UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations human rights expert has called on newly-elected UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to convene a world conference to discuss the issues of tax avoidance and evasion, the abolition of tax havens as well as the protection of whistleblowers.

"The choice of Mr 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 expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said in a statement.

"I sincerely hope that the abolition of tax havens and the creation of a United Nations Tax Authority with a mandate to combat offshore tax avoidance and evasion, and to outlaw tax havens, will be among Mr Guterres' priorities."

"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," the rights expert said.

De Zayas pointed out that widespread tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax fraud and profit-shifting, facilitated by bank secrecy and a web of shell companies registered in tax havens, are now routinely documented, but their true human cost is only revealed progressively.

Noting that an increasing number of human rights experts are reporting on the issue, De Zayas highlighted the need to put the issue of taxation on the agenda of the General Assembly and of the Human Rights Council, in particular through the Universal Periodic Review and the 2016 Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

"Corruption, bribery, tax fraud and tax evasion have such grave effects on human dignity, human rights and human welfare that they shock the conscience of mankind. They should be prosecuted nationally and internationally," he said.

"The United Nations must take concerted action against abuses and crimes perpetrated by individuals, speculators, hedge funds and transnational enterprises who skirt taxes and loot governments."

In particular, the rights expert urged the UN General Assembly to draft a convention to outlaw tax havens worldwide, declare so-called ‘sweetheart deals' (of countries/governments) with transnational corporations such as Apple, Google and Starbucks to be contrary to "international ordre public".

De Zayas also stressed the need for effective protection of whistleblowers.

"Whistleblowing is one of the most effective methods of shining light on corruption. Thanks to the revelations of the Panama Papers, Bahamas Papers, Luxleaks and the UNAOIL scandal, a public debate on corruption, bribery and tax havens has started that is providing momentum for legislative changes to abolish secrecy jurisdictions," he said.

But whistleblowers, who should be considered as human rights defenders as they significantly contribute to a culture of transparency and accountability, often pay a heavy price, he noted.

"It is in the spirit of a democratic and equitable international order to adopt legislation to protect whistleblowers and witnesses from reprisals and to provide them with easy-to-access avenues to make disclosures," De Zayas said.

According to a UN news release, the expert will be convening on 14 October an expert consultation, at which "strategies will be discussed, including the mainstreaming of human rights into the activities of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which should henceforth refuse funding to any project or country that participates in or allows illicit financial flows into tax havens".

Meanwhile, in his latest report to the General Assembly on the human rights impact of tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax fraud and profit-shifting, De Zayas said that a human rights-based approach to taxation and stricter measures against tax fraud, tax evasion and tax havens are urgently needed because a shortfall in tax revenues handicaps governments in meeting human rights treaty obligations.

The expert pointed to "white-collar criminality" that has enjoyed a high level of anonymity and impunity. Indeed, it is the infrastructure of intermediaries, including tax advisers, law firms, accountants and trust service providers, that facilitates tax evasion and avoidance as well as cross-border illicit financial flows.

Every strategy to tackle the intermediaries, euphemistically called "enablers" or "service providers", must be part of the effort to tackle tax evasion, De Zayas said.

Part of the problem lies in the mantras of market fundamentalism and the belief that financial markets should be deregulated because this ultimately benefits everyone, including the poor. Although no empirical evidence exists to back this up, transnational corporations and the super-rich have succeeded in creating an enabling environment for systematic looting of society.

"Collusion between the world's biggest banks, specialised law firms, and consulting and accounting firms has led to a global system designed to hide money and avoid taxes by virtue of secretive offshore structures. This is unethical, and should be perceived as such by professional associations, law schools and business schools," he said.