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Initiative

Cultural Rights Defenders 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'í 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 will be included in the Special Rapporteur’s next report, which will be made public in March 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.

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