|Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, 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. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.|
International Human Rights Instruments
UN Charter, Article 1(3):
To achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
See also Article 13(b) and 55(c).
The Universal Declaration and the ICCPR include, in addition to the basic guarantee of equality in the enjoyment of rights enumerated therein, separate assurances of the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law. See, eg:
Universal Declaration, Article 7
ICCPR, Article 26
Regional Human Rights Conventions
In addition, the major regional human rights instruments contain equality and non-discrimination provisions.
The original text of the European Convention on Human Rights included the principle of non-discrimination only in respect of the rights enumerated in the convention (rather than in general). Article 14 provides that:
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.
However, Protocol 12 of November 4, 2000 to the European Convention, which has not yet entered into force, expands the protection against discrimination beyond the context of rights enumerated in the treaty.
Like the ICCPR, the American Convention on Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights include both non-discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights enumerated in those treaties and the right to equal protection of the law. See, eg:
American Convention: Articles 1(1) and 24
African Charter: Articles 2 and 3
The African Charter further addresses equality of "peoples," providing in Article 19 that:
All peoples shall be equal; they shall enjoy the same respect and shall have the same rights. Nothing shall justify the domination of people by another.
Customary International Law
At least certain forms of discrimination violate customary international law. For example, discrimination or separation on the basis of race is regarded in the dissenting opinion of Judge Tanaka in the South West Africa Cases of 1966 before the International Court of Justice (the "ICJ") as a violation of customary international law. His opinion also concluded that the norm of non-discrimination on the basis of race is contained in the UN Charter. A subsequent advisory opinion of the ICJ similarly concluded that South Africa's policy of apartheid, as practiced in Namibia, violated the UN Charter.
Specific Conventions and Declarations
International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, 21 December 1965 (entered into force 4 January 1969)
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, 18 December 1978 (entrered into force 3 September 1981)
Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, 25 November 1981
See further Henkin, Human Rights, at 1026.
Peter Danchin, Columbia University