Please note that on our website we use cookies to enhance your experience, and for analytics purposes. To learn more about our cookies, please read our privacy policy. By clicking ‘Allow cookies’, you agree to our use of cookies. By clicking ‘Decline’, you don’t agree to our Privacy Policy.

No translations available

Cultural Rights and the Covid-19 Pandemic

3 March 2021

Oral statement – International Humanist and Ethical Union

46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (22 February – 19 March 2021) – Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights

Speaker: Elizabeth O’Casey

We thank the Special Rapporteur for her excellent report addressing the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on culture and cultural rights worldwide, and for highlighting the positive potential of cultures and cultural rights to enhance rights-respecting solutions and build resilience. On behalf of a group of NGOs, we would like to put on record our support for it.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made clear and unequivocal the importance of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. Central to this mix is the role of cultural rights.

Unfortunately, just at the moment when the benefits culture provides as means of comfort, catharsis and communication were most keenly in evidence arts practitioners – the cultural rights defenders – found their working conditions increasingly difficult and stifling.

We have seen a marked increase in censorship, arrests, detentions and even deaths of artists and cultural rights defenders – including those from minority and indigenous backgrounds – whose work addresses the pandemic and the measures take against it; cuts in arts funding across the board; and restriction of access to places where the arts can be enjoyed and where they thrive.

Urgent action is needed to guarantee the cultural rights of all. Accordingly, we highlight some of the recommendations made in the report:

  • Increase funding for the cultural sector, and ensure that funding is integrated into all Covid-19 relief and stimulus packages;
  • Recognize the public health value and social contributions of the cultural sectors in responding to the pandemic;
  • Be fully inclusive when consulting on Covid-19 relief measures;
  • Ensure that artistic and scientific freedom are respected, protected and fulfilled at all times, including for those who are critical of government responses to the pandemic and post-pandemic;
  • Release all artists and cultural rights defenders detained as a result of their creative work to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections.

Cultural rights are central to the human experience and where they are denied other universal human rights inevitably follow. Cultural freedom is not a luxury; instead, it needs to be at the heart of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.


  • Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)
  • Artist Protection Fund
  • Asociacion Cultural Ankidu
  • Asociación cultural Baizara
  • Association Kulturanova (Serbia)
  • Baltic Sea Cultural Centre
  • Cartooning for Peace (CFP)
  • Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
  • Culture Action Europe (CAE)
  • European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA)
  • Freemuse
  • Humanists International
  • International Service for Human Right (ISHR)
  • Minority Rights Group International
  • PEN America
  • PEN International
  • Urgent Action Fund | For Women’s Human Rights

Photo: Flags being prepared for UN General Assembly General Debate, United Nations, New York, 17 September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news about minorities and indigenous peoples from around the world.