UNHRC 52 Session: Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights
Currently 280 million people, an approximate 3.6 percent of the world’s population, currently reside in a country outside their country of origin. They may have migrated for better economic opportunities, and for improved access to resources. Some are forced to flee persecution, climate change, and others by displacement from war and conflict.
Much of the focus on the topics of asylum seekers and migration by States and by non-governmental human rights organisations discuss issues relating the right of non-refoulement, arbitrary detention, discrimination and other violations that they face as these issues are often considered more urgent. However, according to the Special Rapporteur on Culture Rights, Alexandra Xanthaki, on the interactive dialogue on culture rights, little is being done to look at the cultural rights of migrants once they reach their host countries. While migrants have the right to express their own culture, this as an issue has been neglected not only by states but by other civil society groups who consider these other issues are more important. This is an area that requires more attention and effort, primarily by States to allow migrants to express their cultures in their host countries.
In writing the report presented on the 15th of March 2023, the Special Rapporteur invited States, and other organisations to contribute to the report submitted for the 52nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Despite this, according to Special Rapporteur Xanthaki, many of the communications seeking input for various allegations remained unanswered.
The rights afforded to migrants by international human rights law recognizes cultural rights for everyone under Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This means that regardless of background, culture, religion, citizenship status or migrant status, everyone has the right to participate in their cultural life in any manner in which they want to.
In her report Xanthaki addressed the issue that some states’ cultural policies only apply to citizens and the host nation’s culture, rather than extending to all cultures, despite what Article 15 states.
Other issues highlighted in the interactive dialogue and in the report are the right to access cultural services and institutions. Migrants are not only entitled to existing cultural resources and institutions such as public spaces and museums of their host countries but also to cultural resources of their own. Often the existing cultural services available do not always tend to the needs of the culture of migrants or that they have difficulties accessing those cultural resources. States that claim that migrants have access to the same rights as citizens, in practice, do not address these issues as they face various barriers, especially for those recently arrived due to language and legal barriers that all impact people’s participation in a cultural life of their choosing. There is also often an underrepresentation by cultural institutions like museums in representing other cultures through the lack of exhibitions and displays of other cultures. The Special Rapporteur also calls for the move beyond “high culture” of host states and to focus on inclusive cultural events that incorporate other cultures from around the world that are found within a host state and not entertaining events that only include the culture of the host state. Without the ability to express themselves it leads to the potential loss of culture by migrants who are unable to practise their culture.
Within states there is also the lack of support to those migrants who are artists, with many times the expectations of others is that their art should reflect the experiences of why they migrated to their experiences faced during the migration. This hinders their ability to freely express themselves and their ability to express their culture to others.
At the interactive dialogue the delegation to UNESCO stressed the importance of allowing migrants to continue their cultural practices as it means when they are in a host country they gain a sense of continuity from their previous living situations. The lack of continuation of cultural practices according to them is also the denial of the entitlement to enjoy those rights afforded to them.
Xanthaki does commend civil society organisations that putting efforts in supporting the cultural events of migrants. Despite these efforts on the part of civil society, the Special Rapporteur calls on states as those with prime responsibility to support cultural rights of migrants.
Issues that arise within host states are xenophobic and racist sentiments by populist groups towards other cultures leading to the perception and treatment of cultures as inferior leading to the dehumanising of migrants. Intolerance and discrimination also lead to the suppression of cultural rights. This is also apparent in women who may be caught in between the culture of the host state that perceives them being oppressed by their culture and the freedom to empower themselves on how they want to express themselves.
Recommendations from the Special Rapporteur’s Report
- States must be aware of the vulnerabilities of migrants and must take steps to ensure they able to enjoy their culture rights and access resources related to their own culture
- Increase the access to their own cultural frameworks but also the access of other cultural frameworks to express themselves in their chosen manner. This includes access to information, for example through the internet, and cultural institutions.
- Increased existence of common public spaces to practise and share culture. This is to allow for co-existence and interactions between societal groups.
- Restrictions on the cultural rights based on the legal status of migrants must be removed.
- Implement measures to eliminate negative stereotypes and perceptions of cultures.