Understanding the relationship between equality and human rights

Shared Values

The values which underpin both equality and human rights are shared values which have their origins in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 which states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights”

The values of equality and human rights centre around for example, fairness, equality, dignity, respect, autonomy, empowerment and participation. This project and these resources encourage that this common framework of values underpins good practice approaches to EQHRIA.

Legislative requirements on public bodies

The legislative requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act 1998 vary despite the common foundation of values outlined above.

The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 require authorities to assess the impact of applying a proposed new or revised policy: ensuring that the policy does not discriminate unlawfully; considering how the policy might better advance equality of opportunity; and considering whether the policy will affect good relations between people with different protected characteristics.

The public sector equality duty covers the following protected characteristics: age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. The public sector equality duty also covers marriage and civil partnerships, with regard to eliminating unlawful discrimination in employment.

The Human Rights Act obliges public authorities to ensure that they are not acting in breach of the human rights principles set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. One way a public authority can ensure that this is being achieved is by undertaking a human rights impact assessment.

The international treaties generally make less of a distinction between equality and human rights however detailing state obligations with regard to both the rights that apply to all us (such in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights) and the rights that may be of particular relevance to certain groups (such as International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)).

Integrated approaches to impact assessment

When public authorities are carrying out their equality impact assessments, in line with the requirements of the Equality Act, they have an opportunity to address the rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act at the same time as both are closely interrelated.

Meeting the requirements of the general equality duty requires organisations not only to eliminate discrimination but also to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. This may involve considering positive action and particular measures for disadvantaged groups. Like a human rights based approach this seeks to improve outcomes for everyone.

It is practical to use an integrated approach for integrated thinking around equality and human rights, avoiding duplication of time and effort whilst ensuring policy making which improves outcomes for everyone. Taking a Human Rights Based Approach helps puts in place minimum standards of treatment for all regardless of whether they are from a protected characteristic group. In human rights terms everyone must be treated with dignity and respect.