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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.

International human rights obligations

Race law reform

What you need to know


Consistent with International Human Rights obligations

The introduction of many of our recommendations will ensure that Northern Ireland race equality legislation is in line with the UK Government’s international obligations relating to the promotion of human rights for racial minorities, and with the recommendations of international human rights monitoring bodies.

In particular, the lack of comprehensive, harmonised race equality legislation in Northern Ireland, and the gap in legal protections between the two jurisdictions, has been criticised by both the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the UN Committee on the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (UN Committee on CERD). 

The UN Committee on CERD, for example, has expressed concern at the UK Government’s response that Northern Ireland is responsible for developing its own equality legislative framework.  It reminded the UK Government that the obligation to implement the provisions of the Convention in all parts of the territory is borne by the UK Government.

It made it clear that ‘this makes the UK Government the duty bearer at the international level in respect of the implementation of the Convention in all parts of its territory notwithstanding specific governance arrangements that it may have adopted.’

The UN Committee on CERD recommended that immediate steps were taken to ensure that a single equality law was adopted in Northern Ireland or that the Equality Act 2010 is extended to Northern Ireland.

In June 2011, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Advisory Committee) expressed concern that, despite the commitment undertaken in the St Andrew’s Agreement , there had been no progress made towards adopting comprehensive equality legislation in Northern Ireland.

In addition, it highlighted that Northern Ireland legislation remains ‘complex and piecemeal’ and was concerned about the significant discrepancies and inconsistencies that exist between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Advisory Committee ‘urged the authorities to adopt harmonised, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland in order to put an end to the disparity in protection against discrimination that exists between Northern Ireland and Great Britain’.

More recently, the gap in legal protections between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has also been criticised by the Committee on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which expressed concern that women in Northern Ireland did not have the same remit of equality protections as compared to their counterparts in other parts of the UK. It also expressed concern that certain provisions of the Equality Act 2010 had not come into force.

Further, as outlined in more detail above, international human rights monitoring bodies have recommended that the UK Government address a number of the specific recommendations for change that we advocate; for example, broader protection against discrimination in the exercise of public functions; increased protection against multiple discrimination; and the removal of the immigration exception.

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