UN Member States Urged to Review Restrictive Laws on Artistic Free Expression


The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms Farida Shaheed, has called on all member states to critically review their legislation and practices which impose restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity and to take into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill this right. Ms Shaheed made this and other recommendations in a report which seeks to protect artistic freedoms of expression in all ramifications which she submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 19/6.

Ms Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights

In the report, she addressed the multi-faceted ways in which the right to the freedom indispensable for artistic expression and creativity may be curtailed. She also reflected upon the growing worldwide concern that artistic voices have been or are being silenced by various means and in different ways. The report addressed laws and regulations restricting artistic freedoms as well as economic and financial issues significantly impacting on such freedoms.

Ms Shaheed noted that the effects of art censorship or unjustified restrictions of the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity are devastating, saying that they generate important cultural, social and economic losses, deprive artists of their means of expression and livelihood, create an unsafe environment for all those engaged in the arts and their audiences, sterilize debates on human, social and political issues, hamper the functioning of democracy and most often also impede debates on the legitimacy of censorship itself.

The report pointed out that in many cases, censorship is counterproductive in that it gives wider publicity to controversial artworks. It noted however that the fear censorship generates in artists and art institutions often leads to self-censorship, which stifles art expression and impoverishes the public sphere, adding that artistic creativity demands an environment free from fear and insecurity.

The Special Rapporteur recommended that artists and all those engaged in artistic activities should only be subject to general laws that apply to all people adding that such laws should be formulated with sufficient precision and in accordance with international human rights standards.

The Special Rapporteur also recommended that States and other stakeholders should assess and address more comprehensively restrictions to artistic freedoms imposed by corporations, as well as the impact on artistic freedoms of aggressive market strategies and situations of monopolies or quasi-monopolies in the area of media and culture and take action on it.

The Special Rapporteur also urged national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations to document more systematically violations of the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity; submit their findings to relevant national and international bodies, in particular the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee; and support artists who are threatened through in particular legal support.

Please click here to download the full report