Universality of cultural rights
The universality of human rights is one of the most important principles codified in international law during the twentieth century. It is the central idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a foundational aspect of the entire human rights system.
Universality means that human beings are endowed with equal human rights simply by virtue of being human, wherever they live and whoever they are, regardless of their status or any particular characteristics. Universality must be understood as closely related to other core human rights principles of interdependence, indivisibility, equality and dignity. In practice, it is a critical tool for the United Nations human rights system, diverse regional human rights mechanisms and human rights defenders around the world.
Cultural rights are a vital component of universality, and universality is essential to defend the foundations of cultural rights: the flourishing of cultural diversity, cultural mixing and openness, and the right of everyone to take part in a dynamic cultural life without discrimination.
Report on the universality of human rights, cultural diversity and cultural rights (2018)
To mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2018), the Special Rapporteur dedicates her thematic report to the General Assembly to the cultural rights approach to the universality of human rights and the close interrelationship between universality and cultural diversity (A/73/227
In it, the Special Rapporteur documents different types of threats to the human rights system and cultural diversity, and in particular selective approaches to universality: excluding certain rights, certain persons or groups; recognizing only civil and political or economic, social and cultural rights as real human rights. She also examines various cultural relativist arguments.
While pointing towards abuse of cultural arguments to justify violations of human rights, she also demonstrates how cultural diversity and cultural rights contribute to strengthening the universal framework of human rights. She calls for a foundational renewal and vigorous defence of universality that is grounded in cultural diversity.
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Related events and productions
- Presentation of the Special Rapporteur report on universality of human rights, cultural rights and cultural diversity, University of Malmö, Sweden, 6 December 2018
Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the importance of article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Safe Havens conference, organized as part of the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Malmö, Sweden, 5 December 2018
- Keynote speech by the Special Rapporteur on the cultural rights approach to the universality of human rights and the close interrelationship between universality and cultural diversity at the Annual Seminar of the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities entitled "What Is at Stake When Religion and Culture Bypass Human Rights & Who Pays the Prize?", Oslo, Norway, 4 December 2018
Video message by the Special Rapporteur recalling that the universality of human rights finds its expression in cultural diversity, published 26 October 2018
Seminar on P.C. Chang and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York, Colombia University, 24 October 2018.
- Feature story:
Universality, cultural diversity and cultural rights, 24 October 2018
Live video discussion between the Special Rapporteur and Nobel Laureate writer Mr. Wole Soyinka, hosted by Ghida Fakhry, 23 October 2018
- Public event "A cultural rights celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights", New York, 23 October 2018
- Statement by the Special Rapporteur in the first panel of the UNESCO event "Towards Access to Culture for All", for the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, Paris, France, 22 May 2018
- Expert consultation on universality and diversity, organised by OHCHR for the Special Rapporteur, Geneva, 28 February -1 March 2018
- Participation of the Special Rapporteur in the Ethics of Reciprocity Dialogue on reclaiming faith and family for the LGBTIQ community, New York, 26 October 2017
- Participation of the Special Rapporteur in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, event organised on "Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace", Colombia University, 14-15 May 2016
- Participation of the Special Rapporteur in the Third Congress of the International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, Bratislava, Slovakia, 21-23 September 2012
- Participation of the Special Rapporteur in the Expert Seminar on "Traditional values and human rights", organised by the OHCHR in implementation of Human Rights Council resolution
12/21, Geneva, 4 October 2010
- Feature story:
Cultural rights enrich universal human rights, 14 June 2010
Useful links and publications
history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Glen Johnson and Januz Symonides,
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a history of its creation and implementation, 1948–1998, Paris, UNESCO, 1998
General Comment n° 21 (2009) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the right of everyone to take part in cultural life (art. 15.1 a)
General comment n° 20 (2009) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights (art.2, para.2).
General comment n° 18 (1989) of the Human Rights Committee on non-discrimination (art.2, para.1)
Against the Wave: Civil Society Responses to Anti-Rights Groups (2019),
executive summary and full report