Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation must be priority, say UN experts ahead of Universal Declaration anniversary


Independent United Nations experts today urged all UN member states to prioritise enacting, enforcing and implementing anti-discrimination legislation, as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released new guidance on how to meet commitments to implement effective legal frameworks. Ahead of this month’s anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and its milestone 75th next year – the experts made the following statement:

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ‘common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’ begins with the proclamation that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.

The Declaration recognises that all people are equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law and provides that all human rights must be afforded to everyone without discrimination. The 2030 Agenda and Declaration for Sustainable Development, with its pledge that ‘no one will be left behind’, places equality at the heart of the global effort to eradicate poverty, secure human rights and protect the planet.

These declarations, published 65 years apart, demonstrate States’ recognition that efforts to create just, inclusive and peaceful societies, to eliminate poverty and to ensure enjoyment of human rights for all, necessitate to focus on addressing inequality.

Yet in 2022, despite these repeated commitments, many United Nations member states lack effective and genuinely comprehensive legal frameworks for the prevention of discrimination and promotion of equality.

Comprehensive anti-discrimination laws translate international legal commitments to equality into actionable and enforceable rights under national law. In the absence of such frameworks, discrimination is likely to persist on myriad grounds and in all areas of life.

A wide range of grounds have been recognised under international law, including age; birth; civil, family or carer status; colour; descent, including caste; disability; economic status; ethnicity; gender and gender expression; gender identity; genetic or other predisposition towards illness; health status; indigenous origin; language; marital status; maternity or paternity status; migrant status; minority status; national origin; nationality; place of residence; political or other opinions; pregnancy; property; race; refugee or asylum status; religion or belief; sex; sex characteristics; sexual orientation; social origin; social situation; status as a victim of slavery or human trafficking; work or occupation, or any other status.

In a general context of the escalating global backlash against human rights and equality norms, as independent human rights experts mandated to work on diverse and wide-ranging themes, every area of our work is touched by questions of equality and non-discrimination. The ban on discrimination is a red line running through every part of the international human rights legal order. Cases and scenarios involving questions of inequality are the substance of our daily work.

One year remains before the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We call on all United Nations Member States to take this opportunity to renew and reinforce their commitment to a society in which all are free and equal in rights and in which no one is left behind, including those affected by intersecting or multiple forms of discrimination. In this perspective, we invite all Member States that have not yet done so to ratify international human rights treaties and recognise their procedures and translate them into national laws and policies.

In calling on all United Nations Member States to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, we direct them to new guidance issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Protecting Minority Rights: A Practical Guide to Developing Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation.

This guide provides clear and complete guidance for States on the laws which are required to meet their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to equality and non-discrimination and to deliver their ambitions to leave no one behind. It summarises international legal standards and provides accessible guidance on the necessary scope and content of these laws.

We urge States to use the Guide and relevant human rights standards as practical tools for the development and reform of their legal frameworks on equality and non-discrimination. With one year remaining before the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration:

  • We call on all States which have yet to develop comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to make this a priority for the coming year.
  • We urge States now developing, drafting or consulting on comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to accelerate the process; and
  • We ask States which have enacted laws aiming to provide comprehensive protection to review these in order to ensure that they are effective and consistent with international law, and to ensure effective implementation and adequate remedies.

The Practical Guide provides an essential roadmap, detailing the necessary elements of anti-discrimination legislation which is comprehensive, effective and consistent with the requirements of international human rights law. We urge States to take the publication of this guidance as a catalyst to action.”

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