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A cultural rights approach to heritage

The importance of cultural heritage from a cultural rights perspective has been an area of work of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur since its beginning. You will find below the thematic work conducted by the mandate over the years, as well as developments in other parts of the UN system and important links.

What is cultural heritage?

The concept of heritage reflects the dynamic character of something that has been developed, built or created, interpreted and re-interpreted in history, and transmitted from generation to generation.

Cultural heritage links the past, the present and the future as it encompasses things inherited from the past that are considered to be of such value or significance today, that individuals and communities want to transmit them to future generations. (A/HRC/17/38, para.5)

Reports

The right to access and enjoy cultural heritage (2011)

The her 2011 thematic report, submitted to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/17/38), the Special Rapporteur focuses on the right of access to, and enjoyment of, cultural heritage. She stresses that cultural heritage is important not only in itself, but also for individuals and communities, in terms of both their identity and development processes.

As set out in this report, the right of access to and enjoyment of cultural heritage is based on various human rights norms. It includes the right of individuals and communities to, inter alia, know, understand, enter, visit, make use of, maintain, and exchange cultural heritage, as well as to benefit from the cultural heritage and the creation of others. It also includes the right to participate in the identification, interpretation and development of historical heritage, and in designing and implementing practices to safeguard it.

However, varying degrees of access and enjoyment may be recognized, taking into consideration the diverse interests of individuals and communities depending on their relationship to specific cultural heritages. The report gives States, professionals working in the field of cultural heritage and cultural institutions, researchers and tourism and entertainment industries a number of recommendations on taking a human rights approach to cultural heritage.

To inform her report, and to start a constructive dialogue with States, National Human Rights Institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations and human rights and cultural institutes and other stakeholders on cultural heritage, the Special Rapporteur invited relevant stakeholders to submit their views via a questionnaire.

View report page for full details.

Intentional destruction of cultural heritage: a violation of human rights (2016)

Geneva, Place des Nations, Memorial for Srebrenica ©
Parchment in Aramaic language of readings for Sundays and holidays. XIth-XIIth Century. Collection of manuscripts of the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babel, Iraq, CNMO. CPB_00435 © Photo Fr. Najeeb Michaeel op

Building on the report mentioned above (A/HRC/17/38), the second Special Rapporteur presented in 2016 her initial observations on the intentional destruction of cultural heritage to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/31/59).

She indicated her intention to focus on this for her upcoming report to the General Assembly, a decision welcomed by an unprecedented coalition of 145 States. This coalition made a statement to the Council in March 2016 condemning intentional destruction of cultural heritage. It called for best practices for its prevention, and for "raising awareness on the mutually reinforcing relation between the protection of cultural heritage and human rights and on the risks faced by defenders of cultural heritage."

In her 2016 report to the General Assembly (A/71/317), the Special Rapporteur lays out a human rights approach, which she developed, to the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, in conflict and non-conflict situations, by States and non-State actors. She examines the impact of such destruction on a range of human rights, including the right to take part in cultural life. She calls for effective national and international strategies for preventing, and holding accountable those alleged to have taken part in, such destruction. She also calls for defenders of cultural heritage to be supported and protected.

To inform her report, the Special Rapporteur invited relevant stakeholders to submit their views via a questionnaire.

View report page for full details.

Related events and materials

Other documents of the Special Rapporteur

  • Expert contribution to the International Criminal Court case "The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi", 27 April 2017
  • "Cultural heritage is a human right issue", article on the substance of the thematic report to the UN General Assembly, contributing to the Wide angle project of UNESCO (published 26 October 2016)

Further developments in the UN system

Useful links