Naomi Fowler ■ UN Expert backs the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index in the battle to protect human rights


The next United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has a lot on his plate. But when he takes over from Ban Ki-moon to head the United Nations on the 1st of January 2017 one of his priorities must be to eliminate tax havens. That’s the advice of the United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Alfred de Zayas who has called for Guterres to hold a world conference on phasing out tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions. We welcome his comments in a recent press conference, which you can watch in its entirety here. He says:dezayas

“Trillions of dollars necessary for combating 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…and most perpetrators have enjoyed immunity.”

This is indeed a human rights issue of huge proportions, undermining economic, social and cultural rights. He goes on,

“The United Nations must take concerted action against abuse and crimes perpetrated by individuals, speculators, hedge funds and transnational enterprises that skirt taxes and loot governments”

As he rightly says, absolutely key to all this is transparency. We need more transparency, not less.

De Zayas went on to cite the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index (FSI), which ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy levels and the scale of their offshore financial activities.

The only independent, robust analysis of financial secrecy

It is no surprise to us that experts like De Zayas are citing our research. As the EU and the OECD play around with their own tax haven blacklists, (which in the past have been highly politicised and even farcical in nature), the Financial Secrecy Index is the only, independent, research-based analysis of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.

The FSI makes uncomfortable reading for some OECD members countries, some of whom feature strongly among the top global players contributing to the problem. And the problem is this: the continuing global failure to truly crack down on secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens is undermining the proper resourcing of human rights. Many governments are simply failing to deliver. While that may be for a variety of reasons, the huge loss in tax revenue is at the heart of it. In the Global South the problem is most acute, but even in the wealthier world essential funds for social services and basic needs have been cut back whilst financial secrecy and permissive rules on corporate tax have been allowed to continue virtually unchecked.

Tax havens – a human rights issue

UN Human Rights experts have long understood the threat to human rights around the world should the OECD ‘rich country club’ of interested parties continue to drag its feet and not take effective action to stop abuses. UN Human Rights Experts responded with great frustration recently to the latest leaks scandal, Bahamas Leaks, asking ‘what else do we need to know to take action?’

What else indeed. The Tax Justice Network strongly supports their call for a global UN tax body, not least because it’s so important that all countries have a seat at the table, especially countries in the Global South.

The UN also made recommendations this 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. De Zayas describes whistleblowers as human rights defenders in his recent press conference. A strong push for robust law making is now absolutely essential to protect this frontline for tax justice and human rights.

We’ll be watching to see how new UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres will respond..

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