“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. These first few famous words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60 years ago established the basic premise of international human rights law. Yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe. Starting on Human Rights Day 2009 and continuing throughout 2010, the UN human rights office has a focus on discrimination.
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership - or perceived membership - in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. It involves excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to other groups.
Discriminatory laws such as redlining exist in many countries. In some places, controversial attempts such as racial quotas have been used to redress negative effects of discrimination, but in turn have sometimes been called reverse discrimination themselves.
“Non-discrimination constitutes a basic and general principle relating to the protection of human rights. Every instrument, whether international or regional, requires the state to respect and ensure to all persons within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the guaranteed 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.” (Jayawickrama Nihal, The Judicial Application of Human Rights Law, Cambridge University press, United Kingdom, 2002, p.174)
The United Nations has since its very beginning set as one of its goals “ to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person” without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.1 as this phenomenon is more subtle, more corrosive and more resilient than anyone had thought.
For millions of people globally, the struggle to extract themselves from situations of discrimination at almost every turn in their daily lives is an impossible ambition. Tragically, as we have seen in the past twenty years, policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide, policies based on discriminatory ideologies, have led to destruction, exile and death.
Despite the challenges and setbacks, there has been and continues to be a rejection of discrimination. There have been enough successes to demonstrate that this scourge can be eradicated.
As the guardian of international human rights law, the UN Human Rights office advocates for and promotes human rights reforms in many countries across the globe and throughout the UN community.
• Combating discrimination against indigenous peoples
• Combating discrimination against migrants
• Combating discrimination against minorities
• Combating discrimination against people with disabilities
• Combating discrimination against women
• Combating racial discrimination
• Combating religious discrimination
• Combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity