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Access to cultural heritage
FEATURE STORIES
Independent Expert: Cultural Rights enrich universal human rights
Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights

International Standards

In her first report to the Human Rights Council, submitted in June 2010 (A/HRC/14/36), the independent expert stressed that there is no official definition of cultural rights and undertook to investigate, in an exploratory manner, how best to distinguish which human rights may be considered cultural and to further define the content of these rights.

Taking into consideration various instruments and studies, she underlined 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 of shared cultural values; 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. 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. They may also be considered as protecting access to cultural heritage and resources that allow such identification and development processes to take place.

The independent expert also noted that there exist many explicit and implicit references to cultural rights in international instruments and the practice of human rights mechanisms. She mentioned, in particular,

  1. The right to take part or participate in cultural life, which is widely recognized in human rights instruments, and in particular in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 15, paragraph 1 (a), of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in general comment No. 21 further clarified the scope and content of this right.
  2. The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, enshrined in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 15, paragraph 1 (b), of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  3. The right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which a person is the author, enshrined in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 15, paragraph 1 (c), of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 2005, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted its general comment No. 17 on this right.
  4. The freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity, set out in article 15, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 19, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights must also be mentioned as it recognizes that the right to freedom of expression shall include the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of one’s choice.
  5. The right to education, enshrined in numerous international instruments, in particular articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As stressed in the World Declaration on Education for All (1990), people develop their own particular but ever-evolving world visions and capacities through a lifelong process of education; and it is education in its wider meaning that allows access to and the creation of knowledge, values and cultural heritage.
  6. Many references to cultural rights are to be found in provisions and instruments relating to minorities (in particular in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and indigenous peoples (in particular the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, 1989 (No. 169) of the International Labour Organization LINK).
  7. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families also contains provisions relating to cultural rights, including article 43, paragraph 1 (g), and article 45, paragraph 1 (d), on access to and participation in cultural life. Article 31 relates to the respect for the cultural identity of migrant workers.
  8. The non-discrimination principle, enshrined in a large number of international legal instruments, constitutes an important legal basis for the independent expert. The Independent expert noted that it is generally agreed that the enjoyment of rights and freedoms on an equal footing “does not mean identical treatment in every instance”, which enables the accommodation required to respect and facilitate the expression of various cultural identities.
  9. The right of everyone to rest and leisure, as set out in article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is closely linked to cultural rights.
 
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