Declaration of Principles on Equality

3-5 April 2008 a group of experts got together at a conference in London arranged by The Equal Rights Trust. At this conference titled Principles on Equality and the Development of Legal Standards on Equality, they put together a document called Declaration of Principles on Equality, consisting of 27 principles that aim towards understanding equality better.

People are discriminated against for such characteristics as age, disability, race, belief/no-belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status and maternity. Discrimination may be direct or indirect. In Mississippi and North-Carolina, USA, a bathroom law was passed forcing men and women to use a bathroom/locker-room that matched their birth-sex instead of their gender. People with disabilities may be accused of faking it or using their disability to get attention (gas-lighting). The following 27 principles, hopefully, enable law-makers, businesses, health-personnel and others become aware of steps they need to take to make their society more equal. Whether people really want others to be equal to themselves, is a question I fear has a depressing answer.

  1. The right to equality
  2. Equal treatment
  3. Positive action
  4. The right to non-discrimination
  5. Definition of discrimination
  6. Relationship between the grounds of discrimination
  7. Discrimination and violence
  8. Scope of Application
  9. Right-holders
  10. Duty-bearers
  11. Giving Effect to the Right to Equality
  12. Obligations Regarding Multiple Discrimination
  13. Accommodating Difference
  14. Measures Against Poverty
  15. Specificity of Equality Legislation
  16. Participation
  17. Education on Equality
  18. Access to Justice
  19. Victimisation
  20. Standing
  21. Evidence and Proof
  22. Remedies and Sanctions
  23. Specialised Bodies
  24. Duty to Gather Information
  25. Dissemination of Information
  26. Prohibition of Regressive Interpretation
  27. Derogations and Reservations

1 The Right to Equality

The right to equality is the right of all human beings to be equal in dignity, to be treated with respect and consideration and to participate on an equal basis with others in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life. All human beings are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

2 Equal Treatment

Equal treatment, as an aspect of equality, is not equivalent to identical treatment. To realise full and effective equality it is necessary to treat people differently according to their different circumstances, to assert their equal worth and to enhance their capabilities to participate in society as equals.

3 Positive Action

To be effective, the right to equality requires positive action.

Positive action, which includes a range of legislative, administrative and policy measures to overcome past disadvantage and to accelerate progress towards equality of particular groups, is a necessary element within the right to equality.

4 The Right to Non-discrimination

The right to non-discrimination is a free-standing, fundamental right, subsumed in the right to equality.

5 Definition of Discrimination

Discrimination must be prohibited where it is on grounds of race, colour, ethnicity, descent, sex, pregnancy, maternity, civil, family or carer status, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, birth, national or social origin, nationality, economic status, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, health status, genetic or other predisposition toward illness or a combination of any of these grounds, or on the basis of characteristics associated with any of these grounds.

Discrimination based on any other ground must be prohibited where such discrimination (i) causes or perpetuates systemic disadvantage; (ii) undermines human dignity; or (iii) adversely affects the equal enjoyment of a person’s rights and freedoms in a serious manner that is comparable to discrimination on the prohibited grounds stated above.

Discrimination must also be prohibited when it is on the ground of the association of a person with other persons to whom a prohibited ground applies or the perception, whether accurate or otherwise, of a person as having a characteristic associated with a prohibited ground.

Discrimination may be direct or indirect.

Direct discrimination occurs when for a reason related to one or more prohibited grounds a person or group of persons is treated less favourably than another person or another group of persons is, has been, or would be treated in a comparable situation; or when for a reason related to one or more prohibited grounds a person or group of persons is subjected to a detriment. Direct discrimination may be permitted only very exceptionally, when it can be justified against strictly defined criteria.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice would put persons having a status or a characteristic associated with one or more prohibited grounds at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Harassment constitutes discrimination when unwanted conduct related to any prohibited ground takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

An act of discrimination may be committed intentionally or unintentionally.

6 Relationship between the Grounds of Discrimination

Legislation must provide for equal protection from discrimination regardless of the ground or combination of grounds concerned.

7 Discrimination and Violence

Any act of violence or incitement to violence that is motivated wholly or in part by the victim having a characteristic or status associated with a prohibited ground constitutes a serious denial of the right to equality. Such motivation must be treated as an aggravating factor in the commission of offences of violence and incitement to violence, and States must take all appropriate action to penalise, prevent and deter such acts.

8 Scope of Application

The right to equality applies in all areas of activity regulated by law.

9 Right-holders

The right to equality is inherent to all human beings and may be asserted by any person or a group of persons who have a common interest in asserting this right.

The right to equality is to be freely exercised by all persons present in or subject to the jurisdiction of a State.

Legal persons must be able to assert a right to protection against discrimination when such discrimination is, has been or would be based on their members, employees or other persons associated with a legal person having a status or characteristic associated with a prohibited

10 Duty-bearers

States have a duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to equality for all persons present within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction. Non-state actors, including transnational corporations and other non-national legal entities, should respect the right to equality in all areas of activity regulated by law.

