Abstract – Untangling equality and non-discrimination to promote the right to health care for all

Gillian MacNaughton

Health and Human Rights 11/2

Published December 2009


Equality and non-discrimination are core principles in international human rights law, and all members of the United Nations have legal obligations to promote these principles. Although widely adopted into law, interpretations of the rights to equality and non-discrimination, as well as their relationship to each other, vary considerably across jurisdictions. At the international level, there are separate provisions on equality and non-discrimination in the human rights treaties, yet legal scholars tend to treat the two concepts as one. This article examines the equality and non-discrimination provisions in the International Bill of Human Rights to consider their potential for addressing economic and social inequalities. The article proposes a legal framework that recognizes positive equality as distinct from status-based non-discrimination. Finally, it argues that both of these distinct rights have important roles in contributing to realizing social rights, in particular, a right to health care.