What is the right to equality?

International human rights law guarantees equality and non-discrimination for all people. States are obligated to guarantee equality in the enjoyment of human rights, and equal protection of the law.

The principle of non-discrimination has three conjoined elements. It is understood as:

  1.  any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference against a person
  2.  based on a protected characteristic recognised under international human rights law,
  3. which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of   human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

It is the protection of dignity for all people, without discrimination, which motivates most responses to ‘hate speech’, including restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

Responses to, and prohibitions on, ‘hate speech’ are also often justified on the basis of protecting national security, public order, or public morals. However, where these aims are conflated with the aim of protecting individuals from discrimination, responses that limit expression can easily become overbroad and subject to abuse.