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Taxation plays crucial human rights role

Tuesday September 25 2018


Laikipia Woman Representative Catherine Waruguru and her colleagues address the media outside Parliament Buildings on September 20, 2018 about increased taxation of Kenyans. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Death and taxes are inescapable realities to man.

And human rights, being entitlements by virtue of being a human being, are inalienable and indivisible. They are spelt out in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Accordingly, no right is deprived directly by the lawful levying of taxes. Government efforts on ‘sin tax’ are laudable, coupled with more taxes on unhealthy food that have healthier alternatives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, taxation should bend its arc towards a human rights-based approach for the benefit of a majority of Kenyans.

Taxation is a crucial contributing component of the realisation of human rights.


Tax revenues are the main source of income for governments to facilitate their legal obligations to protect, respect and fulfil human rights — including the right to housing, health, fair trial and education and social security, as well as the principle of transparency and accountability.

Tax policy is not only important for ensuring sufficient resources but also plays a fundamental role in redressing inequalities and shaping the accountability of government to the people.

While human rights dimensions have often been lacking from debates on taxation, fiscal policy has a major impact on the human rights situation.

A human rights analysis strengthens the model of democratic governance and contributes towards a more equitable and sustainable approach to taxation.

Hence, it is essential to put human rights at the centre of fiscal policy.


Four principles should underpin our approach to taxation policy — proportionality, certainty, convenience and efficiency.

Looking at taxation through a human rights lens can enhance the fiscal framework.

This takes into account provisions of human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Fiscal policymakers should take into account the right to participation and principle of transparency, as well as the right to equality and non-discrimination and the principle of accountability in the design and implementation of taxation.


The right to participation and transparency is important in empowerment and eliminating marginalisation.

The right to equality and non-discrimination — enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights — should be secured.

Promotion of accountability for meeting obligations is continuous; hence, monitoring, review and oversight of fiscal developments is necessary.

Taxation is, therefore, an important tool that governments can employ to comply with international human rights obligations on both fulfilment and promotion sides.

The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clarify obligations of states to ensure coherence among corporate law, tax policy and human rights.

Indeed, human rights and taxation are intertwined. Taxation has a role in the realisation of human rights because of its value in raising revenue and power to redress inequalities and increase accountability.

Mr Ayuo is a legal researcher. [email protected]