Illicit financial flows – a violation of human rights? New international task force to explore

An international task force comprised of leading academics, tax experts, and lawyers has been convened to analyse how illicit financial flows – specifically the proceeds of tax abuse – contribute to poverty and subsequently affect the enforcement of economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) across the globe.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute Task Force on Illicit Flows, Poverty and Human Rights (IBAHRI Task Force) recently held its inaugural plenary meeting in the City of London to discuss the scope of the project, potential outcomes, and research priorities. The three key objectives of the IBAHRI Task Force are as identified as:

  1. To publish an innovative report containing findings and a set of recommendations on the correlation between tax havens, poverty, and human rights;
  2. To widely disseminate the report with the aim of elevating the issue of tax evasion and human rights onto global policy agendas, and sustaining discussion thereafter; and
  3. To incite multi-level policy changes in the area of tax evasion and ESCR adjudication to help end global poverty.

While substantive links have been established between human rights and poverty, and between poverty and tax evasion, comparatively little time has been spent considering tax evasion and tax avoidance as a human rights concern.

Chaired by Professor Thomas Pogge, Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University in the United States, the IBAHRI Task Force will explore the relationship between these themes, including a pointed examination of the mining and resources industries in developing countries.

Professor Pogge commented, ‘Severe poverty is avoidable, yet persists at an astonishing level. Roughly one billion human beings are chronically undernourished, and 2.5 billion subsist on less each day than what could be bought for $2.50 in the US in 2005, according to figures of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Bank, respectively.’ He added, ‘The poorer half of humankind has less than three per cent of global household income. Complementing explorations of how aid can be better focused and made more effective, our task force will consider reforms that would enhance access by the poor to a larger share of their country's wealth which is often unjustly appropriated by local elites or foreign firms or banks.’

The members of the IBAHRI Task Force are:

  • Professor Thomas Pogge, Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs, Yale University, USA (Chair);
  • Mr Joseph Bell, Partner, Hogan Lovells; Extractive Industries Advisor, International Senior Lawyers Project, USA;
  • Professor Stephen B Cohen, Professor of Law, Georgetown University, USA;
  • Mr Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair; Senior Partner, Scanlen and Holderness, Zimbabwe;
  • Professor Robin Palmer, Director of the Institute for Professional Legal Training (IPLT), University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa;
  • Mr Pascal Saint-Amans, Director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, OECD, France;
  • Professor Celia Wells, Head of Bristol University Law School, UK;
  • Mr Lloyd Lipsett, President, LKL International Consulting Inc, Canada (Rapporteur); and
  • Ms Shirley Pouget, Programme Lawyer, IBAHRI, France (Facilitator).

The project follows the adoption of a resolution on poverty and human rights by the IBAHRI Council in May 2010 which posited severe, endemic and chronic poverty as a violation of human rights.

Sternford Moyo, Co-Chair IBAHRI said, ‘Few will require persuasion to appreciate that poverty limits, and sometimes even eliminates, access to fundamental rights. Furthermore, the negative impact of poverty on the quality of life seriously undermines enjoyment of the right to life. Accordingly, those responsible for national poverty, whether through tax evasion or other forms of illicit financial flows, should be viewed as being partly responsible for the violations of fundamental human rights which often accompany poverty.’

The IBAHRI Task Force was launched on 30 March 2012 at the offices of the International Bar Association.



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Notes for the Editor

Important links:

Click here to visit the IBAHRI Task Force Website, or paste the following hyperlink into your browser:

Click here to download the IBAHRI Resolution on poverty and human rights, or paste the following hyperlink into your browser: