Freemuse report on the effects of terror on arts and culture


Terrorism has affected and damaged cultural industries and artistic freedom on several continents over the past 20 years. However, few studies have described the short- as well as long-term effects of this terror on arts and culture. Freemuse has submitted a 12-page report, “Challenges and effects of terror on arts and culture” to United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that collates examples of such effects on arts and culture that have occurred over the past 20 years.

“There is a new focus on the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, but unfortunately, the main focus is on physical/tangible culture rather than the immense destruction of intangible culture, such as music and other arts,” says Freemuse Executive Director, Ole Reitov. “We therefore welcome the call from the UN to provide contributions related to best practices and major challenges in addressing the negative effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights, particularly to the right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

Intentional destruction and terror on the arts included in the report are the Taliban attacks on music in Afghanistan during the 1990s, the war on music in northern Pakistan and northern Mali, and attacks on artistic freedom in Europe, such as the murderous terror attacks on the Bataclan Club in Paris in 2015. Though these types of attacks, organised or inspired by militant non-state actors such as the Taliban and Ansar Dine, are a large focus of the report and may be more recognisable to the public eye, the Freemuse report also addresses a lesser known aspect of attacks on arts and culture: the abuse of terror legislations.

Terror as an excuse for state repression
“In countries engaged in armed conflicts, artistic expressions questioning the legitimacy or the conduct of the war are frequently marginalized or suppressed. The accusation of ‘separatism’ or ‘terrorism’ or being ‘unpatriotic’ can be levelled at artworks criticizing the Government. Freemuse notices that this is particularly the case in Turkey, but it is important to note that Iran has historically sparked off state terror on artistic expressions,” says the report, including a historical reference to the Iranian fatwa on writer Salman Rushdie, which sparked off a wave of attacks on artists addressing religious issues.

The report notes that “Turkey’s anti-terror legislation, as well as provisions concerning public order, are frequently employed to legitimize censorship and limitations of freedom in the arts. These interventions are – for the most part – arbitrary and employed for political and ideological reasons, and often for seemingly contradictory ends. Non-state and state actors alike have increasingly and especially used the notion of societal sensitivities to delimit freedom of arts.”

UN should focus on intentional destruction of the living arts
It is difficult to estimate the short- as well as long-term effects of such attacks, whether physical or legal, on the arts. It may be possible to measure direct negative effects on the cultural economy, but how do you measure the effects on quality of life, identity and lack of safety? The Freemuse reports poses such questions and makes 10 recommendations to the UN and other international bodies:

  • UN member states must pay stronger attention to violations on artistic freedom. Most UPR submissions focussing on freedom of expression are purely discussing media and neglect attacks on artistic freedom.
  • The universal right to artistic freedom of expression reaffirmed at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 18 September 2015 should be supported by all UN member states.
  • UN Special Rapporteurs and Treaty bodies should pay more attention to violations on artistic freedom.
  • A special task force should analyse in-depth the nature, size and effects of terror on artistic freedom and the uses and abuses of terror legislations.
  • International donor communities should establish more support programmes for artists and cultural industries victimized by terror.
  • Support to organisations documenting and monitoring violations on artistic freedom should be established.
  • The UN Human Rights Council should host a hearing on terror and artistic freedom.
  • Inspired by the “UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity”, UNESCO should develop an action plan in collaboration with artistic civil society groups to secure artists’ safety.
  • UN Member States should, in accordance with their obligations under international conventions, take concrete measures to secure artists and audiences so they can express themselves freely and take part in cultural activities without fear of reprisal.
  • UN Member States should guarantee that current and new anti-terror legislation is not being used to silence peaceful artistic expression.

» Read the full Freemuse report “Challenges and effects of terror on arts and culture” here

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