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Artistic freedom

Explicitly mentioned in provisions of both International Covenants, the right to freedom of artistic expression is a fundamental aspect of cultural rights. It includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds "in the form of art", the right "to enjoy the arts" and the creativity of others, as well as obligations from States to "respect the freedom indispensable for…creative activity".

You will find below the thematic work conducted by the mandate over the years on this right, as well as developments in other parts of the UN system and important links.


The right to freedom of artistic expression and creation (2013)

"Nadia Plesner's drawing Simple Living(2007) was inspired by the artist's reaction to mass media prioritizing between world matters and celebrity gossip. Sued by Louis Vuitton, Nadia Plesner fought to include references to status symbols in her art works, and was declared by a court in the Hague to be free to exhibit the drawing." With the courtesy of the artist.

In this thematic report (A/HRC/23/34, 2013), the Special Rapporteur focuses on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creation, which includes the right of all persons to freely experience and contribute to artistic expressions and creations, through individual or joint practice, to have access to and enjoy the arts, and to disseminate their expressions and creations.

Key Findings and Recommendations

This report addresses laws and regulations restricting artistic freedoms as well as economic and financial issues significantly impacting on such freedoms. The underlying motivations are most often political, religious, cultural or moral, or lie in economic interests, or are a combination of those. The Special Rapporteur studied in detail the international framework on possible limitations to artistic freedom, and also stressed positive obligations of States in support of the right of people to enjoy the arts and their artistic freedoms.

The Special Rapporteur encourages States to critically review their legislation and practices imposing restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, taking into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right.

To prepare this report, the Special Rapporteur sent out a call for contributions in 2012. See the note verbal and responses received to the questionnaire on the report page.

The contribution of cultural initiatives to creating and developing right-respecting societies (2018)

Bombing of poems over London, 28 August 2010. © Photo collective Los Casagrande, Chile

In her 2018 report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/37/55), the Special Rapporteur addresses how actions in the field of arts and culture can make significant contributions towards creating, developing and maintaining societies in which all human rights are increasingly realized.

By engaging people and encouraging their interaction through artistic and cultural expression, actions in the field of culture can open a space in which individuals and groups can reflect upon their society, confront and modify their perception of one another, express their fears and grievances in a non-violent manner, develop resilience after violent or traumatic experiences, including human rights violations, and imagine the future they want for themselves and how to better realize human rights in the society they live in. The increased social interactions, mutual understanding and trust that can be built or rebuilt through these initiatives are essential to achieve a range of human rights goals and to respect cultural diversity.

See the report page for more on the contribution of cultural initiatives to creating and developing right-respecting societies.

Related events and materials

  • Participation of the Special Rapporteur in the panel discussion organised by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte on artistic freedom and expression, in the framework of the review of its international strategy on freedom of expression. With the participation of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for artistic freedom, Deeyah Khan, and other artists. Oslo, Norway, 2 March 2021.
  • Intervention and moderation by the Special Rapporteur of the round table 2, in the framework of the Safe Havens Global Stream, "Resource-givers and policy makers in fields pertinent to freedom of artistic expression and the protection and defense of at-risk artists". 3 December 2020.
  • Opening by the Special Rapporteur of the Oslo World Festival 2020 conference programme Solidarity, artistic freedom and resistance. 26 October 2020.
  • Opening keynote speech by the Special Rapporteur at the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, organized by IFACCA, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2019
  • Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the importance of article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Safe Havens conference, organized as part of the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Malmö, Sweden, 5 December 2018
  • Feature story: Art and culture help create and maintain stable, peaceful societies, 30 October 2018
  • Keynote address from the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights at the first Americas Culture Summit, organised by the Ministry of Culture of Argentina and the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) hosted by the Canada Council for the Arts in Ottawa, 9-11 May 2018
  • Participation of Mrs Karima Bennoune in the launch of UNESCOs first global report on tracking the implementation of the 2005 Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Paris, 16 December 2015
  • Opening address by the Special Rapporteur for the Galway International Summer School on the Arts and Human Rights dedicated to the theme "Belonging", Irish Center for human rights, National University of Ireland, 9-11 July 2015
  • Side event "Suppression of artistic freedom in the MENA region", Geneva, 13 March 2015
  • Speech by the Special Rapporteur on "The right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity" for the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance's Creator Conference 2015, Brussels, 24 February 2015.
  • Side event organized on 3 June 2013, Geneva (flyer)
  • Keynote video message by the Special Rapporteur, "Your voice – your rights", for the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance's Creator Conference 2013, Brussels, 19-20 February 2013.
  • Public consultation on the right to artistic freedom, 6 December 2012, Geneva (note verbal).

Further developments

Useful links

Special Procedures
Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights
Recent thematic reports
Issues in Focus
Contact Information

Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Telephone: +41 22 917 96 30
Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

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Others Involved
External Links