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Cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage

On 6 October 2016, the Human Rights Council adopted unanimously a resolution calling upon all States to respect, promote and protect the right of everyone to take part in cultural life, including the ability to access and enjoy cultural heritage, and to take relevant actions to achieve this. The resolution also decides that the Human Rights Council will remain seized of this matter (see resolution A/HRC/RES/33/20).

This initiative followed a cross-regional statement made to the Human Rights Council in March 2016 and joint by an unprecedented coalition of 145 States. The statement condemned intentional destruction of cultural heritage and called for identification of best practices for its prevention, and for “raising awareness on the mutually reinforcing relation between the protection of cultural heritage and human rights and on the risks faced by defenders of cultural heritage.” (See the joint statement.)

On 22 March 2018, the Human Rights Council adopted unanimously resolution A/HRC/RES/37/17. This resolution, which will be presented triennially, builds on the conclusions of the one day seminar convened in July 2017 and presented in the High Commissioner’s report A/HRC/37/29 (see the description under “Related activities”) and reiterates the engagement of States to respect, protect and fulfil cultural rights in the field of cultural heritage. The resolution also requests the High Commissioner to convene, before the forty-fourth session of the Human Rights Council, and in collaboration with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, relevant agencies and other stakeholders, a two-day workshop in Geneva with the participation of experts from all regions of the world to develop appropriate tools for the dissemination of an approach to the protection, restoration and preservation of cultural heritage that promotes universal respect for cultural rights by all, and to present a report thereon at the forty-sixth session of the Human Rights Council.

Related activities

Inter-sessional Seminar on cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage

Through resolution 33/20, the Human Rights Council mandated the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene a one day seminar to be held before the 36th session of the Human Rights Council. In compliance with this request, the OHCHR convened the “Inter-sessional seminar on cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage” on 7 July 2017, in Palais des Nations, Geneva. The seminar was preceded by an expert meeting held on 6 July 2017 in Palais Wilson, Geneva, which contributed to prepare the discussions for the seminar. 

The seminar addressed ways to prevent, contain and/or mitigate the detrimental impact of the damage to or destruction of cultural heritage on the enjoyment of human rights, including cultural rights by all, and on best practices in this regard (Res. 33/20, para. 13 a),. It was designed to build on the existing recommendations contained in the relevant reports by the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (A/HRC/17/38, A/HRC/31/59 and A/71/317) and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/HRC/30/53), as well as on Human Rights Council resolution 33/20 of 27 September 2016 and Security Council resolutions 2347 of 24 March 2017 and 2199 of 12 February 2015. Participants discussed practical and concrete actions that should be taken towards the full and timely implementation of these recommendations.

Delegations from States and representatives from relevant United Nations agencies, international organizations, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, cultural rights defenders, academia, and stakeholders from across the world involved in the protection of cultural heritage participated in the seminar. 

Panellists at the seminar included:

  • Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  • Mr. Giovanni Boccardi, Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit, Culture Sector, UNESCO
  • Ms. Patty Gerstenblith, De Paul University College of Law, Chicago, USA
  • Ms. Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, Special Rapporteur on minority issues
  • Ms. Christiane Johannot-Gradis, Traditions pour demain, Rolle, Switzerland
  • Mr. Daouda Keita, University des sciences sociales et de gestion, Bamako, Mali
  • Mr. Mikel Mancisidor, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Mr. Omara Khan Masoudi, UNESCO Consultant, Kabul, Afghanistan (by video message)
  • Ms. Tui Shortland, Te Kopu, Pacific Indigenous & Local Knowledge Centre of Distinction, New Zealand

The moderator of the event was Ms. Sneška Quaedvlieg – Mihailovic, Secretary General of Europa Nostra.

Participants, and those who were not able to attend in person, were also invited to share their views in writing, particularly on possible follow-up steps that could be taken to implement the recommendations contained in the abovementioned reports and resolutions, as well as to follow-up on the discussions held at the seminar. Written contributions no longer than 2’000 words were sent to the secretariat until 31 July 2017. 

A report summarizing the discussions of the seminar was prepared by OHCHR and presented to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2018: A/HRC/37/29.

The agenda, concept note and flyer of the event can be found below, as well as the statements made at the opening session and the reference material.

Opening statements

Audio recordings and videos of the seminar

Photo gallery

Seminar’s documents

Reference documents of the seminar

Useful links