Statement by Ms. Farida Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, to the Human Rights Council at its 20th session 22 June 2012

Madam President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen;

I addressed you last year as Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights; today it is my great pleasure to address you as Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. The Council resolution 19/6 passed this March prolonged my mandate under this new title and has mandated me to report yearly to the General Assembly. This I believe will strengthen the mandate and give it greater visibility. 

Madam President,

Allow me to inform you about activities undertaken by this mandate since last June.

At this session, I am reporting on the country missions I undertook in Austria in April 2011 and in Morocco in September 2011. I also visited the Russian Federation in April 2012, and will be reporting on that mission in the Council’s June 2013 session. I wish to warmly thank all three Governments for their invitation and their cooperation during the visits.

In December 2011, I convened an expert meeting and an open consultation on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, which is the topic of the report I am presenting to you today.

I have participated in a number of conferences dealing with the issue of cultural rights of women and women’s human rights and culture, including one in Indonesia in July 2011, and one in Cambodia in October 2011. I also met with the CEDAW Committee in March 2012, to discuss the gender dimensions of cultural rights and possible future collaboration.

I am pleased to inform you that, in accordance with my mandate, I undertook a two-day mission to UNESCO in December 2011, to discuss common issues of interest and possible areas of cooperation.

Madam President,

I visited Austria from 5 to 15 April 2011. This was the first official visit to Austria by an expert appointed by the Human Rights Council.

Austria has adopted positive initiatives to ensure the realization of cultural rights, including for the promotion of cultural diversity and participation in cultural life; and measures to protect and promote cultural rights of recognized national minorities.

These initiatives are welcome but in my view further steps are needed. Measures to promote cultural diversity and cultural rights remain compartmentalized; they lack an institutional framework that would facilitate building upon valuable on-the-ground experience. Partly due to this, the implementation of the rights of persons belonging to minorities and disadvantaged groups in the fields of education, culture and language as well as their rights not be discriminated against, remains insufficient. I also found there was a relatively narrow perspective on preserving cultural communities and an assimilationist approach to inclusion.

Government policies do not yet approach the country’s rich cultural diversity as the invaluable resource it is. Policies should aim at mainstreaming the cultural diversity and heritage of the country’s diverse populations, rather than simply at assigning rights to particular groups in a parallel fashion.

In Austria, only recognized autochthonous minorities are granted particular rights which, however, they lose outside specific designated territories. I believe the Government should be more flexible in its approach, and consider extending support to linguistic and ethnic groups that do not enjoy official recognition. It should also consider enhancing support for bilingual schools and bilingual competencies amongst officials. Special efforts are required to ensure the cultural rights of the Roma people.

One important concern relates to the data-collection system used for the 2011 population census, which, contrary to previous practice, excluded information on national, linguistic and religious affiliations. I have recommended that the Government consult with concerned communities and civil society organizations regarding how to formulate appropriate questions for the next census.

I look forward to continuing engagement and cooperation with the Government of Austria on the recommendations I made.

Madam President, I also visited Morocco from 5 to 16 September 2011.

I would like to stress that I also visited Dakhla, Western Sahara, and that I appreciate the Government’s role in facilitating access for this visit.

Morocco has made remarkable efforts in recent years to respect and promote human rights. The amended Constitution has strengthened the protection of human rights, including those of the most vulnerable populations, accorded greater importance to cultural rights and cultural diversity and conferred an official status to the Amazigh language.

However, some existing laws, policies and practices are still not in keeping with Morocco’s international and constitutional commitments. I hope that the Government will act in a timely manner in this respect.

A number of specific challenges need to be addressed, in particular to strengthen support for the promotion of Amazigh culture. I received some testimonies that in practice, some parents are still denied the right to freely choose and register Amazigh names for their children, for example.

I encourage the Government of Morocco to approach cultural diversity as an invaluable resource for the inclusion of all, and to take measures to mainstream cultural diversity and the cultural heritage of the country’s diverse populations by, inter alia, promoting these cultures through education, the media and cultural activities, raising intercultural competencies of all official institutions and encouraging bilingual skills of civil servants. I also encourage the Government to revise history and other subjects in school textbooks to reflect the country’s diversity. Some very positive initiatives can provide important lessons for future actions. I recommend that, during the 2014 population census, information be gathered on the composition of the population, the use of Arabic, Amazigh and other languages, and any other indicator of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the population.

