poverty and addressing climate change are being kept offshore, thus escaping just taxation and effectively stealing hundreds of billions of dollars each year from the public treasuries,” the human rights expert said.

“Widespread tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax fraud and profit-shifting, facilitated by bank secrecy and a web of shell companies registered in tax havens, are now routinely documented, but their true human cost  is only revealed progressively,” noted the expert, whose new  report to the General Assembly focuses on these issues.*

Noting that an increasing number of human rights experts are reporting on the issue**, Mr. de Zayas also insisted on the need to put the issue of taxation on the agenda of the General Assembly and of the Human Rights Council, in particular through the Universal Periodic Review and the 2016 Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

“Corruption, bribery, tax fraud and tax evasion have such grave effects on human dignity, human rights and human welfare that they shock the conscience of mankind. They should be prosecuted nationally and internationally,” said Mr. de Zayas.

“The United Nations must take concerted action against abuses and crimes perpetrated by individuals, speculators, hedge funds and transnational enterprises who skirt taxes and loot governments. In particular, I urge the UN General Assembly to draft a convention to outlaw tax-havens worldwide, declare so-called ‘sweetheart deals’ with transnational corporations such as Apple, Google and Starbucks to be contrary to international ordre public.”.

The independent expert also called for effective protection of whistleblowers.

“Whistleblowing is one of the most effective methods of shining light on corruption. Thanks to the revelations of the Panama Papers, Bahamas Papers, Luxleaks and the UNAOIL scandal, a public debate on corruption, bribery and tax havens has started that is providing momentum for legislative changes to abolish secrecy jurisdictions. But whistleblowers, who should be considered as human rights defenders as they significantly contribute to a culture of transparency and accountability, often pay a heavy price. It is in the spirit of a democratic and equitable international order to adopt legislation to protect whistleblowers and witnesses from reprisals and to provide them with easy-to-access avenues to make disclosures,” he added.

As part of effort to identify concrete measures to counter tax evasion, Mr. de Zayas is convening an expert consultation in Geneva on 14 October, at which “strategies will be discussed, including the mainstreaming of human rights into the activities of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which should henceforth refuse funding to any project or country that participates in or allows illicit financial flows into tax havens”. 

ENDS

* The report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order on the human rights impact of tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax fraud and profit shifting (A/71/286) is available here:
http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/71/286

** The report of the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt (A/HRC/31/61) is available here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session31/Pages/ListReports.aspx

Mr. Alfred de Zayas (United States of America) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order by the Human Rights Council, effective May 2012. He is currently professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IntOrder/Pages/IEInternationalorderIndex.aspx

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Thibaut Guillet (+41 22 917 9674 /tguillet@ohchr.org) or write to ie-internationalorder@ohchr.org

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