Morocco and Western Sahara: UN expert calls for better promotion of cultural rights and diversity

RABAT (16 September 2011) – The UN Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, urged the Moroccan Government on Friday to further promote cultural rights and diversity in the country, by expanding current initiatives and reaching all cultural communities, including minorities.

“The exemplary coexistence of different cultures, together with mutual respect and tolerance, are essential for prosperity and should be encouraged and widely supported and promoted,” Ms. Shaheed said* at the end of her official mission, which took place from 5-16 September.

“Guaranteeing the protection of human rights through supportive legal and policy frameworks alongside practical, targeted interventions that place empowerment and meaningful community engagement at their centre are necessary to ensure the full enjoyment of cultural rights for all,” she stressed.

During her twelve-day mission, the human rights expert went to Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir, Marrakesh, Fes, Meknes, and Khemisset in Morocco, where she met with Government officials and civil society representatives, in addition to academics, grass roots leaders, and representatives from different cultural communities and minority groups.

The Independent Expert welcomed a number of “excellent initiatives” to promote cultural rights and cultural diversity, especially the government initiative of the Centre Régional de Documentation d’Animation et de Production Pédagogique in Marrakesh.

This programme has managed to halve dropout rates in a short period of time; support the self-expression of students through various media, and engage students with cultural heritage and participation in cultural life in an imaginative and effective manner. “Initiatives such as this should be replicated in other regions,” Ms. Shaheed recommended.

“I was particularly impressed with the work and the enthusiasm of the filles cavalières community group in Khemisset,” she said. “This initiative not only preserves the culture of Moroccan society as a living tradition, but also gives a new impetus to women’s participation in cultural life and their contribution to continuing a cultural heritage that was traditionally embodied by men.” Ms. Shaheed also urged the Government to consider extending support to such community based initiatives.

“The new Constitution places greater emphasis on cultural rights and diversity and confers an official status to the languages of the Amazigh population, and I call upon the government to make a tangible reality of these commitments by passing relevant bylaws without delay,” the UN Independent Expert said.

“I also visited Dakhla in Western Sahara where I learnt about numerous festivals promoting the cultural heritage of Western Sahara, although some Saharawi musicians were denied participation because of the specific cultural references contained in their proposed performances. A number were also unable to give their children Hassani names,” Ms. Shaheed said. “Measures that limit the cultural rights of the population of Western Sahara should be immediately revoked.”

Ms. Farida Shaheed took up her functions as Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights on 1 November 2009. She has worked for more than 25 years promoting and protecting cultural rights by fostering policies and projects designed in culturally sensitive ways to support the rights of marginalized sectors, including women, peasants, and religious and ethnic minorities. She has been the recipient of several national and international human rights awards, and is an experienced participant in negotiations at international, regional and national levels.

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