Report of the UN Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights

On the 1st of November 2015 the new Special Rapporteur (SR) in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, delivered her first, summarizing what had been achieved by her predecessor and assessing how best to proceed.  The post of SR in the field of cultural rights was created in 2012, although an independent expert on the topic was appointed in 2009.  Farida Shaheed held both those posts.  The creation of this post and its development reflects the increasing legitimacy of cultural rights within international organisations.

In her report Bennoune confirmed that cultural rights are an integral aspect of human rights, can be held individually and communally and that culture is constantly changing within a social context.  She reiterated that the role of the Special Rapporteur was not to protect cultural heritage in itself, but to ensure the conditions in which culture could thrive.  The need to think carefully about communities, how they were constituted and who represented them was also raised. Bennoune went on to identify the priorities for her three year term.  First and foremost she was concerned about the intentional destruction of cultural heritage such as those that took place at Palmyra last year.  Other priorities included cultural rights of refugees, of children and youth and of people with mixed or multiple cultural identities.

One of the issues that often arise in this project are a potential conflict between cultural rights and human rights and on this the SR was clear, article 27 states ‘It is perhaps useful at this juncture to state what cultural rights are note, they are not tantamount to cultural relativism. They are not an excuse for violations of other human rights.  They do not justify discrimination or violence.   They are not a licence to impose identities or practices on others or to exclude them from either in violation of international law.  They are firmly embedded in a human rights framework.’  She also argued that discriminatory cultural practices needed to evolve.  This raises the questions can culture be forced or encouraged to evolve?  Is it ethical to do so?  And who decides how a culture should evolve?

You can read the whole report on the new Resources section of our website.


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