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The Intersectionality of Human Rights Violations and Multiple Grounds of Discrimination

What forms do intersectional human rights violations and multiple discrimination take and how could the United Nations’ human rights protection mechanisms better address these issues?

Project Summary

Combinations of numerous violations of human rights and multiple forms of discrimination – defined as intersectional human rights violations – have a particularly devastating impact on their victims. To date, however, these situations have not been sufficiently considered within the international human rights system. This project will use a multidimensional case study approach to analyse different types of intersectionality in order to map the dynamics and consequences of these combinations of violations. It will also consider current institutional responses to these situations in order to identify obstacles, challenges and possible avenues for change.

The research aims to clarify the multiple dimensions of intersectional human rights violations and, in collaboration with several experts from international human rights and civil society organisations, to formulate strategic proposals to better address them. Applying an interdisciplinary approach, it will bring together some of the lived experiences of intersectional human rights violations with the recent practice of UN human rights mechanisms. The results of the study will be fed into the UN treaty body strengthening process as well as other relevant national and international mechanisms, thereby contributing to improving institutional responses to these situations.

Academic Output

Working Paper

The codification of human rights as universal and inalienable in the 1945 United Nations Charter and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets the foundation of the entire UN system of protection of human rights, comprising its human rights treaties and their monitoring mechanisms as well as the mechanisms set up under the UN Charter.

As the techniques for interpreting human rights developed, interdependence and indivisibility of human rights continued to challenge monitoring mechanisms, as in particular situations, multiple human rights were violated and multiple grounds prohibiting discrimination, combined.

In answering these questions, the analysis has relied on two main hypotheses, namely: (1) the dominant approach of human rights mechanisms to address human rights violations as singular and discrete phenomena undermines the protection of all human rights; and (2) an intersectional analysis can support an understanding of complex situations which may involve multiple human rights violations, including discrimination based on multiple grounds.

Executive Summary

The international system for the promotion and protection of human rights both reflects and shapes a singular and fragmented approach to non-discrimination and the indivisibility and interdependence of internationally-recognised human rights. This project conducts an interdisciplinary analysis of key notions and brings together eight narrative case studies that highlight contexts of intersectional discrimination and a multiplicity of human rights violations, with thematic research on the practice of the human rights treaty monitoring bodies. The research provides a new analytical perspective on how to construct/ de-construct intersectional human rights violations and multiple discrimination and offers concrete recommendations for achieving the substantive and institutional consolidation necessary to more fully observe and redress these situations.


Research Team

Patrice Meyer-Bisch
University of Fribourg

Adriano Previtali
University of Fribourg

Johanne Bouchard Neff
Principal Member
University of Fribourg

Joanna Bourke Martignoni
Principal Member
University of Fribourg

Ivona Truscan
Principal Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Emmanuel Decaux
Associated Member
Université Panthéon Assas (Paris 2)

Christophe Golay
Associated Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Barbara Wilson
Associated Member
University of Lausanne






Host Institution