The right to equality before the law and the protection of all persons against discrimination are fundamental norms of international human rights law. But in the year which marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the recognition and enjoyment of equal rights still remains beyond the reach of large sections of humanity.
In the second half of the 20th Century international human rights law emerged as a major legal framework for the protection of individual rights and freedoms. However, most countries in the world lack effective legal protection against discrimination and legal means to promote equality. Even in countries where such provisions are in force, much remains to be done to ensure the realisation of the right to equality.
In certain national and regional legal systems, equality legislation has evolved in the last few decades. It contains legal concepts, definitions, approaches and jurisprudence, some of which have taken the protection against discrimination and the realisation of the right to equality to a higher level. However, the disparity between international human rights law and national as well as regional approaches to equality hinders progress. Therefore, a major effort is required to modernise and integrate legal standards related to the protection against discrimination and the promotion of equality.
The Principles on Equality were agreed by a group of experts in several stages of consultations. They were discussed at a conference entitled “Principles on Equality and the Development of Legal Standards on Equality”, organised by The Equal Rights Trust on 3 - 5 April 2008 in London. Participants of different backgrounds, including academics, legal practitioners and human rights activists from all regions of the world took part in this event. Participants debated a version of the draft that had incorporated their comments on an earlier document. They subsequently contributed comments. A number of further experts participated in various stages of drafting and deliberation.
The result, the Declaration of Principles on Equality, reflects a moral and professional consensus among human rights and equality experts. This publication seeks to broaden the consensus, generate interest and debate and thus contribute to reaffirming and developing the right to equality. The principles formulated and agreed by the experts are based on concepts and jurisprudence developed in international, regional and national legal contexts. They are intended to assist efforts of legislators, the judiciary, civil society organisations and anyone else involved in combating discrimination and promoting equality. They might serve as a compass to orient legislative, judicial and policy efforts towards a more progressive set of equality norms and policies in the 21st century. Ultimately, it is hoped that the formulation of universally applicable principles on equality will encourage further efforts to fulfil equality as a fundamental human right enjoyed by everyone.
Bob Hepple, Chair
Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director
The Equal Rights Trust