Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Advancing Tax Justice Through Human Rights

Taxation can play a critical role in advancing or impeding human rights enjoyment, while the norms and mechanisms of human rights offer powerful tools for tax justice advocates. With the aim of building bridges between these communities, a major international strategy meeting, ‘Advancing Tax Justice through Human Rights,’ took place in Lima, Peru, on April 29-30, co-organized by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Tax Justice Network, Oxfam, Global Alliance for Tax Justice, LatinDADD, and Red de Justicia Fiscal en América Latina y el Caribe.

Tax policy is one of the most important instruments governments can deploy to generate the ‘maximum available resources’ for the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, as they are required to do under international human rights law. Taxation also plays a fundamental role in redistributing resources in ways that can redress social, gender and economic inequalities, whilst also strengthening the bonds of accountability between the state and its people.

In recent times the tax justice community has made enormous strides in drawing public attention to the inequities built into many tax regimes, in boosting the capacity of development and social justice organizations to expose tax abuse, and in effectively advocating for some significant legal and policy advancements. This community of practice is just beginning to engage with the norms, tools and mechanisms of human rights. The manifest injustice of regressive fiscal austerity measures, and the significant human rights impacts resulting from tax evasion and avoidance, has meanwhile motivated human rights defenders to push into an area that was often considered too complex or politically sensitive.

Framing tax as a human rights issue takes it beyond an elite technocratic sphere into the arena of legitimate public scrutiny, debate and mobilization around fundamental values of equality, solidarity and justice. It can also redress the near-hegemonic influence of private interests over tax policy by broadening the platform to incorporate a broader range of social actors, such as budget analysts, corporate accountability campaigners, social movements, litigators and academics. The power of framing tax justice as a matter of human rights lies also in the potential to invoke an array of mechanisms set up at the national and international levels to hold governments accountable to their human rights obligations.

This work remains incipient, however, and there is a pressing need to strengthen the linkages between human rights and tax justice advocacy, and to explore how the principles, instruments and mechanisms of human rights can be deployed in efforts to bolster the resourcing, redistributive and accountability functions of taxation.

The International Strategy Meeting (ISM) was designed to build closer synergies between human rights and tax justice research and advocacy communities, and to bring these previously separate spheres together with the aim of developing human rights-centered tax policies at both the domestic and international levels.

This ISM brought together tax justice organizations, human rights practitioners, UN and regional human rights experts and mechanisms, and strategic litigators. It offered a key platform to share experiences, strategies and skills on the path to building broader alliances to adapt human rights principles into a coherent and enforceable body of tax policy standards. More concretely, the meeting was designed to:

  • Take stock of advances and challenges in bringing human rights to bear in fiscal, budget and tax policy and practice
  • Provide a unique platform for human rights and tax justice practitioners to share experiences, strategies and skills
  • Identify current research and advocacy gaps, and explore opportunities for improved collaborative research and advocacy to both challenge unjust tax policies and implement human rights-centered tax policies and practices at the domestic and international levels

All materials developed in the context of the event will be made available in this sub-site of www.cesr.org. Drawing on participants’ contributions, a final publication  – ‘Advancing Tax Justice through Human Rights: Opportunities and Strategies’ –  will explore why tax rules and policies are fundamental to human rights realization and outline challenges and opportunities for using human rights norms and mechanisms in the pursuit of tax justice.

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