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The right to equality

The right to equality

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The right to equality is a fundamental human right belonging to all human beings. No matter who you are or where you come from, you were born with this right and you deserve to be treated equally in all spheres of life.

The right to equality is very important and is mentioned in some way, shape, or form, in numerous international, regional, and local documents.

For example, article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

Moreover, the preamble of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ Constitution (“SVG’s Constitution”) states that:

“WHEREAS the Peoples of the Island of Saint Vincent, who are known as Vincentians…

b. desire that their society be so ordered as to express their recognition of the principles of democracy, free institutions, social justice and equality before the law”.

However, what exactly is the right to equality? Many definitions of this right have developed over time, but I like the definition articulated in the Declaration of Principles on Equality. This document outlines many principles in relation to the right to equality and the right to non-discrimination based on concepts and jurisprudence developed in international, regional, and national legal contexts.

Article 1 of the Declaration of Principles on Equality states that:

“The right to equality is the right of all human beings to be equal in dignity, to be treated with respect and consideration and to participate on an equal basis with others in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life. All human beings are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”.

Moreover, it is important to understand that treating others equally does not necessarily mean that you should treat them identically.

Article 2 of the Declaration of Principles on Equality states that:

“Equal treatment, as an aspect of equality, is not equivalent to identical treatment. To realise full and effective equality it is necessary to treat people differently according to their different circumstances, to assert their equal worth and to enhance their capabilities to participate in society as equals”.

One case, Police v Rose [1976] MR 78 also states that “Equality before the law requires that persons should be uniformly treated, unless there is some valid reason to treat them differently… it is permissible to apply different measures to different classes of persons if the classification is based on an intelligible principle having a reasonable relation to the object which the Legislature seeks to attain”.

However, just knowing and repeating the fact that everyone has the right to equality does not mean that this right is recognized by others. In reality, issues in relation to the right to equality are much more complicated and can sometimes be very controversial issues in society. Unfortunately, for various reasons, some people are unjustly treated worse than others and are discriminated against for various reasons. Therefore, positive action needs to be taken in order to ensure that everyone’s right to equality is respected.

Article 3 of the Declaration of Principles on Equality:

“To be effective, the right to equality requires positive action.

Positive action, which includes a range of legislative, administrative and policy measures to overcome past disadvantage and to accelerate progress towards equality of particular groups, is a necessary element within the right to equality”.

In particular, states have a duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to equality for all persons present within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction. States should not be silent spectators on equality issues but through the relevant authorities, should be actively taking steps to ensure that everyone’s right to equality is being respected.

Today, I encourage us to continue to educate ourselves on the right to equality. We must always remember that this right belongs to all of us, not just some of us. All persons are born equally in dignity and rights.

Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister-at-law and Solicitor. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at jeshuabardoo

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