11 Giving Effect to the Right to Equality

States must take the steps that are necessary to give full effect to the right to equality in all activities of the State both domestically and in its external or international role. In particular States must

(a) Adopt all appropriate constitutional, legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the right to equality;

(b) Take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that conflict or are incompatible with the right to equality;

(c) Promote equality in all relevant policies and programmes;

(d) Review all proposed legislation for its compatibility with the right to equality;

(e) Refrain from adopting any policies or engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the right to equality;

(f) Take all appropriate measures to ensure that all public authorities and institutions act in conformity with the right to equality;

(g) Take all appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination by any person, or any public or private sector organisation.

12 Obligations Regarding Multiple Discrimination

Laws and policies must provide effective protection against multiple discrimination, that is, discrimination on more than one ground. Particular positive action measures, as defined in Principle 3, may be required to overcome past disadvantage related to the combination of two or more prohibited grounds.

13 Accommodating Difference

To achieve full and effective equality it may be necessary to require public and private sector organisations to provide reasonable accommodation for different capabilities of individuals related to one or more prohibited grounds.

Accommodation means the necessary and appropriate modifications and adjustments, including anticipatory measures, to facilitate the ability of every individual to participate in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life on an equal basis with others. It should not be an obligation to accommodate difference where this would impose a disproportionate or undue burden on the provider.

14 Measures against Poverty

As poverty may be both a cause and a consequence of discrimination, measures to alleviate poverty should be coordinated with measures to combat discrimination, in the pursuit of full and effective equality.

15 Specificity of Equality Legislation

The realisation of the right to equality requires the adoption of equality laws and policies that are comprehensive and sufficiently detailed and specific to encompass the different forms and manifestations of discrimination and disadvantage.

16 Participation

All persons, particularly those who have experienced or who are vulnerable to discrimination, should be consulted and involved in the development and implementation of laws and policies implementing the right to equality.

17 Education on Equality

States have a duty to raise public awareness about equality, and to ensure that all educational establishments, including private, religious and military schools, provide suitable education on equality as a fundamental right.

18 Access to Justice

Persons who have been subjected to discrimination have a right to seek legal redress and an effective remedy. They must have effective access to judicial and/or administrative procedures, and appropriate legal aid for this purpose. States must not create or permit undue obstacles, including financial obstacles or restrictions on the representation of victims, to the effective enforcement of the right to equality.

19 Victimisation

States must introduce into their national legal systems such measures as are necessary to protect individuals from any adverse treatment or adverse consequence as a reaction to a complaint or to proceedings aimed at enforcing compliance with equality provisions.

20 Standing

States should ensure that associations, organisations or other legal entities, which have a legitimate interest in the realisation of the right to equality, may engage, either on behalf or in support of the persons seeking redress, with their approval, or on their own behalf, in any judicial and/or administrative procedure provided for the enforcement of the right to equality.

21 Evidence and Proof

Legal rules related to evidence and proof must be adapted to ensure that victims of discrimination are not unduly inhibited in obtaining redress. In particular, the rules on proof in civil proceedings should be adapted to ensure that when persons who allege that they have been subjected to discrimination establish, before a court or other competent authority, facts from which it may be presumed that there has been discrimination (prima facie case), it shall be for the respondent to prove that there has been no breach of the right to equality.

22 Remedies and Sanctions

Sanctions for breach of the right to equality must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. Sanctions must provide for appropriate remedies for those whose right to equality has been breached including reparations for material and non-material damages; sanctions may also require the elimination of discriminatory practices and the implementation of structural, institutional, organisational, or policy change that is necessary for the realisation of the right to equality.

23 Specialised Bodies

States must establish and maintain a body or a system of coordinated bodies for the protection and promotion of the right to equality. States must ensure the independent status and competences of such bodies in line with the UN Paris Principles, as well as adequate funding and transparent procedures for the appointment and removal of their members.

24 Duty to Gather Information

To give full effect to the right to equality States must collect and publicise information, including relevant statistical data, in order to identify inequalities, discriminatory practices and patterns of disadvantage, and to analyse the effectiveness of measures to promote equality. States must not use such information in a manner that violates human rights.

25 Dissemination of Information

Laws and policies adopted to give effect to the right to equality must be accessible to all persons. States must take steps to ensure that all such laws and policies are brought to the attention of all persons who may be concerned by all appropriate means.

26 Prohibition of Regressive Interpretation

In adopting and implementing laws and policies to promote equality, there shall be no regression from the level of protection against discrimination that has already been achieved.

27 Derogations and Reservations

No derogation from the right to equality shall be permitted. Any reservation to a treaty or other international instrument, which would derogate from the right to equality, shall be null and void.

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