Discrimination is any unjustified distinction, exclusion, or limitation of the rights or advantages of a person on the basis of specific characteristics, the goal or result of which is to deny that person the ability to exercise their rights and freedoms in the same way as others.
At the same time, not all unequal treatment comprises discrimination. International human rights standards provide for “acceptable forms of differential treatment.” In order not to be considered discrimination, differential treatment should be:
- in the pursuit of a legal aim (i.e., such an aim should not contradict human rights);
- the means of pursuing this legal aim should not exceed the absolutely necessary (i.e., it’s important to ensure that there are no alternatives).
For example, a legal aim could be: professional skills for any type of work, special demands necessitated by the specific nature of a job, national security concerns (non-citizens are rarely employed by security agencies or for government work in general), social benefits for certain groups, and so on.
There is formal discrimination (when discriminatory provisions are part of the legislation) and substantive discrimination (when, despite legally guaranteed equality, members of certain groups end up in a more vulnerable position than others due to historical and/or existing stereotypes and prejudices).
It is a government’s duty not only to root out formal discrimination, but also to combat substantive discrimination (and it’s the latter that’s the main problem in Belarus). Unscrupulous governments, claiming that there is no discrimination problem in their country, often justify their position by pointing out that “everyone is equal before the law.”