TreatiesInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 15 (1966)
Recognizes the right to “take part in cultural life,” to “enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application” and to “benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 27 (1966, entered into force 1975)
Guarantees that “in those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”
American Convention on Human Rights (1969)
This convention provides a broad set of guarantees including the “right to freedom of conscience and of religion” (Article 12), “the right to freedom of thought and expression” (Article 13) and “the right to associate freely for ideological, religious, political, economic, labor, social, cultural, sports, or other purposes” (Article 16.1). Under Article 26 on “Progressive Development,” signatories undertake to adopt measures to achieve “the full realization of the rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific, and cultural standards set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires.” The convention also establishes the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, both of which serve as enforcement bodies.
Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural Heritage (1972)
Article 4 of the convention recognizes each state’s “duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage … situated on its territory.” In order to achieve this, the convention establishes an Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the Cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value (“World Heritage Committee”).
Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979)
Article 13 formulates state obligation to ensure for women “the right to participate in recreational activities, sports and all aspects of cultural life” on a basis of gender equality.
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981)
The charter recognizes that “civil and political rights cannot be dissociated from economic, social and cultural rights in their conception as well as universality and that the satisfaction of economic, social and cultural rights is a guarantee for the enjoyment of civil and political rights.” The charter guarantees equal protection under the law regardless of ethnicity, religion, and language. It protects the right to cultural development and participation in the cultural life of the community and imposes a duty on member states to promote and protect “morals and traditional values recognized by the community.” In addition, the charter recognizes peoples’ “right to the assistance of the State Parties to the present Charter in their liberation struggle against foreign domination, be it political, economic or cultural.” The charter also establishes the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, in order to uphold and protect these rights. The African Court on Human and People’s Rights was established in 1998 by an additional protocol to the charter.
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Matter of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, aka Protocol of San Salvador (1988)
This addition to the American Convention on Human Rights, based on the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, opens the way for petitioners to bring economic, social and cultural claims into the Inter-American system.
ILO Convention 169 (1989)
This convention protects indigenous people’s cultural rights and traditional lands. Article 2(b) requires governments to take positive measures for “promoting the full realization of the social, economic and cultural rights of these peoples with respect for their social and cultural identity, their customs and traditions and their institutions.”
Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989)
Article 30 guarantees that a child belonging to an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority, or of indigenous origin, “shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.”
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992)
Also known as European Convention 148, this document was adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe. It applies only to languages traditionally used by the nationals of the state parties (thus excluding languages used by recent immigrants from other states), and those that differ significantly from the majority or official language (thus excluding mere local dialects of the official or majority language). Languages that are official within regions or provinces or federal units within a state (for example Catalan in Spain) are not classified as official languages of the state and may not therefore benefit from the charter.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1992)
Article 8(j) requires each country that is a signatory to the convention ‘subject to its national legislation, [to] respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustained use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices.”
Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995)
This convention is the first legally binding multilateral instrument concerned with the protection of national minorities in general. Its aim is to protect the existence of national minorities within the respective territories of the Parties and promote tolerance, intercultural dialogue, and mutual respect among all persons living in a territory, irrespective of those persons' ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity. Signatories “undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority” and to “promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.”
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000)
The charter generally reaffirms the obligations of EU member states under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, bringing political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights together into one document. The charter prohibits discrimination on any ground, including “sex, race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.” Article 22 states that “the Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.” Although the charter is not legally binding under EU law, it may serve as a basis for decisions by the European Court of Justice on cases related to cultural rights.
Andean Charter for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (2002)
The Andean Charter affirms a right to culture and to enjoy the benefits of scientific advances and intellectual production. Unlike similar documents, the charter contains a section concerning cultural diversity and the significance of indigenous and African cultures to Andean states and notes the importance of collective rights, the common exercise of which promotes groups’ historical continuity and future development. One of the primary mechanisms for balancing cultural diversity and national unity that is explored in this document is education, including bilingual intercultural education and study programs on indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures.
Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, UNESCO (2003)
Seen as a corrective to a long-standing understanding of cultural heritage as embodied in monuments and sites, this convention adopted under UNESCO, redefines the concept of culture as a living phenomenon to include “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” State parties undertake to adopt comprehensive measures to safeguard their national intangible heritage, while ensuring “the widest possible participation of communities, groups and, where appropriate, individuals that create, maintain and transmit such heritage, and to involve them actively in its management.” The convention has special relevance for community and linguistic rights, which are crucial for the preservation and transmission of the intangible heritage.
Draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions, aka Draft Convention on Cultural Diversity, UNESCO (2003)
Following the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001), which expressed concerns about globalization, UNESCO member states initiated the development of a draft convention on cultural diversity in 2003. This convention is the first attempt to create an international legal instrument on cultural diversity. The draft text recognizes the rights of states to adopt policies that would protect cultural diversity on their territory, and emphasizes the link between culture and development. The draft will be presented for consideration to the General Conference in October 2005. The debates during the elaboration of the convention have focused on the question whether cultural goods, as distinct from commodities, should be exempt from international trade agreements such as the World Trade Organization.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Article 22 recognizes that “everyone…is entitled to the realization, through national effort and international cooperation…, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” Article 27 guarantees the right to “participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits” and the right of an author to benefit from his/her own scientific or creative work.
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948)
This is the world's first international human rights instrument of a general nature, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by about six months. Article 13 highlights the individual’s right to “take part in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to participate in the benefits that result from intellectual progress, especially scientific discoveries” and “the right to the protection of his moral and material interests as regards his inventions or any literary, scientific or artistic works of which he is the author.” Although strictly speaking a declaration and not a legally binding treaty, the jurisprudence of both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds it to be a source of binding international obligations for the OAS's member states. While largely superseded in the current practice of the inter-American human rights system by the more elaborate provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights (in force since 18 July 1978), the terms of the declaration are still enforced with respect to those states that have not ratified the convention.
Declaration on the Principles of International Cultural Cooperation, UNESCO (1966)
This declaration affirms the “value and dignity” of each distinctive culture and “the right and duty of every people to develop its culture.” It recognizes that “cultural co-operation is a right and a duty for all peoples and all nations, which should share with one another their knowledge and skills.”
Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, UNESCO (1972)
This convention seeks to establish international cooperation for conservation of world heritage sites, primarily monuments, buildings and archaeological sites.
Recommendation on Participation by the People at Large in Cultural Life and Their Contribution to It, UNESCO (1976)
This recommendation lays out guidelines for raising the “spiritual and cultural level of society” by guaranteeing broad access to cultural expression.
Recommendation Concerning the Status of the Artist, UNESCO (1980)
This declaration acknowledges the important function of artists in society and creates recommendations for cultivating and supporting artists.
Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies (1982)
This declaration outlines the value of cultural identity, its role in development, and the principles that governments should follow in order to foster cultural development and expression. It defines the role of the government as fostering cultural education, preventing discrimination, and financing cultural cooperation.
Limburg Principles on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1986)
The Limburg Principles were approved by a group of experts in international law meeting in 1986 in Maastricht, Netherlands, and give an interpretation of state obligations under the ICESCR. According to the principles, “as human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible and interdependent, equal attention and urgent consideration should be given to the implementation, promotion and protection of both civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights.” To uphold these rights, states “shall use all appropriate means, including legislative, administrative, judicial, economic, social and educational measures.”
Vienna Concluding Document, OSCE (1989)
This broad agreement acknowledges civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms and entrusts states to ensure such freedoms for their citizens.
Concluding Document of the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen meeting, Second conference on the Human Dimension (1990)
Although generally affirming a variety of principles of political freedom, this document includes provisions for the respect of free expression, cultural heritage, and cultural diversity.
Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992)
This declaration demands that states protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories by protecting free expression and encouraging conditions for the promotion of that identity.
Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (1993)
This declaration reaffirms previous declarations regarding the rights of free expression and the rights of indigenous persons and minorities to freely practice and cultivate their own cultures. The declaration emphasizes governments’ responsibility of ensuring the right to development and eliminating all forms of discrimination. It raises concerns regarding the role of poverty in preventing people from fully expressing their rights and the tension between traditional practices and respect for the rights of women. Article 5 states that “all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1997)
The guidelines are an elaboration and updating of the Limburg Principles Although they do not have legal force, they are an authoritative summary of the state of international human rights law on the subject of economic, social and cultural rights, drawing together current ideas on responsibility of states, acts by non-state actors, enforcement mechanisms, positive obligations of states, the significance of limits of state resources, etc.
Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, UNESCO (2001)
This declaration reaffirms the value of cultural diversity, cultural heritage, and cultural pluralism, both as intrinsic rights and as being instrumental to democracy and development. It outlines the role of UNESCO in fostering international cooperation to achieve these ends. The declaration was an important first step to the development of standards on cultural diversity protection in the draft Convention on the Protection of Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions (2003).