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The Human Right to Freedom from Racial Discrimination
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Human Rights & Race | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Race

What is the Human Right to Freedom from Racial Discrimination?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to freedom from discrimination based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, and to other fundamental human rights dependent upon realization of the human right to freedom from racial discrimination. These human rights are explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations -- powerful tools that must be put to use in efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

The Human Rights at Issue

The human right to freedom from racial discrimination entitles every woman, man, youth and child to fundamental human rights including:

The human right to freedom from any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, national or ethnic origin, language, or any other status, which has the purpose or effect of impairing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The human right to freedom from discrimination in all areas and levels of education, and to equal access to continuing education and vocational training.

The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

The human right to equal remuneration for equal work.

The human right to the highest attainable standard of health.

The human right to live in a safe and healthy environment.

The human right to participate in shaping decisions and policies affecting one's community, on the local, national and international level.


Human Rights & Race | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Racial Discrimination

What provisions of human rights law guarantee all persons the Human Right to Freedom from Racial Discrimination?

Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.... Everyone is entitled to ... 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.... All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination ... and against any incitement to such discrimination.... Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work...."
-- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 1, 2, 7, and 23

"States Parties...undertake to guarantee that ... rights ... will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind.... Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted.... Education ... shall be made equally accessible to all."
-- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 2, 7, and 13

"Each State Party ... undertakes to ... ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind...; All persons shall be equal before the courts.... Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.... The law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground....."
-- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2, 14, 24, and 26

"States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue ... a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.... Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act ... of racial discrimination....; Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination...; Each State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end ... racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of ... political rights ... civil rights ... economic, social and cultural rights, in particular: the right to work, ... to just and favourable conditions or work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work...; the right to housing; ... to public health, medical care, social security and social services; the right to education and training.... States Parties shall assure ... effective protection and remedies ... against any acts of racial discrimination.... "
-- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Articles 2, 5, and 6

"States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.... States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and ... they shall ... make primary education compulsory and available free to all; ... make [secondary education] available and accessible to every child...; make higher education accessible to all.... In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority ... shall not be denied the right ... to enjoy his or her own culture, to ... practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language."
-- Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 28, and 30


Human Rights & Race | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Racial Discrimination

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Freedom from Racial Discrimination?

Includes commitments made at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

"Respect for human rights ... without distinction of any kind is a fundamental rule of international human rights law. The speedy and comprehensive elimination of all forms of racism and racial discrimination ... and related intolerance is a priority task for the international community. Governments should take effective measures to prevent and combat them.... The World Conference on Human Rights welcomes the progress made in dismantling apartheid and calls upon the international community and the United Nations system to assist in this process.... The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the obligation of States to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights ... without any discrimination.... The persons belonging to minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion and to use their own language ... freely and without ... any form of discrimination...."
-- Vienna Declaration, para. 15, 16, and 19

"We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies that are stable, safe and just and that are based on ... non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, ... and participation of all people.... To this end ... we will ... Formulate or strengthen policies and strategies geared to the elimination of discrimination in all its forms and the achievement of social integration based on equality and respect for human dignity.... Promote access for all to education, information, technology ... as essential means for enhancing ... participation in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life, and ensure respect for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.... Recognize and respect cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, and take measures to facilitate their full participation in all aspects ... of their societies...."
-- Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 4

"We are determined to ... ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights ... for all ... girls who face multiple barriers to their empowerment and advancement because of such factors as their race, age, language, ethnicity, culture, religion, or disability, or because they are indigenous people...."
-- Beijing Declaration, para. 32

"Actions to be taken: ... Give priority to promoting and protecting the full and equal enjoyment by women and men of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origins, property, birth or other status."
-- Beijing Platform for Action, para. 232

"As human beings are at the centre of our concern for sustainable development, they are the basis for our actions in implementing the Habitat Agenda.... We shall intensify our efforts to eradicate ... discrimination, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all...."
-- Istanbul Declaration, para. 7

"Equitable human settlements are those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have equal access to housing, infrastructure, health services, adequate food and water, education.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Eradicating and ensuring legal protection from discrimination in access to shelter and basic services, without distinction of any kind...."
-- Habitat Agenda, paras. 27 and 40


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org