Liz Nelson ■ UN committee hears evidence of harms of Swiss financial secrecy on women’s rights

Pedestrian street and clocktower in Bern, Switzerland

Today, the 83rd session of the Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will begin to review Switzerland’s fulfilment of their obligations to women’s human rights under the Convention. We have submitted a report, together with our with partners at Alliance-Sud and the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) with the purpose of drawing the committee’s attention to the negligible progress made towards financial transparency and the duties born by the state party to women’s and girls rights. Our previous joint submission in 2016 to the CEDAW committee asked awkward questions about Switzerland’s financial secrecy. We urge them to be asked again.

In 2016, we put to the CEDAW committee the relevance of Switzerland’s role as one of the world’s leading financial secrecy jurisdictions and how this undermines the abilities of governments elsewhere in the world to fulfil their obligations to women’s rights. Six years later the Financial Secrecy Index 2022 confirmed Switzerland remained one of the most significant suppliers of secrecy, only surpassed by the United States.

The 2016 submission argued:

that Swiss policy and practice in the tax and financial domains calls into question Switzerland’s compliance with its obligations under Article 2 of CEDAW—read in conjunction with its duties as a State party to other international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)—to realize women’s rights both within and outside its territory.”

Moreover the submission underscored that the obligation included Switzerland’s duties to:

“refrain from making laws and policies which directly or indirectly result in the denial of women’s equal enjoyment of their rights, extraterritorially as well as within its jurisdiction; to protect against private conduct that has such effect, including through the regulation of the banking sector and other private actors subject to its jurisdiction; and to cooperate internationally to mobilize the maximum available resources for the universal fulfillment of women’s economic, social, and cultural rights and to create an international enabling environment conducive to this goal.”

“Switzerland needs to strip away and reform its financial secrecy laws and recognise the deep harm they cause to the rights of women and girls in other countries – especially low income countries”. (Kate Donald, Director of Program, Center for Economic and Social Rights).

The joint submission the CEDAW Committee will review this week calls on the committee to ask Swiss government these three questions:

  1. Does the State party intend to conduct an independent study of its own responsibility for those tax abuses, by assessing the impacts of its tax and financial secrecy policies on the resources available for the fulfilment of women’s rights and substantive equality overseas, in line with its obligations under CEDAW and as recommended by the Committee in 2016?
  2. How will reforms to financial secrecy and corporate tax policies in Switzerland further the realization of women’s rights and substantive equality overseas, particularly in developing countries? More specifically, what efforts are being made to ensure that the countries hardest hit by cross-border tax abuse, with the greatest deficits in terms of resources available for women’s rights and gender equality, are among those entitled to exchange of taxpayer information with Switzerland?
  3. What is Switzerland doing to improve the transparency of legal persons and arrangements and thus to guarantee the existing financial framework of policies and laws are not used for channelling illicit financial flows?

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