Equal Rights Trust evidence to UN experts demonstrates the role of equality law in enjoyment of rights and development

Last month, the Equal Rights Trust submitted evidence to three different consultations by UN special rapporteurs, each of which examined a different dimension of the role of equality law in the realisation of rights and development. The evidence provided – collected through our work supporting equality defenders around the world – serves to underline the essential role of equality laws in ensuring that everyone can participate in society on an equal basis.

Our submissions demonstrate the need for states to adopt and implement equality laws in order to meet their obligations to: identify and eliminate discriminatory torture and ill-treatment; ensure that discrimination on the basis of religion and other grounds does not impede the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and address the discriminatory impacts of state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evidence of patterns of discrimination

In evidence on the human rights impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urged a group of UN special procedures to join us in recommending that states incorporate Equality Impact Assessment as an integral element of their ongoing public health, economic, and social responses to the crisis. Our submission built on the global Call to Action which the Trust developed and launched with an unprecedented coalition of global equality organisations in May 2020. It presented selected evidence of the discriminatory impacts of state responses to the pandemic on enjoyment of the rights to health, freedom of assembly and protection from violence. It also raised concerns about emerging discriminatory impacts affecting the rights to education and work, and warned of the myriad potential discriminatory consequences of proposals to use anti-body testing, immunity passports and associated measures to manage the spread of the virus. The submission noted that it is only through undertaking Equality Impact Assessments that states can identify and eliminate the actual and potential discriminatory impacts of their responses, and so meet their meet their binding non-discrimination obligations under international law.

In evidence submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, we asked the UN expert to support our call for states to recognise and respond to the phenomenon of discriminatory torture and ill-treatment. Presenting selected evidence of instances of discriminatory torture and other ill-treatment against three groups exposed to discrimination, we noted that states’ obligations to combat discrimination and to combat torture and other ill-treatment are mutually reinforcing. The submission highlighted the cases of persons with mental disabilities subjected to involuntary institutionalisation, women experiencing domestic violence and LGBTI persons subjected to state violence. Our key recommendation was that states must address the role of discrimination as a driver of the torture and ill-treatment.

In a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on religion on the subject of eliminating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, we sought to illustrate key patterns of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief identified through our work with equality defenders in Central Asia, Egypt, and Pakistan, to demonstrate the impact of these patterns of discrimination on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The patterns highlighted included laws and policies imposing a uniform understanding of national identity around one religion and those which directly or indirectly discriminate in respect of the manifestation of religion or belief by members of minorities. The submission drew both on research undertaken with our partner equality defenders and on our work on the Equal Rights Approach to Sustainable Development, which demonstrates the role of equality law in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We urged the Special Rapporteur to recommend that states adopt comprehensive equality laws as a necessary step to the achievement of SDG 16 and a key measure to realise the wider SDG agenda.

The role of equality law in the realisation of rights and development

Despite the very different focuses of these different expert consultations, each of our submissions illustrates the role of discrimination in causing and perpetuating other human rights violations and obstructing development. They also demonstrate the essential role equality laws in the realisation of all human rights and sustainable development.

To find out more about our work on discriminatory torture and ill-treatment, religious discrimination and the role of equality laws in achieving the SDGs, and other topics at the intersection of non-discrimination and other human rights, click here.

To find out more about our #NoCOVIDiscrimination initiativea comprehensive programme of action to support equality defenders to identify, document and challenge the discriminatory impacts of state responses to COVID 19 – contact us at covidresponse@equalrightstrust.org.