Protecting Minority Rights: A Practical Guide to Developing Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Protecting Minority Rights: A Practical Guide to Developing Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Protecting Minority Rights: A Practical Guide to Developing Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation ” is the definitive guidance by the United Nations on the laws which states must enact in order to meet their international human rights law obligations to prohibit discrimination.

Introduction video from the High Commissioner

The Guide was developed by OHCHR in partnership with the Equal Rights Trust, an independent international organisation which works to support the adoption, enforcement and implementation of equality laws. In addition to an exhaustive research process reviewing the content and interpretation of all of the relevant UN human rights convention, the Guide was the subject of extensive global consultation with academic and civil society experts.

The Guide synthesises and harmonises existing international legal standards, to provide clear and accessible guidance on the necessary scope, structure and content of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws – laws which provide the foundation for creating societies where all are equal in dignity and rights and where no-one is left behind. In addition to summarizing normative content, the publication provides concrete country-based practices and practical guidance.

The Guide fills a long-standing gap for clear, unequivocal and comprehensive guidance for Governments, Parliaments, NHRIs, UN staff, civil society representatives and minority and other human rights defenders in the elements of anti-discrimination law, the various aspects of the comprehensive ban on all forms of discrimination and the protection of minorities, as grounded in the core international human rights treaties and related norms and standards, including as adjudicated.

The Guide provides support for everyone seeking to act on United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s global call in 2021, for all of the States of the world to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.

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Inequality impairs human dignity, causes and perpetuates poverty and limits the enjoyment of human rights. Inequality is a barrier to participation in economic, social and political life. It restricts the life chances of people and serves to oppress and marginalize entire communities. Beyond the experience of those directly affected, unequal societies are more likely to be beset by health and social problems ranging, with higher levels of incarceration, violence and other social problems, and lower levels of social mobility. Inequality undermines social cohesion and fosters conflict. It exacerbates the exclusion of minorities and other marginalized groups. Above all, it embeds unfairness, with powerful negative consequences for people and communities.

Inequality takes many forms and has myriad causes – economic, social, political and cultural. As such, creating a world in which all can and do participate equally requires a coordinated, collaborative and comprehensive approach. The elimination of discrimination is a key part of this puzzle: there can be no equality where people are treated unfavourably or subjected to disadvantage on the basis of their status, their beliefs or their identity. Indeed, this has been widely and consistently recognized by states, through their adoption of international human rights instruments which place the right to non-discrimination at their heart.

The adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws—laws which have the purpose and effect of prohibiting all forms of discrimination—is an essential step in the effort to realize the right to non-discrimination. Without the enactment of laws which prohibit all forms of discrimination on the basis of all grounds recognized in international law in all areas of life regulated by law, provide for the effective enforcement of the right, and mandate positive action measures to address historic or structural discrimination, states will be unable to give effect to the right to non-discrimination. It is only through ensuring the legal protection of the right to non-discrimination that states will realize their ambitions to combat inequality.


Our Office and Equal Rights Trust (ERT) both brought extensive expertise in the areas of law at issue in the Guide. The writing has been done from within the Equal Rights Trust secretariat and the OHCHR. Broad consultation has been undertaken, at multiple stages of the process, internally within OHCHR, both in advance of starting work on the Guide, as well as on parts of the Guide and the text as a whole.

Multiple sections of OHCHR have been involved in the development of this Guide, including thematic and field-based colleagues. As a starting point, the document presented here reflects the joint expertise of the UN Human Rights Office as the institutional expression of a global commitment to human rights, and the Equal Rights Trust, as the leading independent international organization providing support to those working to secure the adoption and implementation of comprehensive equality laws.

The development of this publication has additionally benefited from high-level, gold-standard expertise, as well as from an extensive and diverse series of consultations, as follows:

The Advisory Committee

From the outset of the development of the Guide, an Advisory Committee was established. The Advisory Committee comprised 13 leading experts in various aspects of anti-discrimination and equality law, based in and familiar with all continents and regions of the world. The Committee included recognized experts in the law on discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons and minorities and included experienced advocates, academics and activists. The Committee members represented a range of different legal systems and traditions.

