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The Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination
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Human Rights & Discrimination | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Discrimination

What is the Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other status, and to other fundamental human rights dependent upon realization of the human right to freedom from discrimination. These human rights are explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations -- powerful tools that must be put to use in efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination.

The Human Rights at Issue

The Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination entitles every woman, man, youth and child to fundamental human rights including:

The human right to freedom from any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on gender, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, language, religion, political or other opinion, age, or any other status, which has the purpose or effect of impairing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms

The human right to equality between men and women and to equal partnership in the family and society

The human right to equality between the boy-child and girl-child in all areas, including education, health, nutrition, and employment

The human right of all persons to freedom from discrimination in all areas and levels of education, and to equal access to continuing education and vocational training.

The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living

The human right to equal remuneration for equal work

The human right to the highest attainable standard of health

The human right to live in a safe and healthy environment

The human right to participate in shaping decisions and policies affecting one's community, on the local, national and international level


Human Rights & Discrimination | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination

What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination?

Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Discrimination in Education.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.... Everyone is entitled to ... rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.... Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 1, 2, 7, and 23

"States Parties...undertake to guarantee that ... rights ... will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... States Parties ... undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind.... Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted.... Education ... shall be made equally accessible to all."
--International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 2, 3, 7, and 13

"Each State Party ... undertakes to ... ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind...; to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms ... are violated shall have an effective remedy...; ... to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.... All persons shall be equal before the courts.... States Parties ... shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights ... of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.... Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.... [The] law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."
--International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2, 3, 14, 23, 24, 26 and 27

"States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means ... a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and ... undertake: to embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their ... constitutions ... and to ensure ... the practical realization of this principle; To adopt ... legislative and other measures ... prohibiting all discrimination against women; To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure ... the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination; To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities ... shall act in conformity with this obligation; To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise; To take all appropriate measures ... to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.... States Parties shall ... take all appropriate measures to ... ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right: To vote ...; To participate in the formulation of government policy...; States Parties shall ... ensure to [women] equal rights with men in the field of education ... the same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies...; access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality; the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education...; the same opportunities for access to programs of continuing education.... States Parties shall ... ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular ... the right to work ...; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the right to promotion, job security and ... the right to ... vocational training...; the right to equal remuneration ..., equal treatment in ... work of equal value.... In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of ... maternity..., States Parties shall ... prohibit ... dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave ...; States Parties shall ... ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services.... States Parties shall ... ensure ... the same rights ... to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, ... the right: ... to have access to adequate health care facilities...; to obtain all types of training and education;... to have access to agricultural credit and loans,... appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform.... States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 2, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16

"States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue ... a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.... Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act ... of racial discrimination....; Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination...; Each State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end ... racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of ... political rights ... civil rights ... economic, social and cultural rights.... States Parties shall assure ... effective protection and remedies ... against any acts of racial discrimination.... "
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Articles 2, 5, and 6

"States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.... States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and ... they shall ... make primary education compulsory and available free to all; ... make [secondary education] available and accessible to every child...; make higher education accessible to all.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority ... shall not be denied the right ... to enjoy his or her own culture, to ... practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language."
--Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 28, and 30

"... States Parties ... undertake: To ... discontinue any ... practices which involve discrimination in education....; to formulate, develop and apply a national policy which ... will ... promote equality of opportunity and of treatment in the matter of education and in particular: To make primary education free and compulsory; make secondary education in its different forms generally available and accessible to all; make higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity.... It is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and ... the use or the teaching of their own language...."
--Convention against Discrimination in Education, Articles 3, 4, and 5


Human Rights & Discrimination | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Freedom from Discrimination?

Includes commitments made at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, and excerpts from the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities.

"Respect for human rights ... without distinction of any kind is a fundamental rule of international human rights law. The speedy and comprehensive elimination of all forms of racism and racial discrimination ... and related intolerance is a priority task for the international community.... The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life ... and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community.... The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the obligation of States to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights ... without any discrimination.... The persons belonging to minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion and to use their own language ... freely and without ... any form of discrimination.... Special attention needs to be paid to ensuring non-discrimination, and the equal enjoyment of all human rights ... by disabled persons, including their active participation in all aspects of society...."
--Vienna Declaration, Part I, paras. 15, 18, 19, and 22

"We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies that are stable, safe and just and that are based on ... non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, ... and participation of all people.... To this end ... we will ... Formulate or strengthen policies and strategies geared to the elimination of discrimination in all its forms and the achievement of social integration based on equality and respect for human dignity.... Promote access for all to education, information, technology ... as essential means for enhancing ... participation in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life.... Recognize and respect cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, and take measures to facilitate their full participation in all aspects ... of their societies.... We commit ourselves to promoting full respect for human dignity and to achieving equality and equity between women and men.... We will...ensure gender balance in decision-making.... Promote...equal access of women to ... education and training, and remove all obstacles to their access to credit and other productive resources...; Ensure ... universal access to the widest range of health-care services.... Remove the remaining restrictions on women's right to own land, inherit property ... and ensure women's equal right to work...."
--Copenhagen Declaration, Commitments 4 and 5

"Eliminating discrimination and promoting tolerance and mutual respect for ... diversity ... requires ... Enacting and implementing appropriate laws ... to combat racism, racial discrimination, religious intolerance in all its various forms, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination in all walks of life in societies.... Taking specific measures ... to remove long-standing legal and social barriers to employment, education, productive resources and public services; assist women in becoming aware of and realizing their rights; and ensure the elimination of intra-family discrimination for the girl child, especially in regard to health, nutrition and education.... Governments should promote equality and social justice by: Ensuring that all people are equal before the law; Carrying out a regular review of public policy, including health and education policies, and public spending from a social and gender equality and equity perspective...; Expanding and improving access to basic services with the aim of ensuring universal coverage...; Promoting full access to preventive and curative health care to improve the quality of life, especially by the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, in particular women and children...."
--Copenhagen Programme of Action, paras. 73 and 74

"We are determined to ... take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and the girl-child and remove all obstacles to gender equality and the advancement and empowerment of women.... We are determined to ... intensify efforts to ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights ... for all ... girls who face multiple barriers to their empowerment and advancement because of such factors as their race, age, language, ethnicity, culture, religion, or disability, or because they are indigenous people...."
--Beijing Declaration, paras. 24 and 32

"Actions to be taken: ... Restructure ... public expenditures to promote women's economic opportunities and ... basic social, educational and health needs of women....; Undertake ... reforms to give women ... equal access to economic resources, including ... inheritance and ... ownership of land .., credit.... Enact ... legislation to guarantee ... rights of women and men to equal pay for equal work.... Give priority to promoting and protecting the full and equal enjoyment by women and men of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origins, property, birth or other status."
--Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 58, 61, 165, and 232

"As human beings are at the centre of our concern for sustainable development, they are the basis for our actions in implementing the Habitat Agenda.... We shall intensify our efforts to eradicate ... discrimination, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all...."
--Istanbul Declaration, para. 7

"Equitable human settlements are those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have equal access to housing, infrastructure, health services, adequate food and water, education.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Eradicating and ensuring legal protection from discrimination in access to shelter and basic services, without distinction of any kind...."
--Habitat Agenda, paras. 27 and 40

"States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories.... Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities ... have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language ... freely and without interference or any form of discrimination.... Persons belonging to minorities may exercise their rights ... individually as well as in community with other members of their group, without any discrimination.... States shall ... ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law...."
--Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities,Articles 1, 2, 3, and 4

"No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or other belief.... All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights ... in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life...."
--Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Articles 2 and 4


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org