Our site uses cookies. By continuing to use it, you are agreeing to our Cookie Policy.
powered by

Artists take risks for all of us. Explore a global network that’s ready to help.

I am at risk

I am at risk

If you are an artist at risk seeking assistance, please check the "I need urgent assistance" box.

Submissions are encrypted and ARC understands that your communications are confidential. ARC does not provide direct services, but we will do our best to refer you to organizations that do. You can also find help by exploring our network of resources.

If you are an individual or an organization looking to connect with ARC but do not need urgent assistance, please fill out the form to get in touch with us.

Your message is end-to-end encrypted and will be marked as urgent. You have the option to write this message in Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian or Spanish. Expect a reply within 72 hours.

I am at risk

News & Advocacy

Cultural Rights Defenders (CRDs)

ARC supports the work of the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune. The Special Rapporteur's newest report, released on January 2020, explores the work of cultural rights defenders. In support of the report, ARC with a coalition of 12 civil society organizations issued a oral statement at the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council and hosted a meeting in October 2019 to gain insight from experts and actors across the fields of human rights and cultural rights.

Joint Oral Statement at the Human Rights Council

On March 4, 2020, Elizabeth O'Casey from Humanists International issued a joint oral statement on behalf of 12 civil society organizations in support of the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune’s new report on Cultural Rights Defenders.

Thank you, President.

The 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the beginning of the SDG Decade of Action is a unique opportunity to reiterate the importance of Cultural Rights Defenders and recognize their work as being in the same category as that of other human rights defenders.

On behalf of 12 civil society organizations, it is an honor to be present at the Human Rights Council to express support for the work of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and commend her most recent report on Cultural Rights Defenders.

Cultural rights defenders (or CRDs) are human rights defenders who fight for the respect, protection, and fulfillment of cultural rights. Their work is often used to defend human rights more broadly. According to data from Front Line Defenders, CRDs defended more than 25 other human rights, including those of indigenous peoples, minorities, refugees and migrants, women and LGBTQI persons, and more. They are thus critical for making progress on the SDGs and vice versa.

President, CRDs are critical to a free and open society, but often face threats from both state and non-state actors for their work. However, CRDs are often ignored as a subcategory of human rights defenders and receive insufficient attention, support, and protection. The present report does not create a new category but rather calls for a more comprehensive approach to implementing the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Therefore, we encourage the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights to continue to work for the recognition and protection of cultural rights defenders and call upon member states to fully implement the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations.

Thank you for your attention.


  • Arterial Network
  • Artist Protection Fund
  • Bahá'i International Community
  • Cartoonists Rights Network International
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Humanists International
  • Minority Rights Group International
  • PEN America and its Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) program
  • PEN International
  • Penn Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania
  • UNESCO Chair "Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development," University of Hildesheim and its Arts Rights Justice program
  • Urgent Action Fund

The Report

The aim of the report is to raise awareness about the work of cultural rights defenders – human rights defenders who defend cultural rights in accordance with international standards – and to increase the attention and assistance they receive. The report includes an overview of the diverse kinds of human rights work that cultural rights defenders engage in, the challenges and risks they face, and the international legal framework that enables their work, and offers specific recommendations as to how to better support and protect them.

Experts Meeting

On October 22, 2019, the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) hosted a meeting alongside the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, at the Bahá'i International Community's UN Offices in New York City. The aim of the meeting was to gain expert insight in support of the Special Rapporteur’s next report, on cultural rights defenders (CRDs), which will be presented at the March 2020 session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Cultural rights, including the right to take part in cultural life, the right to freedom of artistic expression, the right to scientific freedom, and the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage, are being increasingly recognized and mainstreamed internationally, and at the same time are regularly violated by states and other actors. Cultural rights defenders (CRDs) – those human rights defenders who act in defense of cultural rights – need much greater recognition and support to be able to carry out their critical work defending this part of the universal human rights framework.

The meeting invited experts and actors working across the field of human rights and cultural rights, including artistic freedom, to share their knowledge on the state of cultural rights and those working to defend them. Participants included UN experts and representatives of UN bodies, representatives from NGOs, frontline cultural rights defenders, experts in cultural heritage work and scientific freedom, as well as those working on the cultural rights of specific categories of persons, including women, persons with disabilities, LGBTI people, minorities, indigenous peoples, artists, and cultural heritage defenders.

The meeting engendered a thought-provoking discussion on topics such as:

  • An intersectional approach to CRDs that is cognizant of gender, indigeneity, fundamentalism, LGBTQI identity, religion, cultural diversity, climate change, and disability.

  • The nature of the risks faced by CRDs, how they vary contextually across the Global North and South, and the recourse that such a term offers (or fails to offer) to actors in varied contexts.

  • What the term “Cultural Rights Defender (CRD)” entails, its use (or not) by human rights defenders and relevant actors across the field of culture, and the potential for its use as a means of redress for cultural activists at risk.

  • Strategies to better support the work of CRDs, including legal frameworks, the role of the internet, the role of national governments, and systems of censorship.

Inputs from the meeting are included in the Special Rapporteur’s latest report, which was made public in January 2020. To keep abreast of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, you can follow their statements, reports, and feature stories here.

  • Join ARC
  • Sign In