The general principle of equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental element of international human rights law.
A useful definition of non-discrimination is contained in Article 1(1) ILO 111, which provides that discrimination includes: ‘Any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in the employment or occupation [?].’ Thus, the right to equal treatment requires that all persons be treated equally before the law, without discrimination. The principle of equality and non-discrimination guarantees that those in equal circumstances are dealt with equally in law and practice. However, it is important to stress that not every distinction or difference in treatment will amount to discrimination. In general international law, a violation of the principle of non-discrimination arises if: a) equal cases are treated in a different manner; b) a difference in treatment does not have an objective and reasonable justification; or c) if there is no proportionality between the aim sought and the means employed. These requirements have been expressly set out by international human rights supervisory bodies, including the European Court (see, e.g.,Marckx v. Belgium), the Inter-American Court (see, e.g,. Advisory Opinion No. 4, para. 57) and the Human Rights Committee (see, e.g., General Comment 18, para. 13 andJacobs v. Belgium).
The principle of equality can in certain circumstances require a state to take affirmative action in order to diminish or eliminate conditions that cause or help to perpetuate discrimination.
For centuries, leaders and politicians of all states, even those who do not respect human rights themselves, have cited the Declaration and recognized its values, in spite of current widespread violations of human rights norms across the globe. Articles of national Constitutions worldwide resemble that of the Declaration, often incorporating many of the rights inherent therein. As such, the Declaration had, and still has a remarkable impact on today's societies and states.
Human rights are at the core of international law and international relations. They represent basic values common to all cultures, and must be respected by countries worldwide. Human rights are inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because he or she is a human being. The principle of equality and non-discrimination, as stipulated in Article 2 of the Declaration, is the cornerstone of the human rights protection system, enshrined in every human rights instrument, stipulating that;
"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."
PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE
The aim of human rights instruments is the protection of those vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights. There are particular groups who, for various reasons, are weak and vulnerable or have traditionally been victims of violations and consequently require special protection for the equal and effective enjoyment of their human rights. Often human rights instruments set out additional guarantees for persons belonging to these groups; the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, for example, has repeatedly stressed that the ICESCR is a vehicle for the protection of vulnerable groups within society, requiring states to extend special protective measures to them and ensure some degree of priority consideration, even in the face of severe resource constraints.
This part focuses on groups that are especially vulnerable to abuse of human rights; groups that are structurally discriminated against like women and groups that have difficulties defending themselves and are therefore in need of special protection. Twelve groups are discussed: 1) women and girls; 2) children; 3) refugees; 4) internally displaced persons; 5) stateless persons; 6) national minorities; 7) indigenous peoples 8) migrant workers; 9) disabled persons; 10) elderly persons; 11) HIV positive persons and AIDS victims; 12) Roma/Gypsies/Sinti; and 13) lesbian, gay and transgender people. Clearly this is not an exhaustive list of persons in need of particular protection, as many other groups not discussed in this part suffer from discrimination and oppression.