Again I look forward to continuing engagement and cooperation with the Government of Morocco on the recommendations I made.

Madam President, country missions are very important. They offer an opportunity to identify both obstacles that may arise in the enjoyment of cultural rights and the best responses put forward by States and other actors. Therefore, I call on States that have received my visit requests to respond positively. I would also welcome other invitations for a visit from States that have interesting initiatives to share, as well as challenges to discuss. In particular, I would welcome such invitations from Asian, Caribbean and Sub-Saharan States - regions I have not yet visited as a Special Rapporteur.
Madam President, I would now like to present to the Council the thematic report of this year, focused on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications (A/HRC/20/26).

The report before you today is an opportunity to focus greater attention on this important right.

The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications is recognized in international and regional instruments. However, despite the fact that scientific innovations are changing human existence in ways inconceivable a few decades ago, the scope, normative content, and obligations of States under this right remain underdeveloped.

Following extensive consultations, I have reached the following conclusions:

  • The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications has strong links with cultural rights, and it is not coincidentally juxtaposed in international instruments. Both rights relate to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and to creative human responses to a constantly changing world. A prerequisite for implementing them is ensuring the necessary conditions for everyone to continuously engage in critical thinking about themselves and the world they inhabit, and to have the opportunity and wherewithal to interrogate, investigate and contribute new knowledge with ideas, expressions and innovative applications, regardless of frontiers.  Finally, both rights encompass the right to benefit from the creativity of others while protecting the moral and material interests emanating from “any scientific, literary or artistic production”.
  • The normative content of the right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications includes (a) access to the benefits of science by everyone, without discrimination; (b) opportunities for all to contribute to the scientific enterprise including the freedom indispensable for scientific research; (c) participation of individuals and communities in decision-making; and (d) an enabling environment fostering the conservation, development and diffusion of science and technology.

As mentioned in my report, access is not limited to applications of scientific progress and related technologies, but encompasses access to scientific knowledge and processes as well. Furthermore, the participation of individuals and communities and the related right to information in science-related matters is extremely important.  People must be given opportunities to discuss what constitutes “progress”, and to make informed choices after considering both the possible improvements offered by scientific advances and their potential side effects or dangerous usages.

  • The implementation of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications is not an easy task. It raises a number of complex and difficult issues, including in relation to the transfer or sharing of technologies, intellectual property rights, and the responsibility of the private sector.

I believe it is important to guard against the privatization of knowledge to such an extent that it deprives individuals of opportunities to take part in cultural life and enjoy the fruits of scientific progress.

  • Finally, and perhaps most crucially, I am encouraged that despite the complexities involved and challenges posed, many important and innovative initiatives have been developed by States from all regions of the world as well as other stakeholders, to promote the implementation of this right. These include for example:
  • Mechanisms to delink research and development costs from product prizes, for instance in the area of health;
  • The development of open-access journals and repositories, as well as mandatory open-access policies implemented by some universities and research institutions ;
  • The organization of wide ranging public consultations on science issues in some countries.

Madam President,

My report includes a list of recommendations, some of which, I believe, can be implemented in a rather timely manner.

I do believe, however, that further work is needed around this right which is located at the juncture of civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other, and I hope that my report can serve to catalyse a robust discussion of related issues.

In particular, I would like to suggest adopting a participatory process that involves States, experts, academics and civil society organizations, but also the private sector, to further enhance the conceptual clarity of the right to enjoy the benefit of scientific progress and its applications. This would also provide an opportunity to discuss possible avenues to ensure the realization of this right, including by collating and building upon existing good practices. I am of the view that such a multi-stakeholder engagement and dialogue is essential for the realization of this important right.

Thank you.

July 2011: Indonesia, Conference with NGOs and the NHRI on women’s rights, culture and cultural rights ; followed by the Second Regional Conference on the Advancement of Women’s Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region “Addressing discrimination against women in the context of religion and culture”.
October 2011: Cambodia, Consultation of the UN Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights and Representatives to the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanisms; and  Asia Pacific Regional Consultation with the UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders; ‘Women’s Right to Development’.