UNITED NATIONS: To tackle illicit financial flows including tax havens like offshore accounts, a United Nations human rights expert on Friday urged Secretary-General-designate António Guterres, as well as the UN General Assembly, to consider as a priority abolishing tax havens and convening a world conference on the issue, while safeguarding effective protection of whistle-blowers.

“The choice of 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,” Alfred de Zayas, the UN’s independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said in a press release.

The human rights expert said he sincerely hoped that the abolition of tax havens and the creation of a mandated UN tax authority to combat offshore tax avoidance and evasion, and to outlaw tax havens, would be among Guterres’ priorities.

“Trillions of dollars necessary for combating extreme poverty and addressing climate change are being kept offshore,” said De Zayas, stressing that “thus escaping just taxation and effectively stealing hundreds of billions of dollars each year from the public treasuries.”

In his new report to the General Assembly, De Zayas noted that widespread tax avoidance, tax evasion, and tax havens are now routinely documented. However, their true human cost is only revealed progressively.

As this is also a growing concern among other human rights experts, the special rapporteur underscored the need to put taxation on both General Assembly and Human Rights Council’s agenda, especially through the Universal Periodic Rev­iew and the 2016 Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

“The United Nations must take concerted action […] 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 [public order].”

Meanwhile, the human rights expert drew attention to enacting legislation to protect whistle-blowers and witnesses from reprisals and provide them with easy-to-access avenues to make disclosures. “Whistle­blowing is one of the most effective methods of shining light on corruption […] But whistle-blowers, who should be considered as human rights defenders as they significantly contribute to a culture of transparency and accountability, often pay a heavy price,” said the expert.

Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.

Published in Dawn October 16th, 2016