The Human Rights Committee adopted its General Comment 18 on 10 November 1989 during its thirty-seventh session. General Comment 18 describes discrimination as follows:
… the Committee believes that the term “discrimination” as used in the Covenant should be understood to imply any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms.
As well as this definition, General Comment 18 is significant in its interpretation of the Civil and Political Covenant as requiring affirmative action in certain circumstances:
…the principle of equality sometimes requires States parties to take affirmative action in order to diminish or eliminate conditions which cause or help to perpetuate discrimination prohibited by the Covenant. For example, in a State where the general conditions of a certain part of the population prevent or impair their enjoyment of human rights, the State should take specific action to correct those conditions. Such action may involve granting for a time to the part of the population concerned certain preferential treatment in specific matters as compared with the rest of the population.
For further sources outlining the rights of equality and non-discrimination, see:
- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 2.1, 14, 24, 25 and 26)
- the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 2.2)
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (articles 1, 2, 4 and 5)
- the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 2)
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (articles 2, 3, 4 and 15)
- the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (articles 3, 4, 5 and 12).
- implicitly in the Convention Against Torture (since treatment being discriminatory can also contribute to it being found to be “degrading”.)