Mapping cultural rights: nature, issues at stake and challenges
Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
The scope of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is broadly defined in the resolution that created it (see page about the mandate for more about the resolution). Within this framework, the successive Special Rapporteurs have periodically assessed the issues relating to cultural rights, and the different obstacles related to their realization.
What are cultural rights?
Cultural rights protect the rights for each person, individually and in community with others, as well as groups of people, to develop and express their humanity, their world view and the meanings they give to their existence and their development through, inter alia, values, beliefs, convictions, languages, knowledge and the arts, institutions and ways of life. Cultural rights also protect access to heritage and resources that allow such identification and development processes to take place.
The mandate on cultural rights does not aim to protect culture or cultural heritage per se, but to promote the conditions allowing all people without discrimination to access, participate and contribute to all aspects of cultural life in a continuously developing manner. Therefore, the focus of Special Rapporteur's thematic studies and country visits is not on cultural sites and institutions per se, but rather on considering how particular policies, legal framework relating to such sites and institutions as well as other aspects of heritage, science, creativity and discrimination contribute to the realization of cultural rights and respect for diversity on the ground.
Cultural rights: conceptual and legal framework (2010)
In her first thematic report to the Human Rights Council in June 2010 (A/HRC/14/36), the Special Rapporteur examined which human rights may be considered cultural and how to further define their content.
Taking into consideration various instruments and studies, she underlines that cultural rights relate to a broad range of issues, such as expression and creation, including in diverse material and non-material forms of art; information and communication; language; identity and belonging to multiple, diverse and changing communities; development of specific world visions and the pursuit of specific ways of life; education and training; access, contribution and participation in cultural life; the conduct of cultural practices and access to tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
She notes that many explicit and implicit references to cultural rights can be found in international instruments and the practice of human rights mechanisms. On this basis, she provides a first working definition of cultural rights and develops her initial thoughts on the interaction among the principle of universality of human rights, the recognition and implementation of cultural rights and the need to respect cultural diversity.
Read more about the conceptual and legal framework of cultural rights on the report page
Stocktaking by the new mandate holder (2016)
In March 2016, the newly appointed mandate holder, Ms. Karima Bennoune dedicated her first report to the Human Rights Council to a review of the work done by the mandate during its first 6 years and highlighted priority areas to build on for the future. This report also begins to explore the issue of intentional destruction of cultural heritage (see the issue page on Cultural heritage for more information).
More information on the report page.
10th anniversary of the mandate on cultural rights (2019)
To mark the tenth anniversary of the mandate on cultural rights and the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur presented to the Human Rights Council an overview of the work of the mandate since its creation in 2009 and a reflection on strategies for advancing cultural rights during the next decade in order to achieve the vision set out in article 27 and guarantee the cultural rights of all (A/HRC/40/53).
The Special Rapporteur stresses the relevance of this review, in a world of extremists of all kinds, of proliferating cultural relativism and cultural excuses for human rights violations. Climate change, the normalization of hate speech, growing inequalities, the increased privatization of public space and impulse to censor represent many threats against which the full implementation of cultural rights and other universal human rights can be effective.
The Special Rapporteur also notes many positive advances which must not be overlooked, including local initiatives aimed at increasing understanding and tolerance, creative efforts by cultural rights defenders to improve compliance, new possibilities for global cooperation in the promotion of cultural rights, and the ongoing exercise of human creativity and scientific research, despite the obstacles. In her review of the work of the mandate, the Special Rapporteur aims to ascertain how to magnify the positive developments while revisiting the strategies needed to confront the negative ones.
To prepare this report, the Special Rapporteur sent a questionnaire to take stock of the impact of the work of the cultural rights mandate since its creation, and to identify priority issues for the next decade. Read more on the report page.
Cultural Rights: an empowering agenda (2022)
In March 2022, the newly appointed mandate holder, Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, presented an overview of her vision for the mandate. Building on the important work conducted by her predecessors, the Special Rapporteur highlighted important aspects in the evolution of the nature and scope of cultural rights and reflected on the corresponding States’ obligations.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the positive nature of culture for the individual and the empowering force of cultural rights. She committed to working more closely with United Nations bodies in promoting cultural rights and cultural diversity, emphasised the importance of good practice and identified a preliminary list of issues deserving more attention that she planned to address during her tenure.
Read the report Cultural rights: an empowering agenda (A/HRC/49/54).
Related events and materials
- Keynote address by the Special Rapporteur "Why cultural rights matter?", for "The Hour of Freedom – Facts, Fictions and Freedom of Expression", organized in the framework of the Frankfurter Bookfair, Frankfurt, Germany, 17 October 2019 - Programme of the Frankfurter Book Fair Stage "Safe, not Silent"
- Opening keynote speech by the Special Rapporteur at the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, organized by IFACCA, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 March 2019
- Public event "A cultural rights celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights", New York, 23 October 2018
- Conference of the Special Rapporteur on "Les droits culturels: principaux enjeux actuels dans l'ensemble des droits humains" (in French), Freiburg, Switzerland, 24 May 2018
- Statement by the Special Rapporteur in the first panel of the UNESCO event "Towards Access to Culture for All", for the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, Paris, France, 22 May 2018
- Keynote address from the Special Rapporteur 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
- "What are cultural rights?": an interview with the Special Rapporteur, in the series of UNESCO podcasts "Talking about culture", Paris, France, 1 December 2017
- Keynote address by the Special Rapporteur opening the work of the 2nd UCLG Culture Summit on "Commitments and Actions for Culture in Sustainable Cities", Jeju, Republic of Korea, 10 May 2017
- Participation of the Special Rapporteur 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
- International conference "Negotiating Cultural Rights", Copenhagen, Denmark, 13-14 November 2015
- Website of the conference, programme and resulting publication
- Interview by Farida Shaheed, outgoing Special Rapporteur, on the lessons of 6 years as mandate holder
- Keynote Address by the Special Rapporteur Farida Shaheed, UCLG Culture Summit, "Culture and Sustainable cities", Bilbao, Spain, 18 March 2015
- Reflections on culture, sustainable development and cultural rights, Special Rapporteur Farida Shaheed's statement as winner of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Mexico City Culture 21 International Award, 12 November 2014, Mexico
- Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, 21 May 2010
English | Spanish | Arabic (Spanish and Arabic unofficial translations; Spanish by UNESCO Etxea)
- "Implementing cultural rights", seminar and expert consultation organized by the OHCHR, in partnership with the International Organization of La Francophonie, UNESCO and the Observatory of diversity and cultural rights, Geneva, 1-2 February 2010
- General Comment No. 25 (2020) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on science and economic, social and cultural rights, Art. 15.1.b, 15.2, 15.3 and 15.4, adopted 7 April 2020
- Day of general discussion on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications (art. 15.1 b), Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 9 October 2018, documents from experts and written contributions
- General Comment 21 (2009) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the right of everyone to take part in cultural life (art. 15.1 a)
- Day of General Discussion on the right to take part in cultural life, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, 9 May 2008, Experts papers
- Observatoire de la diversité et des droits culturels
- Fribourg Declaration on cultural rights, 2007
- General Comment 17 (2006), of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights onthe right of everyone to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he or she is the author
- Day of general discussion on the right of everyone to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he or she is the author (art. 15.1 c), Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 27 November 2000, summary of discussions