The right to equality and freedom from discrimination is the only right set out in all nine of the core UN human rights treaties.
Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in Paris in 1948 “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, the UDHR sets out for the first time fundamental human rights to be universally acknowledged and protected. By its simplicity and universal character, the UDHR remains an important basic set of rights even though these rights have been further detailed and defined in subsequent international or other treaties. The Preamble and Article 1 in general and Article 2 in particular underline the importance of equality in dignity and rights of all persons, “without distinction of any kind”.
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1965, the ICERD requires States parties to condemn and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms. It allows for the introduction of positive action (special and concrete measures) to guarantee the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ICERD also prohibits organisations that promote racial discrimination and require States parties to declare incitement to hatred an offence punishable by law. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its States parties.
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, the ICESCR proclaims fundamental human rights of the “second generation”, such as the right to work and to form or join trade unions, the protection of the family including mothers before and after childbirth, and the rights to an adequate standard of living and to education. According to Article 2 the States parties are bound to guarantee that the proclaimed rights are exercised without “discrimination of any kind”, while according to Article 3 they should “ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights” of the Covenant. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is the body of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by its States parties.
Adopted at the same time as the ICESCR in 1966, the ICCPR proclaims fundamental rights such as the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture or held in slavery and the right to liberty and security of person. In addition to the same general obligation for States parties to ensure the enjoyment of the proclaimed rights without discrimination, as can be found in the ICESCR, the ICCPR also recognizes the right of all persons to equality before the courts and tribunals (Article 14) as well as before the law (Article 26). It also recognizes basic rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities (Article 27). The Human Rights Committee is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its States parties.
Adopted in 1979, the CEDAW defines the meaning of equality between men and women and how it can be achieved, establishing a “bill of rights” for women and an action plan for States to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights. Article 2 of the Convention requires States parties to condemn discrimination against women in all its forms and to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women. The implementation of the Convention is monitored by a Committee of independent experts on women’s rights, receiving regular reports form the signatory States on the situation of women.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989 and sets out the basic human rights that children everywhere have, setting standards in the fields of healthcare, education and legal, civil and social services. Main principles of the Convention include non-discrimination; the best interests of the child as primary consideration; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. Article 2 of the Convention obliges the States parties to ensure that the rights enumerated by the Convention are applied “to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind”. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the body of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its States parties.
Adopted in 2006, the CRPD entered into force in 2008. It aims at changing attitudes towards persons with disabilities, to be regarded as subjects with rights which they are capable of claiming instead of as objects of medical treatment, charity and social protection. It reaffirms that all persons with disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, clarifying how these rights are to be applied and identifying areas where adaptations need to be made. Several European national equality bodies are designated within their States as monitoring and implementation bodies in accordance with Article 33.2 of the Convention. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is the body of independent experts which monitors implementation of the Convention by the States parties.