What is racial discrimination?

Racial or ethnic origin refers to people who are defined by race, colour (darker or lighter skin), descent, national or ethnic origin. Sometimes this origin may be based on a shared understanding of history, territorial origin (regional or national), particular cultural characteristics such as a language or religion, or a shared sense of belonging to the same community, ethnic majority or minority, for instance, Latvian, Russian, Jewish or Roma, etc.

Racial or ethnic origin is distinct from nationality, which is a person’s legal link to a particular state. In many situations, differential treatment on the grounds of nationality is allowed. For example, one might need to have a particular nationality in order to be elected to the Parliament or be recruited to the public sector. But in some situations, discrimination on the grounds of nationality is also prohibited. For example, in access to certain civic, economic or social rights. It might also lead to indirect discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin or religion or belief.

When can a violation on the racial grounds occur?

The prohibition of discrimination may be violated, when certain rights are denied to someone and they are treated better or worse than someone else due to their racial or ethnic origin. Moreover, there are different ways in which discrimination can occur, which is not always in a direct and overt manner. Therefore, it is important to recognize different types of discrimination.

Discrimination based on race or ethnic origin may take place in many areas of life such as employment, education, access to goods and services, and housing.

example Racial discrimination takes place when someone is refused employment, apartment rental or access to a nightclub due to his or her skin colour. For instance, where a person is not allowed into a bar due to their being Armenian.

example In an education context, discrimination occurs in cases where someone is refused enrollment as a student in a private school, due only to his/her ethnic origin, and the school principal thinks that parents of other students will object to the presence of a person of this ethnicity. It is also discriminatory to place pupils into a special class, specifically due to their ethnicity. For example, pupils of Roma background.

Discrimination does not take place if there are other reasonable grounds to treat people differently.

example A person of Chinese origin is selected for a work-related mission to China, because he or she is more familiar with business practices there. A person of Italian origin is hired as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in order to demonstrate its authenticity.

In this Guide, you can read more about the most common areas of daily life where discriminatory practices may occur.

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