Artsfreedom newsletter: We remember Shaima Rezayee

24 February 2017

New UN report on “fundamentalism, extremism and cultural rights” by Ms Karima Bennoune, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

We remember Shaima Rezayee

New UN report focus on fundamentalism, extremism and cultural rights.

On 18 May 2005, music presenter Shaima Rezayee, 24, was shot in Kabul by unknown men shortly after the country’s Ulema Shura – a government council of religious scholars – had criticised her station, Tolo TV, and others for transmitting “programs opposed to Islam and national values”.

The brutal killing of Shaima is highlighted in a new UN report on “fundamentalism, extremism and cultural rights” by Ms Karima Bennoune, the Special Rapporteur (SR) in the field of cultural rights.

Reminding the UN member states of all citizens’ rights to take part in cultural life, Ms Bennoune notes that:

“There are common themes across fundamentalist and extremist abuses of cultural rights. Such abuses often involve attempts at cultural engineering aimed at redesigning culture based on monolithic world views, focused on ‘purity’ and enmity toward ‘the other’, policing ‘honour’ and ‘modesty’, claiming cultural and moral superiority, imposing a claimed ‘true religion’ or ‘authentic culture’ along with dress and behaviour codes often alien to the lived cultures of local populations, stifling freedom of artistic expression and curtailing scientific freedom.”

On 16 February, Pakistan experienced once again a brutal attack on Sufi devotees. At least 88 people were killed and hundreds more injured. Their “crime” was the use of music and dance as part as their devotion. An attack reminding us of the killing in 2016 of one of Pakistan’s most talented Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri.

In her report, Ms Bennoune recommends that states should “prevent violations of cultural rights by non-state actors, including by prohibiting funding of fundamentalist and extremist groups, in accordance with international standards; redouble efforts to stop the flow of arms and resources to extremist and fundamentalist groups.”

Freemuse in 2016 submitted to the UN High Commissioner Human Rights a report – ‘Challenges and effects of terror on arts and culture’ – which highlighted how terrorism has affected and damaged cultural industries and artistic freedom on several continents over the past 20 years. In the report, Freemuse recommended the UN Human Rights Council should host a hearing on terror and artistic freedom.

The new SR report will be presented at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, on Thursday 2 March, and will be further highlighted at a side-session at UN the day after, co-sponsored by and with the participation of Freemuse.

Although the presentation of the report in the Council is a so-called interactive dialogue rather than a hearing, the event is a very important step forward in addressing the effects of fundamentalism and terror, and not least, how responsible states shall deal with the intentional destruction of living cultural heritage.

The day of the side session, 3 March, is a symbolic day: Music Freedom Day – the day organisers and artists in almost 20 countries join Freemuse in celebration and protection of WOMEN’S VOICES.

The rapporteur in the new report stresses that women’s cultural rights are a prime target for fundamentalists and extremists, who often claim to be defending culture, religion or tradition, but instead deny the rights of others in these regards.

A high level UNESCO conference on international women’s day, 8 March, in Paris will also address this topic. The conference – ‘The courage to create: gender equality and the arts’ – will also include Freemuse as an invited speaker.

Freemuse in 2017 is dedicated to putting particular focus on conditions of women in the arts and women’s access to take part in cultural life.

We will not forget Shaima Rezayee and other women who were killed for their love of music.

Ole Reitov
Executive Director

Read more

» UN SR Report: (Word document)
» Freemuse report: Freemuse report on the effects of terror on arts and culture

Global event on 3 March 2017: Music Freedom Day Musicfreedomday

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