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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).