Arts and Human Rights

European Commission,
01 March 2013, Belgium


Scope of this study: artistic freedom or freedom to create

Several approaches can be taken to the relation between arts and human rights. One approach is to look at artist’s social rights as done by the UNESCO World observatory on the social status of the artist (social benefits and taxes, employment and protection, social dialogue, tax system, international mobility). Another approach is to look at cultural rights and concentrate on artists defending the cultural identity of minorities or marginalised groups.

This report focuses on artistic freedom to respond to the needs of the ARJ Working Group. When we talk about artists’ human rights we are not referring to their rights as any other individuals in society (right to life, right to a healthy environment, etc.). What we are looking at is the artists’ right to expression and protection of artistic freedom when it comes under attack. In this context, artists may face challenges because they denounce human rights violations or are perceived to do so by the State or other actors. The role of artists and cultural workers as vectors for change in any society makes them vulnerable and justifies creating a space where artists can freely operate and benefit from the rights they are entitled to according to international and regional human rights instruments. This has been illustrated by the role of the artistic community in the Arab Spring.

Several international and European initiatives relate to artistic freedom and ensure its protection: the UNESCO Convention on cultural diversity, the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, the discussion about artists as human rights defenders in the European Parliament and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the discussion of the Council of Europe on how to inspire or protect creativity, and several civil society initiatives. All these initiatives are relevant to examine to see how the ARJ Working Group as a whole, its individual members and the culture sector at large can make a valid contribution to artistic freedom and access to culture.

The objective of this report is to enable ARJ and its members to define its strategy and establish priorities for action in order to add value to current initiatives or to fill the gaps wherever needed. The report first looks at operational mechanisms that can be used to protect and promote artistic freedom and ways to engage with these mechanisms (Chapter 1). It then identifies current civil society initiatives that integrate artists’ rights, good practices and opportunities for collaboration (Chapter 2).