The Advisory Committee provided expert guidance to the partners, and to helped to ensure the relevance, validity and legitimacy of the Guide. The Committee was involved in guiding work at the inception and validation stages of the process, and was available for consultation throughout. In designing the composition of the Committee, the partners aimed at the broadest possible geographic and thematic expertise. The Advisory Committee met on multiple occasions and provided regular guidance throughout the process of drafting this guide. In addition to providing suggestions at the development stage of the Guide, members of the Advisory Committee reviewed whole and partial texts of the guide. Once a full draft of the Guide was produced, in early 2021, the Advisory Committee convened for a multi-day meeting to review and comment on the draft in detail.

Research by experts and academics

In addition to the Advisory Committee, the Guide benefited from research and information provided by experts from various global regions, including in particular academics with research interests in the relevant regional instruments, to undertake research on a pro bono basis. Also, contributors were engaged on a voluntary basis from selected national jurisdictions to provide examples and inputs for the Guide.

Prior to beginning work on the drafting, OHCHR distributed a Note Verbale to United Nations Member States with permanent representations in Geneva, requesting examples from national legal orders. This proved a fruitful mode of gaining state perspectives from various parts of the world on the efficacy of particular legal provisions, as well as of challenges.

Public consultations

In June 2020, public consultation was opened on the OHCHR website to invite inputs from the public-at-large. In addition to distribution via OHCHR Field Presences, the call for inputs was distributed among OHCHR’s network of current and former minority fellows, with a view to the broadest possible input from minority communities and minority human rights defenders.

As a result of these outreach efforts, the Guide’s drafters received submissions from civil society organizations, think tanks and grassroots organizations worldwide, sharing views on best practices, exemplary legal provisions, dilemmas and concerns in the area of anti-discrimination and equality law.

Webinar consultations

In the autumn and winter of 2020/2021, OHCHR and ERT additionally convened four online webinar consultations to discuss and hear inputs as concerns key themes of the Guide. In November 2020, three online webinar consultations were convened, covering the following subjects:

  1. Elements and Scope of the Right to be Protected from all Forms of Discrimination, including (Session 1) Forms of Discrimination: Proscribed Acts and Omissions and (Session 2) The Right to Effective Remedy.
  2. Governance and the Right to be Protected from all Forms of Discrimination, including (Session 3) Positive Action and (Session 4): Equality Bodies: A Global Idea?
  3. Minority Protection, Particular Groups and Other Issues of Particular Application, including (Session 5) Minority Protection, Particular Groups and Other Issues of Particular Application and (Session 6) Open session (no pre-determined theme).

In February 2021, the project partners followed up these consultations with a webinar specifically dedicated to the nexus of expression and action: hate speech, incitement and anti-discrimination legislation.

Experts from civil society and within OHCHR

The partners have subsequently reached out to experts, civil society organization and others identified in the course of these meetings, to consult the language and content of particular draft texts, legal questions or approaches.

OHCHR staff have also contributed extensively to the development of this Guide, with thematic and field colleagues contributing to various chapters or sub-chapters.

Throughout the drafting process, Equal Rights Trust made vigorous use of pro bono assistance in its networks for matters including both legal research and translation.

In accordance with OHCHR procedures, the OHCHR Publications Committee has been extensively involved in the development of the Guide.

“Protecting Minority Rights: A Practical Guide on Developing Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation” is currently available in English. Versions in other UN languages will be made available later in 2023. An easy-to-read version is also under preparation.

Rollout meetings 2023

UN Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Equal Rights Trust (ERT) announce a series of global briefing meetings to raise awareness about, and support the use of, Protecting Minority Rights: A Practical Guide to Developing Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Legislation.  The first of these meetings are seven online meetings, held in Arabic, English, International Sign Language, French, Russian and Spanish.  Information about – and links to – these meetings is available here

Further opportunities to discuss the Guide and its usage are forthcoming.