UN Special Rapporteur outlines focus of mandate on cultural rights

18 March 2016


Karima Bennoune, the new UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, in her preliminary report to the UN Human Rights Council stresses the importance of defending cultural rights including artistic freedom.

“Many people still think of cultural rights as a luxury. The Special Rapporteur hopes to continue demonstrating that cultural rights are key to the overall implementation of universal human rights and a crucial part of the responses to many current challenges, from conflict and post-conflict situations to discrimination and poverty,” the report states.

Ms. Bennoune points out that “cultural rights are transformative and empowering, providing important opportunities for the realization of other human rights. The lack of equal cultural rights, combined with economic and social inequalities, makes it difficult for people to enjoy personal autonomy, to exercise their civil and political rights and to enjoy their right to development.”

The Special Rapporteur in her report outlines the priorities for her mandate period. Ms Bennoune will address the ongoing inequalities women artists face, the continued practice of censorship by many countries, and the growing pressure of financial crises and austerity measures that cut the funding of arts, leaving many artists unemployed and decreasing the number of cultural institutions in which artists can perform or display their work.

“Freemuse has had a strong relationship with the office of the Special Rapporteur and is encouraged by Ms Bennoune’s report and priorities to protect and strengthen the human rights of artists to freely be able to express themselves and to continue to contribute to their rich cultures,” Ole Reitov, Freemuse Executive Director said. “We look forward to our continued collaboration and to assist in bringing attention to the growing mandate of artistic freedom globally.”

The destruction of cultural heritage
One priority theme that the Special Rapporteur will address in her first report to the General Assembly is the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, as exemplified by the demolitions of the Baalshamin Temple and the Temple of Bel in Palmyra in 2015.

“Clearly, we must now understand that when cultural heritage is under attack, it is also the people and their fundamental human rights that are under attack,” Ms Bennoune said in a press release. “It is impossible to separate a people’s cultural heritage from the people itself and their rights.”

Religious extremism
Ms Bennoune, a professor of international law at the University of California, is the author of ‘Your fatwa does not apply here’. In her research she interviewed nearly 300 people from almost 30 countries, from Afghanistan to Mali and beyond, who recounted their stories with religious fundamentalism.

The Special Rapporteur intends to produce a body of work on diverse forms of fundamentalism and extremism, which is becoming more widespread globally, and results in attacks on art and artists, among other groups and institutions.

The full report can be accessed at the following link by scrolling down the list to A/HRC/31/59 and then selecting the preferred language (A=Arabic; E=English, F=French, etc.):


UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner – 4 March 2016:
The destruction of cultural heritage is a violation of human rights – UN Special Rapporteur

Related information

» Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights UN page:

» Karima Bennoune’s personal site:

» – 14 October 2015:
United Nations appoints new cultural rights rapporteur

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